Many readers may know that I write a column on Media Justice at the Amplify Your Voice site, which is supported/led by Advocates For Youth. The site is focused on youth-led writing around sexuality, sexual health, and reproductive justice. The handful of older adults who publish there, like myself, do so on topics affecting youth and providing spaces to have their opinions and ideas shared.
This week on Amplify, staff presented a new series of media-making that I adore. Using actual lesson plans, scripts, expected outcomes and goals of abstinence-only-until-marriage curriculums and programs taught in the United States, staff are creating animated videos. The animated videos are created through a (somewhat) free service called XtraNormal. Check out the first video they have created called “Drink The Spit” below:
As someone who values art in various forms and when community members and providers begin to create their own media, I find this new project exciting. I see this as one way to use the Internet and popular media outlets (YouTube, XtraNormal) to reach out to youth who may not already be connected to the Amplify site. When I first was introduced to the XtraNormal site it was through created animated conversations about instant messages some of my friends were having. They encouraged me to do my own video, which is one of the ways I found out the site is somewhat free, and attempted to create a similar video.
This approach is one I think can be useful for many of us working with youth and with technology. The site XtraNormal allows users to choose from various settings and characters (I picked robots for my trial video), and also provides options for dressing the characters, altering their voices, and choosing their location. These features can be useful tools for also discussing gender identity, roles, and expectations.
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When producing and creating our own media, how do we express gender with the options we are provided in the program? In what ways do we choose to represent gender and why are those our motivations? What types of messages do we construct and what is our goal in doing so? These are questions I can see being useful in guiding such an activity as they are also centered in media literacy.
Watching the video above again, I asked myself what were some of the stereotypes I had listening to the animated cartoon bears speaking (that sentence makes me laugh). I assumed the three people that were characters (a daughter, a mother, and the teacher) were all women. The only character I can say I understand to be a woman is the teacher as the pronoun used is “she” and “her.” However, I assumed the student in the scenario was a young woman because of the voice and what looked to me as hair ribbons near the ears. The other character I now realize could be a friend or family member. The clothing sends a gender-neutral vibe and I thought about why I assumed all characters to be women.
There are many reasons I can think of for why I made such assumptions. I think it’s important to share with others that even educators and those of us who practice the skills we wish to teach youth, in this example media literacy, that sometimes we too get “caught up.” The way we have been socialized is still a process to be mindful of, especially when trying to create change.
The way I was socialized led me to the assumption that women speak openly and with one another in such scenarios about sexuality and health. That a parent would be the one who would be surprised/disgusted/frustrated at hearing such a story from a student or young person in their life. However, I know that young people talk with one another often and about the same topics. My first viewing of this video was from the perspective that I bring as an older adult working with youth and I had to remind myself that my perspective is just one, and that others exist and are just as correct and valuable as my own.
I’m hoping there will be at least one new video a week, but for now this is the first one. Check back at Amplify Your Voice to see when new videos are posted.
It’s easy to say that millennials aren’t actively defending abortion rights. But it’s not true. In fact, the wide range of young people’s actions to preserve and advance access defies narrow definitions of "political activism."
This election season has brought mixed messages about youth activism. As Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have attempted to woo young voters, there’s also been pointed criticism that millennials’ supposed apathy has contributed to the erosion of, of all things, abortion rights.
The most notable example of such criticism was Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s January comments that she saw “a complacency among the generation of young women whose entire lives have been lived after Roe v. Wade was decided.”
Schultz’s perception does not mirror our reality (nor the reality of a presidential campaign in which few candidates have given abortion rights any meaningful airtime).
We are the younger generation in question. Together, we are a 28-year-old abortion provider and a 30-year-old abortion clinic escort. Every day, we enable access to abortion care, and we aren’t the only ones. Our friends and colleagues work tirelessly to not only further the abortion rights movement, but to lead it.
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According to a 2015 Gallup poll, a greater proportion of people ages 18 to 34 identify as pro-choice than does any other age group. But what the statistics don’t reveal is the myriad manifestations our generation’s activism takes. We are abortion providers, clinic escorts, fundraising champions, writers, documentarians, and storytellers.
