It started with a bomb threat.
We were at the National Network of Abortion Funds Organizing Summit, held at a Chicago hotel last weekend. The Network consists of grassroots groups who raise money to directly help women and girls with the cost of abortion, and ever year it bring members together for training and meetings. This was my eighth year attending, and I was looking forward to the first night’s social hour, a time to reconnect with old friends and meet new ones. It’s always been one of my favorite moments.
So there we were, in the hotel bar, when the staff informed us of the threat. An uneasy silence was quickly replaced with loud chatter that reflected our anger. The police told us that the threat was non-specific, but you have to admit it was horrible timing. We were already grieving the murder of Dr. George Tiller, and the threat of additional violence, directly related to us or not, was almost too much. But true to the work that we do, we kept to the schedule. If there’s one thing abortion rights activist have in common, it’s a ridiculous amount of determination.
During the Friday morning plenary, I noticed a large number of participants under age 35. In fact, I would easily estimate more than half of the 140 attendees were young women, which left me feeling a bit giddy for the future of the movement. (The majority of Funds are all volunteer run, so those who believe young women aren’t activists should take note.)
As member Funds introduced themselves and gave their yearly reports, it became evident that abortion funding is evolving as an international movement. Not only did 55 out of the 100 U.S. member Funds attend, but Funds from England/Ireland, Canada and Mexico were also present. There’s also one Fund that operates solely online. I was thrilled to learn more about the global work to ensure access to abortion care.
I was contemplating access to rights when we learned that Gretchen Dyer, executive director of the Texas Equal Access Fund, had died unexpectedly of heart failure in a Dallas hospital. She was a tireless supporter of women’s rights, especially dedicated to bringing young women and women of color into the movement. She also loved art and film and found a way to combine her passions by writing and producing “1 in 3,” a play about abortion. Our small community faced yet another devastating loss. Once again, under the weight of grief, our determination kept us going.
Over the next couple of days, I attended a variety of workshops on fundraising and organizing, including programs on repealing the Hyde Amendment and even how to avoid activist burn out. At the Saturday evening banquet, we mourned our losses and celebrated our victories. We honored one of the original Network founders, Tom Moss, founder of the Iowa Medical Aid Fund (Tom joked that he was still one of the only men in the room, which was true).
Many other Funds were honored, including the Roe Fund in Tulsa, Okla., (part of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice), which was recognized for 30 years of service, and the Eastern Massachusetts Abortion Fund, of which I am a board member. We received props for volunteer involvement and as a model for movement building.
When the formalities were over, we moved on to the talent show. Fund members performed songs, spoken word, cheerleading (yes, cheerleading), and, of course, comedy. Though many performances emphasized the intersection between the work we do and our personal lives, it was a chance to present our whole selves and not just our roles as abortion rights activists. I was in the last group to perform, along with friends from North Dakota and Virginia. When we finished our comedy/singing act, we held up a sign that read, “Abortion Funds Rock.” Everyone stood in unison, clapping, cheering and pounding on tables in agreement.
On Sunday, the Network presented Rep. Jane Schakowsky (D-Illinois) with an award for her work around women’s rights, health care reform and social justice. Schakowsky discussed the ongoing battle for health care reform, including reproductive rights. It was a fitting end to an intense four days.
As the Summit concluded, I was exhausted, sad and ready for my own bed. I was also inspired and rejuvenated, armed with new tools and ready to take on another year of fighting the good fight. I am determined to change minds, and laws, to ensure women and girls always have access to abortion care. And after last weekend, I am reminded that I am not alone.
Wendy Brovold is the communications and marketing manager at Our Bodies Ourselves, and a board member of the Eastern Massachusetts Abortion Fund. For more information about the National Network of Abortion Funds, including how to start a Fund in your area, please visit www.nnaf.org.