Reproductive Justice Day by Day
Reel Camp for Girls Summer 2020
by Serena Ngaio Simmons (HWF writer in residence)
This camp’s theme is Reproductive Justice (RJ) and I think it’s fair to say that many of us involved in this program are heavily affected by this topic directly. Even in the midst of a pandemic and a loud and powerful uprising of Black, Brown, and Indigenous voices and experiences, systems of oppression are still trying to find ways to continue to marginalize and push their harm. Decisions regarding who gets to live or die as well as how we get to decide what to do with our bodies while we are on this earth are still up for discussion with politicians. And despite all of the actions being taken and the absolute refusal of thousands of people to continue accepting the status quo as permanent and unmovable, people can still feel disheartened. There is tremendous upheaval and a huli of the system is taking place but there is still so much against us; this can make pushing on hard sometimes. Especially for those who occupy several marginalized identities at once.
Which is why programs like this need to continue with the work they’re doing. In the first two days of the RJ camp, I have experienced more inclusion of Black, Brown, Indigenous, trans, queer, and disabled bodies and experiences in the realm of RJ than ever before in my life. While HWF has always strived for inclusivity on its own, the people who are teaching us about the complexities and intersectional nature of RJ have really brought home the need to recognize that inclusivity, listening, and respecting peoples’ identities is how we continue to build this better future. That acquiring reproductive justice and true quality of life requires honoring, celebrating, and uplifting all Black, Brown, and Indigenous lives and experiences. That this is how we ensure a more just, decolonized future is possible.
Yesterday, I found myself thinking about what I was doing to express myself as a young person in the midst of all that awful education. In addition to our absurd abstinence education, we also had plain ol’ awful education; my high school, in particular, rings in my memory distinctly as a school where teachers and administration cared about only the brightest. The rest of us did not matter; we weren’t worthy of help, ANY resources, and were shuffled off to portables and forced to find some sort of community with each other. That wasn’t always easy. A lot of days are spent angry and frustrated about why? Why does no one listen? Why are we literally separated from the main campus in these portable classes? Why do my teachers think we’re all incapable?
I remember how when I was younger and enduring neglect and ignorance at the hands of the school system, the only thing that kept me going and eventually led to me getting out of the school (i.e. graduation, which seemed unlikely for me for a while at that point) was poetry. Writing was the only way I could talk about my feelings and not act out on my anger. Writing helped me realize that I have a voice and a story worth telling despite anything teachers or the administration told me. I have been writing ever since and I don’t know where I would be without it; at the risk of sounding cheesy, poetry really has saved me in every way.
I reflect on this and then think about how arts and creativity, in general, have been under attack on a legislative level (and you could say social as well given how many ppl think art is "easy") in the so-called U.S. as long as I can remember. The efforts of the federal government to strip away what little funding and attention the arts have has BEEN loud and the scrambling that organizations and communities have to do to preserve their practices is constant. I know that programs such as Reel Camp and other HWF efforts to engage and creatively mobilize young people are necessary. I know that this mahi (work) has to continue because I know there are young people who use this as a way to express the deepest parts of themselves and the things they really care about; indeed, I’m sure for some, this might be the only way they know how to express themselves for now. I certainly get that and still feel that way some days. Film, poetry, drawing, music, etc. The revolution does not happen without artists; it absolutely CANNOT happen without artists. Art has been under attack by the current system and we cannot allow that to be replicated in this new future we are trying to build right now. And young people are doing all of it: making the art, telling the stories, expressing themselves, standing up and not backing down.
We should continue to honor that. We will continue to honor that as we continue to build.
Patchwork: So Many Feelings and Thoughts
This week has a lot of learning and reflection taking place on a collective and personal level. I’m still mulling around the personal part a day later. We have been gifted with a wealth of knowledge by our friends at Planned Parenthood and AF3IRM Hawaiʻi the past few days in regards to safe sex practices, the legal courses of action young people have when it comes to taking care of their sexual health and wellbeing, the inclusion of LGBTQI+ voices and experiences in conversations about reproductive health and sex, as well as important reminders on consent, where to access resources, and how important it is for us all to feel empowered and at home in our bodies regardless of who we are and how we identify.
I always inevitably find myself looking back on my own youth whenever we do these reel camps. For this one, however, I am thinking about what I was learning when I was a young person in school. And to be completely honest, in my entire career of required schooling, elementary to high school, I didn’t get a single ounce of what we covered in the past three days. I was a part of the generation that was heavily schooled on abstinence education, fear, and shame. In high school, I was personally shamed by an abstinence educator in front of my whole class when I refused to participate in an exercise. I am one of probably many from my generation that, when confronted with vital and helpful information on sexual and reproductive health years later, I feel robbed. I feel upset that I didn’t get a chance to learn things that could have been helpful to me as a young person.
This is not to say that the young people of this current generation don’t have struggles; I would say it actually further re-affirms the need to huli this system we’re in and keep building a more equitable future because I know they have a tremendous amount of stress growing up in this world as well. And things seem to get harder by the day. And nothing grows or gets better in a colonial system/mindset. Time has shown this. I have witnessed it in myself and have been actively decolonizing my mind and purging it of all the colonial ideals instilled in it since day one of kindergarten. It didn’t end with my generation, even if the ones coming up now have more of a clear view on most things than I did when I was their age. It just shows how deep colonialism goes and how more than ever, education like this is needed to help us in our journey to continue the complete overhaul of these corrupt power structures.
