By Grace Hillery Art by Sabine Spier
I remember tugging on my mom’s jacket, impatiently asking when we were going home as we stood amongst a mass of people collected along the sidewalk next to a busy highway. Some were gathered in circles, bent over rosary beads, praying for “the children who were being murdered inside the building right across the street.” Others were shouting at the women, condemning them as murderers. I held signs I couldn’t yet read.
I remember sitting in a large dining hall, trying to stay as still as possible as religious leaders gave speech after speech telling us we were doing God’s work. I remember silver key chains with blue lace ribbons being given to all the kids as an older woman explained to us that they were replicas of what the unborn looked like. Older people would pass us, smile at my parents, and congratulate them for having such well-behaved children. Then they would look over at us and exclaim, “You girls are going to be such great mothers someday!”
I was named after Mary’s cousin Elizabeth, whose only role within the Bible was having a child at an old age. My sister was named after Mary, whose main role was giving birth as a virgin. My brother, on the other hand, was named after Daniel, a biblical figure so brave he survived spending an entire night trapped alone with lions. From the very beginning, even our names imposed oppressive gender roles on us; clearly, my parents had very different aspirations for my sister and me than they did for my brother.
My house was filled with signs, cheaply made plastic models of fetuses, and an assortment of key chains designed to look like life-sized replicas of “the unborn.”
Our dining room table and kitchen counters were littered with stacks of cardboard signs, religious pamphlets, and “pro-life” propaganda.
My dad plastered bumper stickers with anti-abortion slogans in all caps across the back of our car, and when those wore off he resorted to taping sheets of paper preaching God’s message to the back window.
Cracks began to form in the worldview I had been indoctrinated with in middle school. As I poured more and more of my time into academics, I began realizing things didn’t add up. Although my personal research helped me realize the world wasn’t the way my parents believed it was, I owe everything to a particularly progressive friend group who called me out on my bullshit. Whether it was lectures during homeroom about recent political events, taking the time to explain why I was wrong in a non-judgemental way, or just prodding me to question my own beliefs the friends I surrounded myself with helped me realize the flaws in what I had been raised to believe long before I ever would have been able to discover on my own.
It began with subtle acts of defiance. Less enthusiastically contributing to our nightly prayers, zoning out in church, and occasionally arguing on behalf of science at the dinner table. Academics became my primary form of rebellion. I would joke with my friends that I had become the black sheep of my family by getting straight A's.
My desire to break free from the ideology held by my family became obsessive, to the point that I broke down over any grade below 95 and then below 98 until even 99s became unacceptable. I poured everything I had into my studies; every meal was accompanied by a textbook; every car ride was spent buried deep within a book or stack of homework; every night became a late night spent obsessing over homework assignments my peers finished minutes before class.
It started with climate science. I remember watching a clip of the news online and realizing it didn’t align with what my parents had told me. So I watched another, and read another article, spiraling down a rabbit hole of credible news until I realized that climate change was real. As my blind faith in religion eroded away, it was replaced by a newly developed understanding of science. Eventually, this trust in science led me to question the idea my parents enforced the most: that abortion, regardless of the circumstances, was murder.
I tried rationalizing with them. I tried suggesting the most extreme scenario I could think of to find some common ground. What if a 12-year-old girl was raped by her father and if she didn’t get an abortion she would die? All they responded with was that if God wanted her to be saved, he would save her, but she should still be forced to give birth. I remember staring at them, not being able to come up with a response. I couldn’t use logic or even empathy against such blind faith.
I wish I could tell you that in elementary school, or even middle school, I knew instinctively that women had the right to control their own bodies. If I’m being honest though, I didn’t. I had no idea that the ideology I was supporting caused harm. Had I not had access to the resources I did, had I not had people around me outside of my family unit who took the time to explain how the ideology I held was bullshit, I wouldn’t be the person I am today.
Often trying to rationalize or debate people who hold views counter to your own can feel like a waste of time, and often it is, but sometimes you might just be able to hammer cracks into the flawed ideologies people hold. While there’s a chance you could be the person who triggers a shift in mindset or even radicalizes someone, this isn’t your responsibility. No woman or person with a uterus should ever be in a position where they have to defend their humanity or rationalize why they should be the only one who controls their body.
After realizing the ideology I held for most of my life was completely wrong, I felt the need to scream from the rooftops the new truths I had discovered. Activism became the tipping point that shattered the hold my parent’s worldview had on me. I was no longer a prop holding hateful signs I had no way to comprehend at rallies opposing my own self-interests, instead, I made my own signs and organized my own protests fighting on behalf of what I had discovered to be true. Activism allowed me to reclaim my purpose, it allowed me to escape the one prescribed to me by the archaic ideology held by the church, and carve out a future for myself beyond what I once thought was possible.
