Kwajelyn Jackson is the Community Education and Advocacy Manager at Feminist Women’s Health Center (FWHC) in Atlanta, GA. FWHC serves their community as both an abortion provider and a powerful advocate for reproductive health, rights, and justice. As a member of the Thriving Families Georgia Coalition, FWHC worked with the National Institute for Reproductive Health to write and introduce the Georgia Strong Families Resolution in March 2015. This resolution calls on the state to provide the conditions necessary for Georgia families to thrive, naming one such condition as affordable access to comprehensive reproductive health care, including abortion care. This year, they are engaging in grassroots organizing and advocacy to secure a hearing on this important resolution and mobilize voters on the values it includes.
1. Tell us about Feminist Women’s Health Center and the role you play there.
FWHC is in its 40th year and has been a pillar in the Reproductive Justice movement in the south. Our clinic sees and average of 7,000 patients a years and serves close to 12,000 people in our education and outreach programs. In addition to abortion care, our clinic offers gynecological wellness, HIV/STI testing, and trans health care, all through a feminist approach. I have been in this work for just shy of 3 years. In my role I manage our Community Education and Advocacy Network, which includes volunteer and internship programs, leadership development, community education and outreach, legislative advocacy, and civic engagement. I have an incredible team of brilliant, creative women of color, who coordinate each of those programs and are working hard to change Georgia for the better. The work is challenging and overwhelming at times, but I really believe I am doing the work I was built to do.
2. Why is it important to FWHC to take an advocacy role in Georgia?
In a lot of ways, Georgia is the last state standing in the battle for reproductive freedom. We have been hit hard by dangerous and restrictive legislation, but we are still a buoy for reproductive health care in the Deep South in a lot of ways. And I credit that to the work that a whole host of Reproductive Rights and Reproductive Justice Organizations, working collaboratively to hold the line. FWHC has been described as the powerful combination of advocacy and direct services. Not many clinics have capacity to do advocacy and outreach work, and not many purely advocacy organizations have the experience of direct services to patients. I think that makes us special in the movement.
We have been doing advocacy work for more than 20 years. Frankly, we are involved in advocacy because we have to be. Our very existence depends upon it. We work to protect the rights of our patients, and people across the state, who need the very reproductive health care that we also provide. But we know that our advocacy work can’t just stop at working on policy that attacks abortion rights, because that is not the only challenge that our patients are facing when seeking care. We have to be involved with broader issues of reproductive justice that affect the full lives of those we serve. We want to use an intersectional approach that centers race, gender, and class, so that we can have a real impact on how people experience public policy.
3. Why did you feel like the Strong Families Resolution was needed and what are the goals for the resolution?
The Strong Families resolution sets the groundwork for developing policy that takes into account the challenges that Georgia families face. It does this by:
- Educating legislators on Georgia families’ lived realities and how policy does not address all of the challenges they face.
- Holding policymakers accountable for including the needs of all Georgia families in future legislation.
- Building coalitions with elected officials and partner organizations to develop future proactive legislation.
The resolution addresses four key areas that affect Georgia families: developing workplace policies that support working families, providing access to comprehensive health care that includes a full range of reproductive health care, addressing racial disparities that exist in Georgia’s health and economic outcomes, and recognizing that Georgia is home to different types of families and all of them should be reflected in policy.
4. What has the reaction to the resolution been from politicians, activists, and the public?
Overall the response has been good. We used House Parties as the primary device to promote the resolution among existing and new supporters. Participants overwhelmingly supported the resolution as a rhetorical device to guide policy discussion. However, a participant question that consistently arose concerned what the resolution would “do,” beyond starting conversations. This helped us to better articulate why it is a worthwhile tool to hold legislators accountable and emphasize that it will provide a framework that supplements future legislation.
We have also had very interesting responses from legislators. One great example was with a young, conservative legislator we met with over the summer. We were incredibly surprised by his receptiveness and interest in our efforts. After reviewing the legislation, he connected with the issues we raised and even suggested some bills he would like to work with us on related to those issues. This felt like the realization of our aspirations with this legislation — that it would open doors that were previously closed and allow an entry point for collaboration with unlikely partners and policymakers. We could not be more thrilled to have a new potential ally in the state legislature.
5. What long term impact do you expect the resolution and the activism around it to have in Georgia?
We hope that this legislation will lay the groundwork for a proactive agenda that will be formed by a coalition of progressive groups that address intersectional social issues to change the lives of millions of Georgians. We know that our opponents have been employing this strategy for years, stubbornly pushing their agenda year after year, undaunted by failures, trying different strategies and attacking from all angles. While I don’t condone the ramrod and sometimes bullying approach they often use, I do think we can learn from their tenacity and coordination.
It is my hope that we can better connect our issues and messages to other progressive movements, and illustrate the natural connections between reproductive justice and economic justice, racial justice, immigrant rights, workers’ rights, voting rights and other social justice issues, that are all interconnected and working in parallel lines with us. And I hope that through multi-issue work like this we can improve reproductive healthcare access and create a Georgia where all families can thrive.