Wanderlust Meets Reproductive Justice Activists in New Orleans

Nora Dye

Like so many of the post-Katrina initiatives, the Women's Health and Justice Initiative, an organization fighting for reproductive justice in New Orleans, is the product of the immense dedication, creativity, and energy of a small group of individuals.

On Monday, May 26th, the Wanderlust Bicycle Caravan rolled out of New
Orleans, multicolored flags waving in the wind as passersby look on,
awestruck at the sight of so many women on bikes. We wound our way
through neighborhoods still devastated from Katrina, riding to bear
witness to the beauty and resilience of the New Orleanians who are
fighting to save their city, to recreate their communities in the face
of overwhelming odds and government inaction. The story of the
recovery from Katrina, and the lack thereof, has been well documented,
but there was something profoundly moving about standing in the empty
field next to the canal where three years ago, the levee broke,
unleashing utter devastation on the Lower Ninth Ward. Even today, it
is virtually empty. We were told that roughly 10% of the residents of
the Lower Ninth have returned, and it is like a ghost town, new hopeful
houses sitting lonely on otherwise deserted blocks. A few blocks in
from the levee the Common Ground Collective has a big sign outside that
says something along the lines of "Shame on you, tourists. Get out of
your cars and help."

We talked that evening about feeling called out by that sign,
feeling shamed. But we also talked about the importance of bearing
witness, of carrying the story of New Orleans to the people who think
that Katrina is over. If I learned anything from being in New Orleans,
it is that Katrina is still very much alive and present in the lives of
every single resident, whether they’ve lived there their whole lives or
whether they came down to help after the storm and fell in love with
the singular, joyful beauty of New Orleans. Leg 1 of the Wanderlust Tour!Leg 1 of the Wanderlust Tour!

In some ways, Katrina revealed stark inequalities that existed
covertly before the storm, and the recovery has led to some amazing
initiatives. The Women’s Health and Justice Initiative is a women of
color led reproductive justice organization that provides trainings,
does community organizing, and provides reproductive health care
services through the New Orleans Women’s Health Clinic. Like so many of
the post-Katrina initiatives, the WHJI is the product of the immense
dedication, creativity, and energy of a small group of individuals. In
the words of Shana Griffin, the Interim Director of the WHJI:

The purpose of the clinic is to improve low-income and uninsured
women of color’s healthcare access and to promote a holistic and
community-centered approach to primary healthcare. At the same time
we look at the oppression and violence that have impact on the health
status of women and to improve those situations. It’s more than
providing healthcare services, it’s also about challenging the
conditions that limit our access and our opportunities, such as
poverty, racism, gender-based violence, imperialism, and war. We see it
as more than just a clinic — we want it to also be an organizing
center that can meet immediate needs while also working for racial,
gender, economic, and environmental justice. We see our clinic as a great opportunity to talk to people and
discuss why these services and this approach is needed. We have the
power to reinvent ourselves and create institutions that are equitable

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You can read the entire interview here. These initiatives are always in need of support, and you can find ways to support the Health Clinic and the WHJI here.

From New
Orleans, the Wanderlust riders rode out to Mobile, Alabama, through the
place where the eye of the storm passed — our own small tornado of women on
bicycles. We’ve learned lots over the past four days about ourselves,
about traveling in a group, changing flat tires, not leaving cream
cheese over night, and believing the signs that say "bikes prohibited
in tunnels." That sign precipitated our first accident, when a front
tire eating grate loomed suddenly in front of us and we stopped short,
bikes flying in the air as riders tumbled on top of each other. Luck
was in our favor on so many levels – no one was badly injured, Becky
was driving the SAG wagon behind us and managed to not run over the
pile of bicycles, and the bike shop we went to to get the bikes fixed
happened to have a spare derailleur hanger to replace Elizabeth’s
cracked hanger, without which she could not have kept riding.

Right now we’re sitting on a dock stretched out over the Tensaw
River, at Hubbards Landing fish camp, and we plan to spend the day
building our community, strengthening our connections with each other
and sharing our stories. Last night we realized that we’ve been
spending so much time biking and eating that we haven’t had a lot of
time to just breathe, let alone get to know each other, so that’s what
today is for. To keep up with the Wanderlust ride on the road, you can
check out our blog at wanderlustwithrhonda.com.

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