As an OB-GYN resident in the Bronx, one of New York City’s most medically underserved boroughs, Sarp bears daily witness to the vital role abortion care plays in pregnant people’s health and lives. Too often, he sees the devastating consequences of barriers to care, whether in the form of insurance coverage, gestational age limits, financial hardships, or support system struggles. Despite New York state’s more liberal policies on abortion, access remains a challenge for many of its residents and his patients.
Providing abortion care is an awesome responsibility, one that brings with it tremendous emotional rewards. Sarp feels it when a patient gently squeezes his hand immediately after terminating a wanted yet anomalous pregnancy. He hears it in the thoughtful thank-you notes he receives from patients long gone from his office. He sees it in the joyful tears of a patient whose abortion he performed six months ago, but who just found out she is pregnant with a partner who does not physically, emotionally, or sexually abuse her. He clings to these moments as he cares for patients and when he marches in support of their rights to choose when, whether, and with whom to be pregnant.
Sarp is a product of Medical Students for Choice (MSFC), an international nonprofit with a mission to create the next generation of abortion providers and pro-choice physicians. Students involved with MSFC take a directly activist role, working to destigmatize abortion care among medical students and residents, and to persuade medical schools and residency programs to include abortion as a part of the reproductive health services curriculum.
For Lauren, enabling access means being a support system and sometimes a human shield between patients and hateful, shaming protesters. Her Saturday mornings are spent on the sidewalk, escorting patients and companions from the safety of their cars to the safety of the clinic. Young people comprise a plurality of volunteers at Lauren’s clinic, and they show up every weekend to support those who need it.
Lauren has held sobbing teenage rape victims as they were retraumatized by the violent screams of the men outside the clinic doors. She has watched as a companion screamed at a protester, “You don’t know what we’re going through,” as he walked his partner into the clinic to terminate a wanted pregnancy.
Escorting patients means being insulted and even endangered. Lauren has been berated, harassed, threatened, and sexually harassed by protesters while volunteering. But she has also been hugged, praised, thanked, and supported by grateful patients, their companions, and even passersby.
The misconception that young people are complacent belies not only our lived experiences, but the experiences of our colleagues.
Young people are at the forefront of work with the National Network of Abortion Funds (NNAF) and state-based grassroots abortion funds. “Well over half of NNAF’s member organizations are proud to have young people in leadership positions as board members, staff, and hotline volunteers,” said NNAF Executive Director Yamani Hernandez in an email to Rewire. “Abortion funds are a welcoming place for the power and brilliance of young people because we recognize our movement is stronger when we support and amplify their leadership.”
We see young people bravely sharing their abortion stories to shatter stigma. Amanda Williams, the executive director of the Texas-based Lilith Fund, and NNAF Policy Representative Renee Bracey Sherman are among many telling their abortion stories to the world, challenging a culture of silence and shame around this basic health-care service.
And yes, young people are a visible presence at rallies for accessible abortion care. In March, they joined older activists to support abortion access at the Supreme Court during oral arguments for the Texas abortion case (and we were among them!).
On a daily basis, we see young people embodying the second-wave feminist ideal that “the personal is political” by defending abortion on the ground. Youth are making abortion accessible by doing the hands-on, personal work of funding abortions, providing abortions, escorting patients into clinics, and in some states, driving and housing patients.
This is a directly political act, particularly in states where abortion is increasingly inaccessible. Rallies and marches are good and important. But they don’t mean much to a low-income woman in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley when she has two weeks left to obtain an abortion in her state and nowhere within hundreds of miles to go. She needs money, transportation, an escort, and a provider. She needs actual, tangible help. And that is what young people are doing.
Not only that, but young people are making the abortion rights movement more inclusive and more effective. In many ways, the abortion rights frameworks and tactics of the 1960s and 1970s don’t hold water for the movement today; our social movements have changed, and so has technology. Young people are demanding that the right to a safe and legal abortion be contextualized along all other reproductive rights, including youth-led campaigns like #NoTeenShame, which seeks to destigmatize pregnant and parenting teens. Young people are raising hundreds of thousands of dollars for abortion care by engaging social and digital media, leveraging the support of our followers to make access a reality. And young people are pushing the movement to be more gender-inclusive, to reflect the fact that not everyone who has an abortion identifies as a cisgender woman.
Young people aren’t checked out. We are engaged. We are working to make abortion accessible in an increasingly hostile landscape. Given the opportunity and support, young people can be the difference makers. So the next time critics of millenials are looking to blame someone for the current state of abortion rights, don’t look at us. We have work to do.
