Rosie Wang, Columbia
Culture is to softness as is policy to hardness. Cultural change is to a wave as legal change is to a solid object. No, this is not the return of the ye olde standardized testing analogies but some of the concepts used today at a storytelling workshop that explained the role of stories in the RJ movement. Basically, stories are engines of change for public sentiment, and subsequently political reality. Awesome, but admittedly, also a bit abstract to me. What made it click on a new level for me was Sujatha Jesudason of CoreAlign’s truly powerful closing talk to the LI. She said that to survive, the reproductive justice movement had to break its bad habits. This included no longer telling stories of victimhood, and instead writing a heroic narrative, in which the heroes include all people as people who have agency in their reproductive lives. She said that the RJ movement must craft something akin to Rosa Parks’ story, something both familiar in its everyday aspect, and yet with lasting potential for symbolism and parable. Looking back on the stories that I have helped tell this summer via this blog, I see myself falling into this very trap of bad habits. Writing about Bei Bei Shuai, a woman being charged with murder and feticide for attempting suicide while pregnant and mentally ill, I wrote that “her story demonstrates how even women who have conformed to the mainstream can become victimized.” And yet Ms. Shuai is a hero to me for facing with optimism and strength a legal system designed treat her body as first and foremost life support vessel for her fetus. But this is story that is yet unresolved, where victory is uncertain –how can it be a success story and not something reactionary? I concluded that the narrative of someone acted upon and then acting in response is not victimizing or teleological. Instead, it is empowering and can do important work in touching upon people’s common sense of humanity. I think it also serves as a rallying cry to people devoted to RJ to support Ms. Shaui in determining the course of her own heroic narrative. Because while anti-choice has it easy in that they can frame decades of reproductive oppression and the status quo as “tradition” for the dominant story they tell, we get to write our own rallying cry from scratch, with the very work we do every day.