#DearDebbie: Millennial Women Are Far From “Complacent” About Reproductive Rights

#DearDebbie Wasserman Schultz: we need to talk.

Your privilege and institutional/establishment bias seems to have insulated you from the real world and who is doing the work of re-steering the massive ship that is our culture in a direction that would benefit the actual “big tent” your party claims to represent.

As someone whose entire life has “been lived after Roe v. Wade was decided,” my activism and advocacy was shaded by your comments in The New York Times Magazine this week. But, as we are technically the same generation — you just making it in at the start of Generation X (Sept 1966) and me just making it in at the end (Aug 1979), perhaps you’ll give my words more weight than the multitude of Millennial activists you erased by declaring:

“Here’s what I see: a complacency among the generation of young women whose entire lives have been lived after Roe v. Wade was decided.”


If you honestly believe that, you’ll want to come sit down while you have your ass handed to you by activists on Twitter, spearheaded by a hashtag courtesy of ReproAction co-founder Erin Matson:

I saved you a seat right here…

mad men sit here


… and I promise to stay on my side of the couch. Mostly.

As the Democratic National Committee (DNC) chair and primary fundraiser for that party, it is troubling that you are discounting everyone born after 1973 — so anyone younger than 43. Your party should fire you just for the shit strategy of alienating all voters born over a 25-year span; from a pure strategy standpoint, that is more ridiculous than planning a debate for a Sunday night.

Now, the reason I assume you’re shading Millennials in particular rather than including GenX is because you were only six-years-old when Roe was decided and I don’t suspect you were out organizing in elementary school in support of the case that started when you were in preschool. Nor do I suspect you were writing to Second Wave feminists or your legislators in middle and high school demanding that they stop celebrating and understand that Roe wasn’t an affirmative right to abortion in any fashion, so could they please work on proactive legislation to enshrine the ability to assert your bodily autonomy into law quickly before the anti-abortion activists had time to chip away at such a flimsy decision.

Stop me if I’m wrong at any point.

I had a short chat this morning with my friend Melissa McEwan, who has been doing the hard work of aggregating and amplifying on-the-ground feminist work and writing since before most people had ever heard the word “blog,” at Shakesville. We were both born “after Roe” and her point here is one that should resonate with a full-time fundraiser such as yourself:

Speaking of fundraisers….The National Network of Abortion Funds (donations accepted here: FundAbortionNow.org) — a grassroots organization that does exactly what its name suggests — has been working overtime the past several years to compensate for clinic closures, travel, extended wait times, and the increase in costs thanks to new restrictions passed under your watch. The Hyde Amendment — which punishes anyone with a federal insurance plan like Medicaid or SCHIP by denying them abortion care coverage — has been attached to every budget you have voted for and your president has signed.

The NNAF annual bowl-a-thon (which is right around the corner!) raised $734,000 last year thanks to individual activists raising primarily small dollar amounts in their networks; this year, they’re aiming for $800,000 so they can help real, live human beings get access to necessary medical care.

Full disclosure: I have raised money with NNAF member The New York Abortion Access Fund and plan to participate with a fund located in my new home state of California this year.

#DearDebbie: I need you to understand that these are not just nameless, faceless Twitter accounts to me. I know these activists. I have spent time listening to them and watching them work. They inspire me every day and make my work — and yours — possible. If you want the aggregated list, you can start with this piece I wrote the last time a Millennial-shamer pissed me off: “Dear Millennials: Please Keep Fighting.” You’ll have to scan through my apology to the Millennial generation for leaving them with such a fucking mess to clean up, though they are clearly up to the task.

Among those I have organized alongside and supported are members/participants of: Strong Families; The Sea Change Program; All* Above All; National Network of Abortion Funds;Texas Freedom Network; National Latina Institute For Reproductive Health; Unite for Reproductive & Gender Equity; GetEQUAL.

And that’s just over the past year. And just in the reproductive justice realm. I assume a busy woman such as yourself doesn’t have time to hear the exhaustive list of all the Millennial-driven movements, nonprofits, campaigns, and organizations from all corners of the country doing brilliant work right now; I encourage you to spend some quality time with Google later.

Now, I know DC-types don’t bother to travel to activist havens or neighborhood meetings and fundraisers much, so let’s take a look at what’s been happening in your own backyard!

In October, I traveled to your town to watch as more than 200 citizen activists — primarily young people of color — descended on the Hill under the All* Above All coalition banner to lobby their representatives in support of Rep. Barbara Lee’s groundbreaking Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance Act (#4EACHOfUs). This legislation exists because of the work of young people of color — members of the queer community, the immigrant and undocumented communities, and poor communities around the country.

