Monday, October 31, 2011

Occupy Wall Street, Meet the Reproductive Justice Movement

"If we do not have democracy in the family, which means each individual's right to control their physical selves, we do not have a model for democracy in the rest of society."

These powerful words, spoken by Ms. Gloria Steinem, reflect not only our struggle in the reproductive justice movement, but also connect to the heart of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Our reproductive justice movement and the Occupy Wall Street movement are more alike than one would think. Certainly, there is some overlap between supporters of both movements, but both share the fundamental principle that “we the people” should be free from the controls of the government – in body, mind, and soul. Like Ms. Steinem said, unless we have the autonomy to govern ourselves, how can we expect to uphold our democracy?

While our movement is a little more straightforward and definitive of goals, the Occupy Wall Street movement has been criticized for being unclear and vague as to what its purpose is. Ask anyone on the street what the Occupy Wall Street movement is, and you'll get a colorful range of answers.

After visiting Kiener Plaza in downtown St. Louis, I have heard more negative reflections on the movement by people who are totally unaware of what the movement actually stands for. So here's the gist of it: Occupy Wall Street participants, who have made themselves more than present in every major American city, protest the notion that money controls everything in our society, especially Washington politics. Admittedly, there is no unifying platform, but they believe that mega-corporations like the big banks are responsible for the economic hardships faced by today's Americans. They represent thousands of Americans, young and old, who believe that the big corporations' influence is so far-reaching and wide-spread that they have infiltrated our everyday lives.

I'll give you an example. Wal-Mart, an Arkansas-based corporation that has become one of the largest names in America, is vilely prolife and anti-women's rights (see my blog on meeting Ms. Betty Dukes.) Wal-Mart is one of Occupy Wall Street's biggest targets, and for good reason. From barring prochoice groups like Planned Parenthood from having bake sales and fundraisers outside their doors (which is what they allow the anti-abortion groups to do) to actively choosing male over more qualified female candidates for better jobs, Wal-Mart blatantly and openly violates federal and state laws concerning gender and racial equality, labor standards, and social practices. But Wal-Mart's executives LOVE politics. In 2004, the mega-corporation ranked as the #2 top campaign donator to the Republican party. By giving such huge sums they are guaranteeing that the GOP promote policies that are anti-woman and anti-labor.

Wal-Mart is not the only common target of the reproductive justice and Occupy Wall Street movement. Koch Industries, News Corporation, the "Big Four" accountancy firms, the oil industry, and, of course, the majority of Wall Street corporations are all responsible for Americans losing rights.

The Occupy Wall Street protesters are not today's "hippies," bums, dropouts, whatever. Many of them have college degrees (and NOT in English, like I had originally assumed). In St. Louis, many of them are veterans who are fed up with big corporations receiving bailouts while their earned benefits are being slashed. These are our neighbors, our plumbers, our teachers, our doctors, and our freedom fighters who believe that their voices have been lost among the wealth and power with which Washington politics have become obsessed.

In a country that so values its rights and freedoms as a democracy, how ironic is it that our government indiscriminately takes them away? No longer are we the America our Forefathers and Foremothers envisioned, where everyone was equal regardless of the amount of money or influence they possessed. Nay, our government is controlled entirely by the wealthy, who pour millions into the system to ensure their agendas are fulfilled, without any regard as to who they trample, impoverish, and constitutionally violate.

Returning to Ms. Steinem's words, I ask this of you: how do we get our government to respect "we the people"?

We rise up.

We do what the first patriots did, what the abolitionists did, what the suffragists did, what the civil rights leaders did, what Arab Spring did in Africa, what the Occupy Wall Street protesters are doing now. We who care about women's role in society, about personal autonomy, about the right of every person to make the families of their own choosing, must also rise up because, as a people who have lost our ability to govern our own bodies, our own minds, and our own activities, we have nothing to lose.

We cannot hope to change the anti-woman tide of events by complaining to our prochoice
friends. Nor can we hope to change things by writing letters to Congress. Neither party is listening. We must show that we are a force to be reckoned with.

I'll leave you with one of my favorite quotes by Thomas Jefferson. I ask you to consider it, with respect to the reproductive justice movement and the Occupy Wall Street movement: "When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty."

Our government no longer fears us. Washington politicians have grown comfortable because we have allowed ourselves to become so passive. But for my generation’s sake, and those who follow me, rise up.

- Chelsea