The overturn of Roe was devastating, but not surprising in the slightest. As someone who has spent the majority of my life on the side fighting for its overturn, I saw firsthand the amount of effort and mobilization that went into removing the right to bodily autonomy for millions of women. As devastating as the loss of Roe is, it is far from the last of our fundamental rights that are threatened. We need to use this as a wake-up call to mobilize everyday people concerned about marginalized and oppressed communities to secure our rights while we still can. Voting is important, but the fight for abortion rights happens every day of the year, not just on election day. When the government fails to protect our basic rights, working-class people need to pull together to form the coalitions and networks needed to provide for each other.
My experience joining activist groups has been empowering to say the least, and to call it life-changing would be an understatement. One of the fundamental challenges of activism is that we’re always understaffed and in need of more support. If you’re not sure if you’re cut out for activist spaces yet, take the jump and just join. I promise other activists will be thrilled to have more hands helping to get our work done! For me, everything started by just attending my first Sunrise meeting on Zoom, a summer spent doing voter outreach, and a few all-nighters making signs and planning protests later and I was already leading a chapter of the Sunrise Movement in my hometown. A couple of good places to start taking action if you are interested in defending abortion rights and reproductive healthcare on campus are Sunrise Dartmouth and Planned Parenthood Generation Action. For information on how to attend our weekly meetings DM us on Instagram @sunrise.dartmouth and we’ll let you know how you can attend.
At its core, our activism is rooted in protecting and taking care of our community. Ironically, the gendered expectations that pushed me to embody what are seen as more feminine traits, like compassion, selflessness, and a desire to nurture and care for others, are traits vital for organizing. Although I’ve only been organizing for three years at this point, I’ve found that taking direct action through mutual aid is one of the best ways to provide support for our communities in the face of governmental and institutional failure to meet our needs. Mutual aid is essentially the process of everyday working-class people coming together to meet each other’s needs and comes from a place that prioritizes solidarity rather than charity. The desire to provide for others, a quality central to the idea of motherhood and femininity, has the power to be an instrument of empowerment rather than oppression when placed in the hands of mutual aid. The traits I was pressured to conform to, the traits that kept me tied to a system of oppression, are now tools for my own liberation when channeled into activism.
I think it’s safe to say that I’ve come a long way from the little girl protesting outside abortion clinics. Although the transition from the ideology held by my parents to the one I hold today took me longer than I’d honestly like to admit, the process of critiquing everything I believed and dismantling my worldview was a valuable experience that left me confident in what I believe today. The future of reproductive rights remains uncertain, but regardless of what the courts say, I’m confident that through unwavering dissent and mutual aid we will find a way to protect access to our fundamental rights. If any part of you is scared by the fact that our basic rights to bodily autonomy are being violated, join us and take direct action now, we need your help.
Although Dartmouth is an incredibly wealthy institution, the growing working-class movement on campus shines a light on the college’s failure to meet all of our needs. As further archaic legislation continues to strip us of our rights to reproductive healthcare, our need to rely on mutual aid networks to provide us with the resources we need will only continue to grow. Sunrise Dartmouth as well as a coalition of other student organizations are working to form a mutual aid network to disturb resources across campus, we’re always looking for more help, so if you or your organization is interested in helping we would love your support!
As part of the Upper Valley for Abortion Rights coalition, Sunrise Dartmouth is distributing Plan B and other reproductive health resources for free as part of our mutual aid network. No one should ever experience any difficulty accessing emergency contraceptives, so if you or someone you know finds yourself in need of Plan B, DM us @sunrise.dartmouth on Instagram and we’ll deliver it anywhere on campus that is most convenient for you.
You may have already seen some of the work we’ve been doing. If you’ve been in a women’s or gender-inclusive bathroom on campus, you might have seen the stickers we’ve been distributing that read “Need to be unpregnant?” These stickers have a QR code on them that links to a website called plancpills.org, which provides extensive information about the safety and efficacy of medication abortion and directs you to where you can purchase abortion pills online. One site we personally recommend is AidAccess.org, which provides medication abortion at a sliding scale cost, so you only have to pay what you can afford. When buying pills from some online sources, you don’t have to prove that you are pregnant at the time of their purchase, so you can purchase abortion pills for immediate emergency use in the event you face an unwanted pregnancy in the future. Plan C regularly tests pills from the online sources they recommend, so you can be confident in the safety of the pills you purchase.
Sunrise Dartmouth and the chapter of Planned Parenthood Generation Action on Dartmouth’s campus have also been distributing stickers that link to a comprehensive list of reproductive and sexual health resources available on campus. If you are interested in getting a couple of these stickers so that you can have the information on hand if you ever find yourself in a situation in need of support, DM Sunrise Dartmouth on Instagram @sunrise.dartmouth and we can find a way to get you a few.