Sleep with your eyes open: A Wake-Up Call to Progressives

April 14, 2011

Why Civic engagement and Aggressive Grassroots tactics are more important than ever

By Angela Ferrell-Baxter of Spiritual Youth for Reproductive Justice

Photo courtesy of TBD

I remember it as if it were yesterday, the buzz that I felt in 2008 after sweeping “progressive” victories. Everything pointed to change for the better as I stood alongside other progressives and holders of the American dream of freedom and equality. Indeed there was no way that we could fail, or at least that’s what I thought.

Fast forward to 2011, and so much has stayed the same or rolled backwards. Is this what I signed up for when I volunteered at local fairs, phone banked and wore buttons and t-shirts announcing that I stand for “CHANGE WE CAN BELIEVE IN”? What about all of the people that I had friendly debates with about how this new leadership would propel us forward? I think that many of us were so hungry for the possibility of better that we behaved like enamored teenagers.

With all of the recent buzz over abortion, health care exchanges, defunding family planning clinics and stamping out public radio and television to name a few, my head spins. How in the world could this be? How is it that those who want to launch us backwards have decided to speak for me, a District of Columbia resident?

As a DC resident I am outraged that the lives of the women in the district are being used as political pawns. In order to “prevent” the imminent federal government shutdown last week, DC women were thrown under the bus. The deal includes a rider bans the district from using its own funds to provide abortion services for lower income women. It’s the ultimate slap in the face for DC. This shady deal infuriated residents and activists alike. On Monday April 11, The DC 41 (which included Mayor Gray, council members and other activists from DC Vote) staged a protest in front of the Hart Senate Building to demonstrate their anger with Congress meddling in the affairs of DC. It was about our autonomy and self- determination. With about 300 supporters, the people amplified their voices.

I then realized that I was not the only one questioning everything that I once held in high regard and that frightened me. It frightened me because I am right on the front lines of many of these fights. For the most part I’m pretty informed on the day -to- day politics and am often sitting at the tables where our strategies come together. All of that and I still found myself disheartened and disillusioned. If I was fed up then I could only imagine the utter disdain and lack of confidence held by the folks that were far removed from the fight.

This cannot be. As upset as we are we must realize that our lack of engagement will allow more draconian measures to eke by. Throwing our arms up and ignoring what’s happening around us has never and will never save us. Grinding our teeth but not raising our voices will not protect us.

What I do know is that there is a lot at stake. For the lives of women and families, for the dignity and support of our underserved communities and for the respect of all who came before us, we must fight back. How do we fight back? We do it one story at a time, advocating for and educating on all of the issues that affect our communities. All of these issues intersect and they should be fought for and protected as a part of our progressive values. It unacceptable to just maintain the status quo. It is more important than ever that we remain engaged and reach a hand out to those who have disconnected.  We have to be the change that we seek “for real” this time. Our People ARE our power.

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