Tuesday, April 4, 2017

A Call To Action: A Message from Washington, DC: Those Calls and Rallies Really Do Matter

Wendy reports from the front lines in Washington, DC in the latest installment of her "A Call To Action" series:

Last week, I attended Planned Parenthood's annual National Conference in Washington, DC.​ 

I have to confess that sitting on the Amtrak on the way to DC, I felt a bit dejected.  At last year's conference, Hillary spoke to an elated, optimistic and fired up group, her first big speech after clinching the nomination.  Being there for that historic moment had brought me to tears.  This year, of course, was much different.  The non-vote on the AHCA was a victory for all Americans, and certainly for Planned Parenthood patients, but nonetheless, last year's euphoria was missing.  

Image may contain: sky, tree and outdoorI even asked Tom if he felt that the time we're putting into rallies and marches, letters and phone calls, is worth all the effort, all the mental energy.  

And now, after the conference, I can tell you, yes it is, keep it up.

As is so often the case with so many issues, hearing people's personal stories provided inspiration.  Those stories were a reminder that I have a responsibility to help those who may not be in a position to advocate for themselves at the moment.  And not for nothing, there's a self-serving aspect to this too: psychologists have suggested that volunteering is one way to combat Trump-era jitters.  I don't know about you, but I feel a lot of those jitters.

At the Planned Parenthood conference, we heard many, many stories.  We heard the story of a young woman, in her mid-twenties, who discovered a lump in her breast; she couldn't miss work, she couldn't get an appointment quickly with her regular health care provider, so she turned to Planned Parenthood who saw her immediately at an early morning appointment.  And then helped her negotiate her way through the difficult steps that lay ahead.  

We heard a story from a young Latino woman who was unable to talk with her family about her sexual orientation.  She turned to Planned Parenthood. We heard a story from a woman with no job, no familial support and no hope who faced an unintended pregnancy.  She turned to Planned Parenthood.  We heard from a woman who had an abnormal Pap test at Planned Parenthood and credited Planned Parenthood with saving her life.  

We heard from Cecile Richards who said that Planned Parenthood is not the problem, it's the solution.  She got that right. Teenage pregnancies and abortions are on a downward trajectory in the US, and that, in large part is due to education and contraception provided by Planned Parenthood. It's worth noting, as no small aside, that it's also due to Obamacare.

We began the conference feeling cautiously optimistic about the non-vote on the AHCA but on Thursday morning came the demoralizing breaking news alert that Vice President Pence had cast the tie breaking vote for legislation that would enable states to deny Title X funds to health care agencies which provide abortions.   This is not good news, folks, if we want to keep those teen pregnancies and abortions on their downward trend. To state the obvious, to avoid unintended pregnancies -- and the abortions that follow -- we need education and we need contraception, two of the many services provided by Planned Parenthood. 

Lobby Day deluged the Capitol with advocates dressed in Planned Parenthood pink.  We spoke with Representatives Nita Lowey (D - NY 17), Sean Patrick Maloney (D - NY 18), Elliot Engel (D -NY 16), Tom Suozzi (D - NY 3), and Kathleen Rice (D - NY 4).  We then headed to a well-attended and energetic Pink Out rally at the foot of the Capitol where we heard from Senator Patty Murray (D-Washington) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D - NY).  And the following morning we heard from Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D - NY).

Each politician had a slightly different approach.  Some asked to hear our own stories.  Others gave insight on the state of play. 

But there was a common mantra that ran through every one of these discussions and speeches, and it was unsolicited and important: over and over, we were told that the calls matter, the rallies matter, going to the Town Halls matter, the emails and letters matter, the marches matter.  Protest, protest often and protest loudly.  It all adds up to one big collective reminder to Congress and state legislators that we're out here, we're watching, and we're sure as hell going to vote in 2018. 

So if like me, you've had moments of doubt about the value of your efforts, the importance of calling an already supportive legislator, the impact of walking in a march, doubt no more.  We heard it repeatedly, it's making a difference, we're being heard, and we need to keep at it. 

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