Just after turning 32, and just before I stepped down from my role as action vice president of the National Organization for Women, I gave a then-radical speech in which I championed the leadership of young feminists and called for the organization to evolve. If you care about what I’m going to write, I urge you to take five minutes to watch it here on CSPAN, and then read on.
If you watched that, you are probably not surprised that I resigned from that position a few months later. You are probably not surprised that I explained that decision to TIME Magazine with, “When you want to build a jet pack, sometimes that means you have to leave the bicycle factory.” You are probably not surprised that I went on to co-found the cutting-edge, left flank reproductive justice activism group Reproaction with Pamela Merritt a few years later. (We are still leading this and it’s bomb! Sign up for our email list if you haven’t already, and we’ll send you opportunities to take direct action to increase access to abortion and advance reproductive justice.)
I believe in innovation and taking risks. I believe in the leadership of young people and their capacity for it. And I believe with my deepest heart that I would be living in contradiction of my values if I led activist work for abortion rights as a menopausal woman. So this is my promise to you, as I near the big 4-0. Within 10 years you will not see me leading the work I am now.
I will do the daylights out of abortion rights activism in the streets for the rest of my life. As long as I am living, I will never be past tense in the activist community. I nearly died of an eating disorder and I’m not messing around — activism for gender equality is the work of my life and it hadn’t become that, I would have been dead 20 years ago. I believe deeply in the power of direct action to change society and also, ourselves. But, as an older woman, I will be doing the daylights out of abortion rights activism in the streets behind a younger woman or gender non-conforming person holding the bullhorn because that’s who I have always believed should be leading the abortion activism work.
I believe in experience and wisdom. I do not believe people should be cancelled on the basis of age or, for that matter, other characteristics of their identity. I will support young activist leaders for abortion rights, mentor them, show up for their actions, give money to them, maybe even be their employee. It may well be the case that I take a frontline leadership role in another reproductive health, rights, or justice organization with a primary focus in communications, education, elections, policy, research, service delivery, or basically anything other than grassroots activism, or that I go on to lead a feminist or other progressive organization, even an activist one, of which abortion rights is one issue within a broader social justice agenda. I will certainly never stop writing, innovating, taking bold action for gender equality.
I don’t think older women don’t have important reproductive and sexual health issues. I don’t think older women should stop leading organizations (including reproductive health, rights, and justice organizations!) or speaking to the media or testifying in Congress or giving their full-throttle brilliance and if that’s your interpretation, you are purposefully misreading me.
This is about me and my values, and what I see as my role in grassroots activist leadership for abortion rights.
If my body isn’t bleeding, if I am physically no longer in need of access to abortion, I’m moving my perch. It won’t be to irrelevance or apathy. Just wait until you hear this old bird sing.