Everyone is on track for this camp. I feel like once we get to the third day even and presentations are still going, most people have their films planned out and some are already shooting. If anything, people just need a bit of troubleshooting time with mentors or educators for specific details or clarification. Yesterday was definitely one of those days. When everyone is working on their films or is already in the editing process, a few of us are in the main Zoom room hanging out and talking. Some of us are mainly listening and soaking it all in. The surreal nature of community building through Zoom in the midst of a pandemic and massive mobilization of people against structural violence; surreal but inspiring.
I sat there and listened a lot yesterday and thought about everything going on in these camps. How no matter what people are doing, whether working on their films for the entirety of the session or spending time with mentors and educators asking questions or just talking, the conversation never stops. I say “the conversation” because everything we are concerned about and making media about is a part of a larger conversation. Everything is connected, we are all relatives, we are all contributing to each other’s discourse(s) in some way. These ideas, feelings, and realities never stop being relevant. The movement continues to build momentum and is not stopping. When people take breaks on the ground, there are young people in these virtual spaces making media to continue pushing stories and voices forward. And vice versa. Everything feeds into each other, we are all doing something to keep the fire roaring. And that’s really beautiful to think about.
I will admit something: I am 26 years old, a graduate student, and I am still learning. This is important for me to write not just as a personal reminder but also because it feels timely. It feels necessary. The times we are in: millions of people across the so-called U.S. and the world are revolting against oppression and the status quo, where people are advocating for and honoring the sacredness of Black lives and experiences, a pandemic is revealing the absolute fragility inherent in the governing body of the so-called “greatest country on earth,” as well as the outright neglect and disdain for the physical and mental health of the people living within its borders. Forests are burning, Black, Brown, and Indigenous peoples are experiencing the worst of an economic shutdown and the absence of public health measures, and we are living in perpetual trauma mode; we are always on edge, always waiting for the other shoe to drop, to learn a new, scary fact or to drop everything and run to someone’s aid. There are very few breaks right now and it is safe to say that not a single one of us has all the answers. We just do our best every day and support each other in doing the same.
While we don’t have answers, many of us have ideas. We have visions. We have imaginings of a world beyond the fatal, colonial one we’ve been given. Specifically, the youth have ideas. I’m not sure at what point academia convinced me that I somehow know more than others because I am older and sitting in a classroom for two and a half hours talking about some dude named Hegel; it was always wrong though. I do not know more because I am older. I certainly don’t know more because I decided to be sad in a classroom for two and a half years to acquire an extra piece of paper.
If the Reel Camp shows me anything repeatedly, it’s that young people already know. They’re already learning, picking things up quickly, researching, taking the time, and applying it to their unique situations. They are aware of how they move in the world and they tell stories about it. When educators and community members give presentations on this camp’s theme of Reproductive Justice (RJ) and the supremely intersectional nature of it all, they pay attention, they take notes, and they apply it to what’s happening in the world. They are very aware of what’s going on and they don’t need any more from those of us who decided we somehow have a leg up because of age or some self-appointed credential. More importantly, what these young people do with film, in particular, is something that we could all learn to do in some capacity during these massive world-building times: imagine.
There is definitely a magic in being able to read or hear a story and picture it in one’s mind: it is a whole other thing to be able to see exactly what someone else is envisioning. What one is imagining something to look like. That is what is so amazing about film and these films especially. Not everyone decides to make films that focus specifically on the future and what it looks like; rather, what I mean by imagining, is these films beg us to take a second and think about what it would mean to live in a world where our bodies, voices, experiences, and choices mattered? What does that love and respect for our bodies, voices, experiences, and choices look like? How do we enact that right now, in this moment, in our lives? What are all of the elements of those stories and how do we honor all of them? Especially as Black, Brown, and Indigenous peoples, as well as LGBTQI+ folks. What does it mean to make room for those stories and let them join the fabric of all the other powerful stories contributing to our collective liberation? How do we use these as fuel for our thinking, our drive, and our unending fight to huli corruption and injustice? These are important questions for us all to ponder as we continue to draft the plans for a decolonized future.
My last point and I’ll yield the soapbox. I’m sure there are many of us who continue to operate under the assumption that RJ largely has to do with safe birthing practices, childcare, sexual education, and safe sex practices. For those from my generation, who endured the painful experience known as abstinence education, RJ is perhaps something we came to learn about later on in life or outside of school on our own after those dreaded library seminars. And to be fair, it makes sense to still have that assumption to an extent: individual birthing choices, discrimination against Black, Brown, and Indigenous peoples choices regarding birthing and childcare, as well as a sustained effort by federal and local governments in the so-called U.S. to rip abortion, contraception, and basic education away from people are ongoing problems and they are active forms of violence. We still have to fight for what should be very basic things, even after so-called “protective measures” have been passed here and there. It is necessary, however, to remember that RJ also includes taking care of and fighting for those who are with us right now.
In addition to new life and the right to raise future children as one sees fit with safety, love, and protection, it is also important to sustain and uplift our relatives who are already with us on this plane. To take care of the elders who are with us right now, the parents who are working hard to raise children at the base of the Hellmouth known as the U.S., the people my age who are working three jobs, going to school, and managing depression and anxiety while also organizing and being in community, and young people who we many think are at home sitting bored in front of an online lecture but who are actually participating as active architects in this decolonized world-building that is currently taking place. RJ means creating a world for future life to thrive, for choice to be the norm, and it means taking care of, nurturing, and following the lead of those already here who are carving the path to that world. RJ means listening. RJ means making space. RJ means future building or there is no future. Young people got this. They always got this. They are creating these films that imagine love, choice, safety, and equity and they are roadmaps for us to follow. It is imperative that we start recognizing that, honoring that, and listening to that.
This camp was organized in collaboration with Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands and AF3IRM Hawaiʻi and made possible thanks to the generous support of the NoVo Foundation and Gerbode Family Foundation.