Last Wednesday, midway through a private fundraiser in South Carolina for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, a 23-year-old Black Lives Matter activist quietly made her way to the front of the crowd and unfurled a banner that read: “We have to bring them to heel.”
In the exchange that followed, captured on video, Ashley Williams asked Clinton to apologize to the Black community for a speech she made in 1996 celebrating a sweeping new crime bill, during which she referred to “gangs of kids” as “super predators: no conscience, no empathy.”
“We can talk about why they ended up that way,” Clinton continued in the speech, “but first we have to bring them to heel.”
The video made national headlines, and is amplifying a conversation among voters about Clinton’s role in the expansion of racial profiling and mass incarceration in the United States, and her ability—if elected—to deal with the school-to-prison pipeline. (The school-to-prison pipeline is shorthand for the disproportionate rate at which students of color are policed, punished, and funneled out of their classrooms into contact with the criminal justice system.)
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The conversation gained steam in February when Michelle Alexander, author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, penned a piece in the Nation titled “Why Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Deserve the Black Vote.” In her essay, Alexander explored the ways in which then-President Bill Clinton championed a federal “three strikes” law to impose life sentences without parole for offenders convicted of certain crimes, and signed a $30 billion crime bill that created scores of new federal capital crimes and significantly expanded the police force—policies for which Alexander claims Hillary Clinton actively advocated.
While Clinton’s 1996 speech, referenced by Williams in South Carolina, did not explicitly refer to these “super predators” as young people of color, her statement is widely perceived as a highly racialized one, given the disproportionate impact of the Clinton administration’s policies on Black and brown youth.
Clinton acknowledged on Thursday in a statement to the Washington Post, “Looking back, I shouldn’t have used those words, and I wouldn’t use them today.”
Her statement came more than a week after unveiling her $125 billion Breaking Every Barrier Agenda that promises, among other things, to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline.
Her proposal includes an allocation of $2 billion to school districts to incentivize reform of harsh disciplinary practices, which have been followed by soaring suspension and arrest rates: School suspensions shot up from 1.7 million in 1974 to 3.1 million in 2000, “and have been most dramatic for children of color,” according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
Clinton’s proposal also calls attention to an “ineffective culture of zero-tolerance,” and highlights the over-reliance on “school resource officers”—police personnel deployed in schools who numbered 9,000 as of 2008—as being emblematic of “overly punitive atmospheres that often disproportionately criminalize and stigmatize students of color, students with disabilities, and students who identify as LGBT.”
The agenda also hits out at legislation that allows some states to punish even minor disciplinary infractions—including talking in class or playing on a cellphone—with jail time, such as South Carolina’s Disturbing Schools Law, which resulted in over 1,100 students being referred to the state’s Department of Juvenile Justice for “disturbing their schools” in 2013-2014.
Citing data from the Department of Education, Clinton’s website notes that these laws disproportionately affect students of color, with Black students comprising 27 percent of all referrals to law enforcement and 31 percent of students subject to school-related arrests in 2014—despite representing just 16 percent of public school enrollment.
“I think this proposal is Clinton’s attempt to be responsive to the demands of movement advocates and activists across the country who’ve been pressing both candidates on the Democratic side to respond to racial inequality, mass incarceration, and police violence,” Priscilla Ocen, an associate professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, told Rewire.
“I don’t think it’s accidental that the plan was announced just a few days before [the Democratic primary in] South Carolina—it gives her something to talk to African-American voters about, and it is certainly pragmatic election campaigning,” Ocen said in a phone interview last Thursday. This pragmatic campaigning paid off last Saturday with Clinton’s resounding success in South Carolina, where she secured 86 percent of Black votes, compared to just 14 percent for Bernie Sanders.
Still, some juvenile justice experts and educators feel Clinton’s agendafalls short, landing somewhere along the spectrum from “incomplete” to “disingenuous.”
“I can’t help but feel that if this was genuinely something at the top of Clinton’s agenda, she would have done something about it when she was First Lady … Instead she simply followed the same ‘tough on crime’ line as so many other politicians,” Cynthia Pong, a former public defender with the Legal Aid Society in the Bronx, and now a consultant for nonprofit social justice organizations at Embrace Change Consulting, told Rewire in a phone interview.
