Tag Archives: UnRestrict Minnesota

Our Bodies, Ourselves: Faces of the Resistance

On the bleakest day for American women in my lifetime, the texts and the tears started flying back and forth within seconds of the New York Times news flash on my iPhone.

“It happened,” I texted a friend who is a leader in the abortion rights movement in Minnesota.

A rally at Planned Parenthood in May 2022, after the U.S. Supreme Court decision leaked

Her one-word answer described the swamp I stayed stuck in all day after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that legalized abortion nationwide on January 22, 1973. I was 15 and a half years old. I am 65 now. That means I had the safety and protection of legal abortion throughout my reproductive years, a right that my two grown sons will not inherit.

“Shit,” my friend responded, placing a period after the single word in her text, as though to emphasize the finality, the inevitability. Then she helped organize a massive vigil in downtown Minneapolis at 5:30 that afternoon, Friday, June 24, 2022.

“Join us in grief, rage, and in loving community,” her email invitation said. Contrary to stereotypes about the godless nature of pro-choice activists, my friend is a minister.

A counter-protestor outside Planned Parenthood in St. Paul on Black Friday

Amid the dozens of articles, headlines and notes from radio broadcasts or podcasts that I have saved since June 24 — “Roe Ruling, Remapping Turned Tide,” about the DFL sweep of the Minnesota statehouse; “Democrats Flip Script in Abortion Rights Debate,” from the New York Times; “Covert Network Provides Pills for Thousands of Abortion in U.S. Post Roe,” in the Washington Post; “Court at Odds with Public,” two days after a decision that has stripped a generation of their rights — one quote stands alone.

“Women didn’t talk about it much, they didn’t do a bunch of marches and protests, they didn’t post on social media, they probably didn’t even tell their husbands,” GOP strategist and former Senate majority leader Amy Koch told the Star Tribune after her party’s defeat in the midterms. “But they were ticked off and they went out to vote.”

A day after Roe v. Wade fell, I tabled for Planned Parenthood at the Pride festival in Minneapolis.

She got the last part right. But Koch’s assumption that women were disengaged from the debate — that any woman who cares about the ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health is, by definition, heterosexual and married — and that many people, of all genders, have not been out marching, protesting, phone banking and strategizing on social media is, to my experience, just plain wrong.

It also helps explain why Republicans fell short in this year’s midterm elections in Minnesota (“State GOP Surveys Wreckage” was the headline for this piece). “Never underestimate the power of a small group of people to change the world,” anthropologist Margaret Mead once said. Especially if those people have lost their rights.

I know a 32-year-old man who got a vasectomy within weeks of the Dobbs decision, not wanting to put a female partner through an unwanted pregnancy and certain that he never wanted kids himself. I have a good friend, a lesbian, who came to the United States from Europe as a child; she and her wife are contemplating moving back to her liberal homeland, where she doesn’t have to fear that their legal marriage could be undone.

“What happens to all the babies born into unsafe conditions?” asked a report on National Public Radio the Monday morning after the Dobbs decision was announced. States with the strictest abortion laws also tend to have the fewest social services, the program host pointed out.

My neighbor, like me, is more than a decade past her reproductive years. We feel this decision deeply, especially as mothers — her to three daughters, me to two sons — but we wouldn’t primarily feel its effects. White, middle-class, still supported by the safety net with which I was raised, I could afford to cross state lines for a safe and legal abortion, if I were of childbearing age and wasn’t lucky enough to live in Minnesota, an oasis of sanity and compassion in the Upper Midwest.

A pregnant woman displays her baby bump at an abortion rights rally in July.

Thirteen states have enacted laws banning abortion with limited exceptions since the Dobbs decision. I am hosting a fundraiser for 30 people this coming Saturday for Our Justice, an organization that raises money to house women seeking abortion care in our state. This is what we’ve come to: individual solutions in individual states, as though women’s autonomy were not a national value (which, of course, it’s not).

I saw a woman last summer at the dog park with a T-shirt that read: Pro-Cat, Pro-Feminist, Pro-Choice. “I agree with all but one of those,” I told her, and then I paused before dropping the punchline: “I’m allergic to cats.” The woman told me she’s a teacher in Minneapolis Public Schools and can’t wear political T-shirts or buttons to her job. So she wears a pro-choice T-shirt when she’s out running weekend errands and notes how many — or how few — people respond.

A handmaid, by definition, is a “subservient partner or element.”