Just in case you would prefer to brush me off as I’m just getting warmed up, HERE IS THE PICTURE OF THE GROUP:

I got to spend two days with this amazing advocate:

I learned so much just from the privilege of shadowing La’Tasha D. Mayes, executive director of New Voices for #ReproJustice, as she and others did YOUR JOB of adding co-sponsors to #4EACHOfUs — an effort so successful that nearly one quarter of the House has put their name on a bill that would create the first affirmative right to abortion in our nation’s history.

Among those 110 names, I even see yours there, right near the top. Have you forgotten already, or were you just hoping that donors would forget you support abortion access legislation because you’ve absorbed the spectacularly wrong beltway “common knowledge” that American voters don’t like abortion? Someone in your position should probably be better in touch with polling data that’s been out for more than six months. ICYMI, courtesy of All* Above All: “POLLING: ABORTION COVERAGE AND THE HYDE AMENDMENT, A majority of voters support a bill that would require Medicaid to cover all pregnancy-related care, including abortion.”

It is young people who are getting this message out, who are taking the information and turning it into art and media so that more people can get involved and be bold about saying the word “abortion,” telling their stories, and speaking up to demand the rights your generation has allowed to be systematically dismantled.


I’ve also spent time in Texas where generous, fierce activists fight day in and day out, neighborhood by neighborhood to both change their state at the legislative level and fill the gaps left when national organizations and legislators write them off as a lost cause.

I’ve never seen anything like the tireless people in the Rio Grande Valley who graciously let me tell their stories and amplify their work; they seem undaunted by the lack of national resources or how long the road ahead might be. They don’t expect you to offer your help; but they do notice when you actively erase their needs, lives, and work:

Millennial activists are creative — have you SEEN the #TacoOrBeerChallenge?? They are bold — have you seen NYAAF board member Alison Turkos live tweet her IUD insertion? Cuz she wanted to make sure you, in particular, hadn’t missed it:

Millennial activists are also BRAVE AS FUCK. Do you know the average age of the clinic escort volunteers who are protecting our reproductive health care clinics around the country? You know, the ones you and your colleagues refuse to pass legislation to protect? We’re mostly young and we literally put our bodies on the line every single day — without recognition or thanks from national party members like you. Yes, I said “we.” I have been a clinic escort in Chicago, New York City, New Jersey, and Los Angeles, and now sit on the board of the only non-profit devoted exclusively to outfitting volunteer groups across North America with vests: The Clinic Vest Project.

I see the requests, help with referrals for new activists looking for groups (email: ClinicVestProject.org to be connected or donate), and have watched the spike in need as new restrictions have passed and new attacks on clinics are either brushed off or legitimaized by corporate media.

The danger is real; clinic escorts — just like clinic staff — must protect their identities or risk being followed home and targeted by anti-abortion extremists. They are armed only with identifying vests, not kevlar and rarely even local or state laws to keep them out of harm’s way.

#DearDebbie: Have you stood on a sidewalk between patients and picketers, hearing the degrading, violent lies spewed at the patients we provide cover for as they attempt to access basic, legal medical care? Have you even visited a clinic in your neighborhood? Because picketing goes on where you live and work. If you want details, you could ask DC resident Robyn Swirling — who has done double duty as an on-the-ground volunteer and as a fundraiser:

I would also like to introduce you to the group Medical Students For Choice. Actually, I’ll let Utah-based full-spectrum OB/GYN Dr. Leah Torres introduce you to the group she’s worked so closely with:


From their website:

“Medical Students for Choice is an internationally recognized non-profit organization with a network of over 10,000 medical students and residents around the United States and internationally.”

Ouch. That’s 10,000 primarily millennials — and younger, since we don’t have a cut off date or name for the generation coming up behind them — all committed to expanding access to care. They do trainings and help connect students and new doctors with facilities that need them. They mobilize students who want to make abortion care part of their medical school’s programs.

I could honestly go on for days about the amazing, inspiring work that Millennials are doing, but you already have so much catching up to do on the movement work from the past twenty years. Perhaps in the future you’ll consider looking around outside the walls of your fundraisers and possibly reaching out to the people you’re commenting on before remarking on what they have and have not managed to do.

Most of us who are enraged by your ignorant words would probably settle for you simply being better at your job — the one you were elected to in the House of Representatives, not the one you were appointed to as Chair of the Democratic National Committee. Show us you give at least one shit about those you dismissed as though we don’t exist by introducing proactive legislation right now while you have everyone’s attention. I, for one, will happily bury the hatchet and advocate for your bill if those in the abortion provision community tell me it will expand access and/or protect providers and patients.

Until I get word of your new legislation, however, I’m giving the last word and the mic drop to reproductive justice activist and writer Britni de la Cretaz who has been following your work since your start in local politics:



game of thrones mic drop

Katie Klabusich is a contributing writer for The Establishment and host of The Katie Speak Show on Netroots Radio. Her work can also be found at Rolling Stone, Truthout, RH Reality Check, and Bitch Magazine. Follow her on Twitter: @Katie_Speak.