Tonight, the Public Safety Committee of the Oakland City Council voted YES, to adopt an Ordinance to ensure safe and unimpeded access to reproductive health care facilities, in response to over 10 years of complaints that anti-choice demonstrators intimidate and harass women trying to enter abortion clinics in Oakland. Two of the clinics are in our Council District. The Ordinance is called a Bubble Ordinance because it creates a safety zone, a "bubble" of safety, around an individual accessing the clinics. The Ordinance will protect clinic patients and family members, volunteer escorts, doctors, and clinic staff.
I helped write the Ordinance, and I wrote the Staff Report, which I presented to the Committee tonight. I'd forgotten how unbearably hot it is under those lights, speaking into the camera, as your colleagues sit behind you watching, as your Boss sits next to you expecting your expert knowledge to freely flow into the microphone, as the affected groups sit in the audience relying on you to advocate on their behalf and secure the votes, and as your friends and family watch at home. It took me over six months to prepare for the five minutes I had at the podium. Some of the clinic staff members had been waiting for this moment for 10 years. I thought I had thought of everything ~ framing the issue so that it's about public safety, not exclusively about Choice, to avoid that heated debate and focus instead on the fact that if you are a women trying to enter a clinic and a protester is close enough to you that you have to bump into them to get through, THEN THEY ARE TOO CLOSE. Simple. Facts.
Our supporters were eloquent, articulate, factual, and calm. A few anti-choice/pro-life advocates spoke, and turned the tables on "Choice," explaining that if they are prevented from "counseling" women on the sidewalk, as they try to enter the clinic, then we are actually depriving those women of Choice and informed consent. That was expected ~ I saw that one coming. The Councilmembers did not take the bait. Another anti-choice/pro-life advocate said that if we passed this Ordinance, we would "make abortion completely accessible." Yes. Thank you. That is the point.
What was interesting was the woman who said she is a 4th-generation San Franciscan, and explained that in 1903 her great-grandmother found herself in a crisis pregnancy. She decided to have the baby, who became this woman's grandmother. The speaker pointed out she would not be there tonight if her great-grandmother had not been so courageous as to have a child out of wedlock in 1903.
Factually, she is correct. But I don't agree that the facts give this woman any right to tell any other woman what to do with her body, nor even to try to preach her story to any woman she does not know on the sidewalk in front of an abortion clinic. There are different kinds of courage. You don't get to define someone else's courage for them.
What resonated with me is how similar her story is to mine, my family's story.....In 1947, my grandmother worked as a cotton picker in the Valley in Texas. She had been born in Mexico and probably still lived in Matamoros, walking across the border every day, commuting to the fields where she picked cotton. She was in a relationship, although she was not married. My grandmother got pregnant ~ and the man left. Some things never change. My grandmother kept the baby ~ probably it was the only choice she had, considering the alternative of a "back-alley" abortion out in the fields. She continued the back-breaking work of picking cotton, even while pregnant. She had the baby ~ my mom. She went back to work, picking cotton. And raised my mom, alone, for two years. She was a kick-ass, independent, fearless, strong woman. Some things never change.
Later, when my mom was two, my grandmother met Samuel (abuelito) and they married and moved to Mexico, where they had 4 more kids. As adults, my mom would help bring her entire family to Texas, with her citizenship. When my mom and dad married, they worked as strawberry pickers in Bakersfield. When she got pregnant with me, my mom continued picking strawberries, back-breaking work, stooped over her growing belly all day, until she was seven months pregnant. Like mother, like daughter ~ my mom is also a strong, kick-ass woman, even in the times I thought she was the weakest person I know.
As that woman in the Committee meeting told her story, I wondered, just for a second, if my grandmother had even considered an abortion; did the idea even occur to her? I wouldn't be here today if she had. More likely, I think she didn't think there was anything to do but have the baby, and keep working. That's what you did back then ~ and still do in many places, even in Oakland. So, was having my mom really her choice, if she didn't have any other option? I wouldn't be here if my grandmother hadn't had my mom. But then, I wouldn't be here if my mom had never met my father, or not married him, or gotten pregnant in some other month, depending on how all the DNA came together. The fact that I am here is sheer luck ~ not entirely the result of something my grandmother chose, or stumbled into, doing in 1947. So, the fact that any of us lives and breathes through sheer luck or circumstance or chance or choice doesn't give us permission to dictate anyone else's reality.
Oh but they tried. Twenty-One Speakers. Two minutes each. The Committee meeting dragged on ~ but the Councilmembers did not take the bait on religion, or free speech, or even Choice. Each Councilmember also spoke eloquently (which doesn't always happen!), contradicting the claims of the anti-choice/pro-life advocates. Yes, this is about Choice...but you do not get to define Choice. Do you?
I'm going home now ~ tonight, 8:30 pm is considered early for a Committee day. I'll watch the 11 o'clock news on Univisión, to see if they air what I said on-camera. And I'll spend a few more weeks preparing for the next presentation, to the full City Council. That woman's comments don't change my views on Choice, and they won't change my presentation ~ it only served to remind me how amazing my grandmother and mother are, and how I hope to be as strong as them someday, and how I hope I make them proud ~ someday.