The first time I saw a Handmaid’s Tale outfit at a pro-choice rally was at the Minnesota State Capitol in spring 2019. “Since you creeps won’t get out of our bedrooms, we’re coming for your House,” the woman’s sign read. I didn’t know then that the costume would become contentious, that women of color whose earlier family members had no choices, who had no agency over their bodies, would see it as another symbol of white, clueless privilege. Still, at that time and place, it was powerful for me.

Nearly three years later, in May 2022, the same outfit had a more chilling effect at a Planned Parenthood rally after the Supreme Court’s draft document leaked, once the reality of Roe’s demise felt closer, more real. This Handmaid paused after consenting to have her photo taken, striking the pose of submission that personifies the point novelist Margaret Atwood was trying to make when her book — now better known as a TV series on Hulu —was published in 1985.

A reproductive rights rally at the State Capitol this past July brought out thousands of people who looked more angry than afraid. I shouted out information about the event till I was hoarse on June 25, the day after the Supreme Court decision was announced. I was tabling for Planned Parenthood at the Pride festival in Minneapolis alongside another Boomer woman who had shared her abortion story at a rally the previous day. She left our shift early, emotionally drained and physically spent.

By contrast, I found the energy and support at the Pride festival to be inspiring, a spirited day of action that helped me feel less frightened and alone.

Thousands of people gathered at the Minnesota State Capitol on July 17, 2022.

“I don’t see the point of going to a rally,” my husband said before I convinced him to join me at Planned Parenthood’s Twin Cities headquarters back in May. Similarly, a letter writer told the Star Tribune right after the Dobbs decision: “I guess the rallies are supposed to send a message to [elected officials], but I believe personal messages have more impact.”

It’s the energy, the camaraderie, the crazy and creative signs, the righteous outrage, the relief of being among like-minded people in a society that has turned right so hard and fast it leaves me bruised: Those are the reasons to attend a rally.

The National Day of Action in Minneapolis in October 2021

At the National Day of Action, dubbed the Women’s March, in Minneapolis on October 2, 2021, I volunteered to get people on the mailing list for UnRestrict Minnesota, a coalition of groups focused on reproductive rights, racial equity and gender equality. Then I started taking photos of T-shirts and signs. Some were provocative (“If my uterus could fire bullets, you wouldn’t regulate it”), others straightforward (“Patriarchy hurts everyone” and “Racist people suck”).

But one spoke volumes by speaking the simple truth. It quoted Ruth Bader Ginsburg during her Senate confirmation hearing for the U.S. Supreme Court in 1993, perhaps the last time a prospective jurist was honest about their views on Roe v. Wade, which declared abortion to be constitutionally protected.

Data show that women of color will be more greatly affected by the revocation of Roe.

“The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman’s life, to her well-being and dignity,” the sign said, quoting Ginsburg flawlessly. “It is a decision she must make for herself. When government controls that decision for her, she is being treated as less than a fully adult human responsible for her own choices.”

Donald Trump may never set foot in the White House again. But he will leave behind a legacy of a six-judge conservative majority on a nine-person court that will undo the social progress of my youth. Our downfall as liberals and progressives, in the 2016 presidential election and beyond, was that we failed to see it coming. Instead, we bickered among ourselves, refused to coalesce around a candidate and hated on Mitch McConnell rather than emulating his focus.

Being right doesn’t matter once your rights are gone.

What ‘Merry Christmas’ can really mean

Every year, for many years, I have mailed off roughly the same Christmas gifts to my siblings: a funny dog book or wall hanging for my sister Penny, who dotes on her four dogs; “crazy Cat Lady” trinkets to my oldest sister, Debbie, a cat lover whose husband used to volunteer at a shelter to help socialize feral cats for adoption; and a Minnesota-themed calendar or T-shirt or hat to my brother in Boston, who likes to showcase his Midwestern heritage.

They, in turn, would send me boxes of See’s candy, wax-wrapped aged cheese, frosted cookies in a holiday-themed tin — gifts that I appreciated but really do not need.

This year, I decided, would be different. Crossing my fingers that I wouldn’t appear dismissive of their past efforts, I emailed my siblings before Thanksgiving and asked that, in lieu of material gifts, they give to one of two nonprofits in my name: a local community services organization for which my husband and I deliver Meals on Wheels every Friday and a feminist policy-based organization that is gearing up against threats to Roe v. Wade.