“Throughout the decade of the ’90s and beyond, [Hillary Clinton] and her husband played a huge role in upholding and expanding systematic mass incarceration of people of color in this country. In 1994 she was using some of the most disgusting racist rhetoric about young men of color I have ever heard. After all that, for her now to be saying she is committed to dismantling mass incarceration is disingenuous and even a little suspicious,” said Pong, who has defended clients at various stages of entanglement in the school-to-prison pipeline.
“Accepting money from entities that profit from locking people up, while saying you’re going to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline, sends a completely inconsistent message,” Pong said.
Mishi Faruqee, national field director of the Youth First Initiative, shares a similar sentiment.
“I think it’s very important that the Clinton campaign completely repudiate all donations from lobbyists for the private prison industry, just as the [Bernie] Sanders campaign has done,” Faruqee told Rewire.
Faruqee also said she wants to see and hear more about how candidates intend to address the sprawling juvenile justice system, which incarcerates an estimated 54,000 young people on any given day, according to Youth First. As Rewire has previously reported, youth of color are disproportionately represented in the juvenile justice system, with Black kids experiencing a youth incarceration rate of 605 per 100,000 population, five times higher than the youth incarceration rate of their white peers, which is just 127 per 100,000. In 2013, Black children comprised 21,550 of an estimated 54,148 kids locked up in juvenile detention.
Last Thursday, nine national juvenile justice organizations distributed a letter to all presidential candidates, outlining their shared vision for an overhaul of the juvenile justice system. At publication time, none of the campaigns had responded to the letter, but Faruqee said she hopes Clinton’s agenda will begin to reflect some of the recommendations contained in the joint platform such as closing youth prisons, and reallocating funds towards community-based, family-centered alternatives to incarceration.
Others say the problem runs deeper than Clinton’s agenda suggests.
Clinton’s proposal promises to expend $200 million annually to dispatch “school climate support teams” into districts and schools with high suspension and arrest rates, with the purpose of tackling implicit bias—the subconscious ways in which perceptions based on race, gender, religion, or any number of characteristics feed negative stereotypes—and training educators in de-escalation tactics. But some educators say this proposal fails to closely look at implicit bias and the trauma it creates in classrooms across the country.
“In my experience working in historically and systemically disenfranchised communities of color, in which 99 percent of students are at or below the poverty line, what I see most frequently is a lot of trauma,” said Brittney Elyse Sampson-Thompson, a longtime educator who is currently serving middle school students at a charter school in Philadelphia.
“In schools where there is a large police presence or leaders who are quick to call the police on their students I’ve seen crazy things. When fifth-grade girls are led out of school in handcuffs my first thought is about the incredible ripple effect that will have, not only in the life of that young lady and her family, but also for every other child in the building who witnessed it,” she told Rewire.
“For the child herself it means that the idea of being arrested, of being in a cop car, of waiting in a precinct for her parents to arrive is no longer foreign—it becomes a true experience that she has lived. Add to that the fact that it happened while the child was in school—where she should be safe, not only physically but also emotionally and mentally safe to take risks and to explore and to be a child—and the situation becomes frankly tragic,” Sampson-Thompson added. “We serve in communities that have experienced generations of trauma and if we aren’t actively working against it, we add to it.”
Those whose work has focused closely on the intersections of race and gender in the school-to-prison pipeline also feel the proposal has some glaring gaps.
“Clinton ought to have an intersectional framework for understanding the gender dynamics of racial inequality that make girls vulnerable to both public and private expressions of violence,” said Ocen, co-author of a report on the disproportionate impact of the school-to-prison pipeline on Black girls, which found that they are six times as likely to be suspended as their white counterparts.
“She needs to be attentive to the gendered pathways that lead Black girls to being disproportionately incarcerated in juvenile detention facilities, and to be attentive to the fact that not only are girls and women among the fastest growing populations in prison, but also that the vast majority of them had been victims of physical or sexual abuse prior to being incarcerated,” Ocen said.
“Clinton will continue to have an incomplete understanding of racial justice and an incomplete racial justice platform until she attends to the specific vulnerabilities of girls and women of color,” Ocen added. “Both candidates ought to be listening to the people who are most affected by these policies, listening to their stories, their calls for transformation and their suggestions for what actually works.”