In April of 2007, I set off from Princeton, New Jersey on what would become a fifteen week, 4,600 mile bicycle trip across the United States. The trip began as an idea that was hatched, as so many good ideas are, sitting around a kitchen table with friends, wondering about the world.
I'd been working in the field of reproductive health and rights as an educator and organizer for five years, and I'd gotten to know the challenges and opportunities that were facing advocates in California. I'd experienced first hand some of the political divisions that have split our movement – from the generational divide to the lack of representation from people truly impacted by restrictions on access to health care within the volunteers I worked with.
I'd also been inspired and awed by the ability of activists from across the political spectrum to come together in the face of anti-choice attacks, and I will never forget sitting at a table with activists from Radical Women, the League of Women Voters, and many other organizations to plan a counter-demonstration against the anti-choice "Walk for Life".
But more than anything, I was curious about the rest of the country. How were the politics of sexual freedom playing out in Massachusetts? What about Indiana and Wyoming?
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I knew that there were people working to create the political, social, and economic conditions that would enable women to make healthy decisions about their bodies and their lives, and I wanted to know who they were and what they were working on. How did they characterize the work they did? How connected did they feel to the larger movement?
So last April, I set off by myself, on my bicycle, to discover the answers to those questions. In Ithaca, I learned that when Planned Parenthood sex educators ask their students what they think the educators want to teach them, the students overwhelmingly, universally answer, "don't have sex."
I learned that most of the reproductive health care providers I visited were incredibly dedicated, overworked, and underpaid. I also learned that health care providers rarely, if ever, talk about sexual pleasure with clients. There are very few programs in medical schools that train providers to talk about sex in a positive way, and not really time during client visits to do so even when the providers want to and feel comfortable doing so. Providers are also fighting against a broken health care system that doesn't value the time providers spend with patients, and defines health as the "absence of disease".
I learned that many teen peer health educators don't identify as activists, even though they're doing incredibly powerful work to help their peers advocate for themselves in their relationships.
I learned that many of the people who run and work in sex-positive sex stores (like Toys in Babeland and Good Vibrations) used to work in reproductive health, but were frustrated by the lack of space and time to talk about sexual pleasure with clients. I also learned that many of them didn't identify as activists either, or see their work as political, even though laws restricting the possession of vibrators are still on the books in Mississippi, Alabama, and Virginia.
I learned that it is possible to combine sex education, conversations about pleasure, AND medical knowledge, and that places like A Woman's Touch in Wisconsin are creating new paradigms for promoting sexual health and sexual pleasure.
And more than anything, I learned that all of our struggles are interconnected. You can't talk about reproductive health without talking about education, and the kinds of jobs people have, and the opportunities afforded them, and the circumstances in which they're making decisions. Over and over again, I was struck by how radically different people's world views can be, depending on what part of the country they're in. If there's one thing I learned about America, it was that it was much, much bigger and more diverse than I ever imagined.
Last summer was such an amazing experience that this year, I'm doing it again, and this time you're invited! Applications are now available for Wanderlust 2008, a reproductive justice bike tour from New Orleans to New York City. This year, I chose to focus specifically on reproductive justice because I believe that the reproductive justice framework enables us to have conversations about how access to reproductive health care is connected to not just comprehensive sex education but environmental health, preventing violence, living wages, the prison industrial complex, welfare policy, and more.
I invite you to join me on the tour – as a participant, as a host, as a member of a community organization in the places we pass through, and as a supporter. For more information about the trip and ways to get involved, please visit PEP's website.
The application deadline for participants is April 1st, so apply today!