From the Front Lines: Day of Action

Now more than ever, women around the country are standing up for issues they believe in. Meredith Clarke takes us to Ithaca, New York where she and a thousand fellow activists met to demonstrate the right to reproductive health. 

I didn’t know the names of any of the people who stood behind the microphone, and I probably won’t even remember their faces after today. I knew two of the people in the three-bus caravan that took us from Ithaca, NY to the state capitol. We unloaded into a river of women pouring through the revolving door into the Albany convention center, the same energy and vibrations emanating off of and between strangers’ skins, flooding out with the hot breath between toothy smiles.

I’ve rarely felt safer in such a large crowd. 2017 saw the largest turn out for Day of Action, an activist holiday in which reproductive rights activists from across New York State gather in Albany to pester state and national legislates into remembering that women deserve adequate healthcare and easy access to contraception and to ask that they continue funding family planning programs across the state. The event has drawn a modest few hundred people in the past, but the present political climate has usual go-alongers and apoliticals angry and vocal. So this year, 1,600 people—men and women of all ages—forwent their usual Monday blues to shout at the people who need shouting at and to remind each other that no one is alone in this struggle.

Every chair in the convention center was draped in a bright pink scarf and featured a postcard listing each of the specific requests of the day—to urge legislates to support the Reproductive Health Act and the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act, join the Bipartisan Pro Choice Caucus, and to continue funding for family planning agencies. The room hummed with the chatter of people getting to know each other. Later, it shook with the applause as we cheered the truth that senators, lieutenant governors, doctors, patients, and executive officers of Planned Parenthood proudly and fearlessly brought to us, an audience starved for recognition and honesty and common sense.

The hosts for the afternoon were perfect and complimentary: an elderly white woman alive with the memory of second wave feminism and the early fights for reproductive rights, and a 19-year-old girl who’s been involved in peer reproductive education since she was in high school. The young girl stuttered and tripped over her words when she spoke too quickly and the crowd cheered her on. The elderly woman laughed at her own mistakes and stressed the word “swag” with expert comedic timing. 

I was to meet with Senator Fred Akshar at 1:30pm in his office with 11 other women and my group leader—we were the Trailblazers. The rally ran over time and I didn’t check my phone until I was halfway through my sandwich and a satisfyingly heated conversation with Jessica, a fellow writing student graduate, so I was late to the briefing. I stumbled onto the floor and drew my skirt between my legs as I listened to the final few minutes of our instruction. We got up to move towards the office, and half the group had to use the bathroom. Our leader, a friendly man with good hair, kept checking his watch and asking if we were all here. The remaining members of the group were growing  impatient with him impatience, as he obviously didn’t understand the bathroom dynamics of a convention made up of approximately 1,530 women.

The way to the senator’s office was through marble hallways with hundred foot ceilings, walls reflective enough that I could have picked my teeth in them, and floors so shiny I felt guilty walking on them. The senator was in conference, meaning he was behind closed doors that were not to be opened by non-politicians (not even his aides), so we met with his staffers, two attractive young women with serious faces and scripted lines who may or may not have had any patience to deal with us. We went around the room explaining why we were there that day, not to start an argument or to expressly sway the senator/his staffers on any particular issue, but to put faces to the issues at hand. 

The meeting was over within twenty minutes and we left feeling good. Really good, not in the I-posted-an-article-to-social-media good. We spoke to the people who mattered, looked them in the face, and told them the truth. I left reminded of the good in people, the deep, true, honest good that endures generations and never tires, even if it has to fight the same fight for 200 years. And while evil must also exist, it is not as pervasive or enduring, and it doesn’t have love on its side.

Feature photo by Max Ostrozhinskiy via Unsplash