This semester I had the opportunity to do service learning at NARAL as part of the Intro to Social Justice class at the U. A couple weeks after class started, a number of different organizations from around the Twin Cities came in to talk to the class so that everyone could get a feel for where they wanted to do their service learning for the rest of the semester. I was torn between several, but my final decision was made when Dana described service learning at NARAL as “hanging out in an office full of feminists.”
Over the last few months, my experiences at NARAL have helped me better understand what the world of pro-choice politics is like. As I logged hours for clinic escorts, I was surprised to see many of the same names show up over and over again, showing an admirable level of dedication to a pro-choice volunteering opportunity I hadn’t even known existed until recently. When I entered names and contact info collected by field canvassers, I was reminded of the fact that pro-choice outreach and pro-choice beliefs extend far beyond the university bubble that I so often feel like I’m in. Of course, data entry was also a glimpse into the world of organizing beyond the exciting stuff—because for all the fieldwork, there’s also a lot of sitting and typing in an Excel spreadsheet. When you’re in a Social Justice class and spending each week discussing tearing down the system and sticking it to the man, sometimes it’s good to have a reminder that really making a difference requires dedication to the behind-the-scenes stuff too.
However, there are two experiences I had this semester through NARAL that really stick out to me. The first was going to the state office building for a committee hearing on a few different anti-choice bills—all of which passed through the House of Representatives. I was familiar with TRAP laws, but to actually sit and watch people in person while they defended further restricting abortion access under the guise of “protecting women” was discouraging, to say the least. The second experience was clinic escorting. I was stationed near the door along with another escort—meaning whatever the anti-choice protestors wanted to say to us had to be shouted at us from the sidewalk. After we watched a group of four men pace back and forth along the sidewalk praying the Rosary, a woman started shouting at us about how our mothers should be ashamed of us. When we started to laugh uncomfortably at the strange experience of trying to hold a conversation while someone yelled at us, the woman screamed that we were “laughing at the death of the innocent.”
While the situation has made for a somewhat humorous story to tell my pro-choice friends, it was also a disheartening reminder of how much opposition there is. In the last few months at NARAL, I’ve become much more aware of just how many obstacles there are in the way of accessible reproductive healthcare. At the same time, it’s been great to see just how many people and organizations are out there fighting these obstacles. I’ve learned a lot at NARAL, and plan to continue being involved by being a campus rep and working with the University Pro-Choice Coalition. As the semester is ending, I’m happy to not just have received credit for doing service learning, but also to have opened a doorway in my own life for what I hope to be years of pro-choice activism to come.
Written By Jennifer
Jennifer was a student at the University of Minnesota, Twin-Cities, and a member of the University of Minnesota’s University Pro-Choice Coalition. We are thrilled to announce that she will be returning to NARAL Pro-Choice Minnesota in the Fall as as intern in our Campus Organizing Program!