“With the pandemic pressing in on us again and racially based divisiveness rocking our country, I am more aware than ever of the privilege we were born into and from which we continue to benefit,” I wrote.

“To that end, David and I respectfully ask that you take any money you would normally spend on the lovely gifts of food you send us for Christmas each year and instead donate that amount in our names to one of these causes.”

Each of my siblings generously supported the food shelves, youth employment and senior classes at Keystone Community Services, one noting that our father and stepmother received Meals on Wheels for a time. Soon after my initial request, I wrote again, saying that I would like to donate to their favorite causes and elevate the reach of Christmas beyond its consumerist underpinnings.

In the process, I got to know my sisters and brother better. Just as a budget reflects a company or a country’s core values, where a person chooses to donate money says a lot about that individual’s priorities, and about how they see themselves.

Access to the outdoors

My younger brother, L.J., showed himself as the Bostonian he has become since marrying a native of the city some 28 years ago. “Please donate to the Rose Kennedy Greenway,” he told me. “It is a great urban park that adds a lot to downtown Boston.” The public space and programming commits to “providing a park environment that is welcoming to racially, culturally, and economically diverse residents and visitors,” according to the website.

With food trucks, fitness classes, fountains and open green space — typically concentrated in the more affluent neighborhoods of our nation’s cities — the Greenway looks like an inviting place for people of all ages, abilities and economic classes to play and hang out.

An ADA-compliant carousel at Rose Kennedy Greenway makes a “spin” safe for everyone.

I’m not surprised that equity and inclusion in the natural world is an important value to my brother — raised, as we were, in a community with ample municipal and state parks and in a family that prioritized fitness and outdoor exercise — but we’ve never discussed it. Less politically liberal than I am, my brother revealed a side of himself I otherwise might not have seen. “Thanks for donating,” he said, pronouncing this philanthropic gift exchange “a nice idea.”

Dog-friendly diet

My sister Penny’s overt, over-the-top love of dogs is a running joke in our family. We love to recount the time her father-in-law said that after he died, he wanted to return to Earth as one of Penny’s pampered dogs, the ones who get soft-serve cones at Dairy Queen and homemade dinner so enticing that I once mistakenly ate it myself.

No surprise, then, that Penny’s choice for my donation was Colorado Pet Pantry, a food bank for pets that allows low-income people, or those whose luck has temporarily turned, to keep their animals rather than surrendering them to shelters.

Colorado Pet Pantry is a food shelf for animals whose owners might otherwise have to give them away.

“Being the dog lover that I am, I’m drawn to charities for pets,” she said. “This charity is unique in that it helps people to be able to keep a beloved animal they maybe otherwise couldn’t. That just spoke to me as a nonprofit worth supporting.”

What matters most

The morning after Christmas, I survey the leftovers in the fridge and determine that I can take a break from cooking that day. I recycle the plain brown wrapping paper that my younger son used on his thoughtful gifts of books. I force myself out, despite the cold, on my daily dog walk, trying to counteract the intake of overly rich food.

No Amazon boxes to break down and recycle. No cursing at the amount of plastic wrap that shippers use. No pondering whether to freeze or give away the pounds of candy and exotic edibles that my husband and I, as older empty nesters, do not need to consume.

Instead, I look over the website for the Retreat Center of Maryland, a 5-year-old organization that aims to bring yoga and other wellness practices to people with autism or Parkinson’s disease and other populations that the industry historically has not served. This is my sister Debbie’s choice for my Christmas gift, a nod to our mutual love of yoga. One of her neighbors, a volunteer yoga teacher in prisons, serves on the board.

My stepsister, Mary, my only sibling still living in Minnesota, chose Vine: Faith in Action, which matches volunteers with the needs of people ages 60 and older. In-person and online exercise classes and programs on topics such as diabetes, financial exploitation of seniors and healthcare directives have helped the Mankato-based organization continue to grow and serve.

“I want the gift of time,” I used to tell my sons every Mother’s Day. Now I want this practice of Christmas donations to become a tradition, bringing to life a quote commonly attributed to John Wesley, founder of the Methodist church in which my siblings and I were raised:

Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.

As a Unitarian, I no longer celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday. Still, I watch myself get caught up every year in the trappings and trimmings, the whirlwind of shopping and spending. Today, as December draws to a close, I can say, “Merry Christmas” and mean it, knowing that my brother and sisters and I shared what I believe is the true Christmas spirit.