not being fun

Rarely have I gone out with friends and had a bad time. I ALWAYS have fun.  I’m usually the FIRST to suggest another round, the LAST to call it a night…etc, etc…  But on Saturday night, after it all- touring a women’s medical center to such an extent that we were able to watch the pathology exam of an abortion, listening to Sarah Weddington raise her voice for women’s rights in Albany 40 years after she won Roe v. Wade, picking Merle Hoffman’s brain and visa versa, braving many catcalls while running, and lastly, a printer jam… I was not fun.  I was affected and wounded.

While talking to a long time guy friend in a loud bar, I just couldn’t. I couldn’t make conversation, join him for a dance, or take him up on a drink.  I didn’t care enough about anything going on to force a smile or fake enthusiasm.  All I could do was apologize for being SUCH a bummer.

Week 1 of The Moxie Project was startling, but not in the way that gets you on your toes.  It was the kind of startling that cornered me and swung a baseball bat at my knees. I want to do something great for women’s rights, I really do.  But it’s a dirty world.  Merle Hoffman’s best friend was murdered by a “pro-life” activist, in a church, made a martyr for women’s rights, while she, herself, has had multiple death threats.  Sarah Weddington could live to see the fruits of her labor rot away, because 40 years after the Roe v. Wade decision, legislators still want to dismiss the woman’s right to choose. Lastly, many legislators fail to see the link between reproductive health accessibility and family structure, which they seem to care so much about preserving.  It’s confusing.  Why don’t they trust this female decision making if it could overall help preserve healthy familial trends in the generations to follow?

I’m really scared for the battles that I’ll go through as a feminist.  I’m curious about what specific path I’ll take.  I’m not positive about what exactly I want to do with the rest of my life, but I’m excited to have that figured out.  Hopefully soon.  It seems that having specific enemies and allies is critical to experiencing the little victories of life.  Until this BRUTAL path to discovery is over, it’s all intake.  Maybe by gathering the stories of others before me, I’ll leave New York and finally be able to tell someone what I want to do with the rest of my life.  It may change in a couple years, but just having a specific focus might make this whole thing a little less overwhelming/discouraging.

My First Week with GGE in Brooklyn

As I woke up on my first morning of work, I stepped out of bed and onto a sharp piece of wood- leaving me with a splinter. Being the hypochondriac that I am, I immediately freaked out that it was going to get infected. After trying to get it out, I headed to the bathroom to find that our toilet was broken. After finally getting dressed and heading outside, I realized that it was pouring rain, and that I was wearing white work pants… I shuffled through the rain to Rite Aid where I bought Neosporin, hydrogen peroxide and Band-Aids. After doing a mini medical procedure at the Rite Aid entrance on my splintered foot, I met up with Sarah and Maya to make our first trek to Brooklyn together. After walking to the wrong subway, we finally found the right train an soared into Brooklyn. Once off the train, I went my separate way from them so that we could each find our perspective offices (it turns out that the three of us are in the same building, we just didn’t know it at the time). After fifteen minutes of wandering the streets of Brooklyn alone, in the rain, with wet white pants, a splintered foot, and a desperate need for a working bathroom, a kind British man finally pointed me in the right direction. Thankfully, we had left well before 9:00am and so I was still 10 minutes early for my first day.

After a somewhat hectic, wet and physically painful morning, I had my orientation with my boss, and my day was immediately turned around. She explained to me the history of GGE and then we began our focus on ULA. I had done some research before arriving here this summer, but after talking to her, I immediately fell in love with the program. I am a psychology major and have a specific interest in both non-profit work, and in healthy physical and psychological adolescent development. After talking with my boss for about 3 hours (although it seemed like 10 minutes), I watched the film “Hey Shorty.” The film is a documentary that explores the heavy prevalence of street harassment in Brooklyn. One of the most interesting scenes for me was seeing two men talk about a woman walking down the street with her arms crossed. They claimed that because her arms were crossed, she thought that she was better than them and so they harassed her- yet in reality, the poor woman was just trying to get from point A to point B and was probably just cold! To be honest, he film truly shocked me, and for about a 30 minute period of time, I convinced myself that for the remainder of the summer, I would not walk anywhere alone, and that I would never walk with my hands crossed in public again… Thankfully, I eventually got over that!

I feel so lucky to have the opportunity to work with GGE and am truly passionate about the work that GGE and ULA does. My favorite things so far have been conducting interviews with ULA students, and sitting in on a Sisters in Strength meeting. I was extremely impressed with the impact that ULA has had on the students that I have interviewed. ULA creates a “safe space” (a term used by almost every student that I interviewed) where young adolescents can communicate about anything, have their opinion heard, learn others’ opinions, and learn new things about anything from social justice issues to arts and basketball. ULA has taught many students how to use their voice, and has helped develop their confidence. Right now, ULA is in 3 schools, and seeing the impact that it has had on the students in these schools is truly remarkable. My internship has started at the same time that ULA meetings and Sisters in Strength meetings are winding down to an end- so I feel very lucky that I have already been able to visit middle school sites and sit in on SIS meetings, because I have definitely learned a massive amount in seeing how these programs actually work.

On Friday we visited Changes (a reproductive health clinic) in Queens, and got to speak with Merle Hoffman and other members of the staff at Changes. While I could easily write a novel about my experience that day, one of the biggest learning experiences for me was the realization that you can run an organization that helps people, and have that organization be a for-profit one. Not only can you do that, but Merle opened my eyes to the fact that there are many advantages in running a for-profit organization. Choices was a beautiful space, with gorgeous paintings on the wall. It did not seem like a hospital- and that is due to the fact that Merle had the money to make the space comforting and beautiful. Overall, I look forward to learning more about the advantages and disadvantages of non-profit and for-profit organizations as I continue my work with GGE!

Not just a Tweeter…

“What this world lacks, what activists really need is radical empathy….” It’s a concept I’ve thought about and hinted at in conversations with friends and professors, but I had never been able to coin such a poignant, concise phrase. And as soon as Merle Hoffman, the director of Choices Women’s Medical clinic, uttered those two words, it was as though the room became silent for a second or two—just enough time for me to mentally scribble those two words down and really think about them. In this day and age, it’s simple to feign activism and demonstrate a sense of knowledge through the multiple social media outlets. I should know—I am an uber social media junkie. I constantly ‘like’ statuses or Facebook pages that pop up on my newsfeed or retweet a ‘NYTimes’ link that I’ve found compelling. In the case of activism, it is definitely not only the thought that counts. You really need to pick up your ass and get out there.

And so it happens that during the first week here in the City, I was able to get up and rally for Cuomo’s 10 point Women’s Equality Agenda last Tuesday in Albany. Besides being star struck by Governor Cuomo, Miranda (I don’t think I could ever call her Cynthia Nixon) and Sarah Weddington, I was both overwhelmed and fascinated by the vibrant displays of passion around me—I was able to shadow both men and women as they rallied and shouted and as they visited Assemblymen while lobbying. Here I was able to see those who breathed and practiced radical empathy.

Grace, Lorena and me rallying in Albany

Grace, Lorena and me rallying in Albany

Everyday, as the Communications and Development intern, I am inundated with articles reporting heinous sex crimes, legislation supporting the feminist and LGBTQ movements, etc. Being around such inspiring people, I have really tried to soak this information in—and not just tweet (of course, I’m not criticizing all Tweeters—I can only talk on behalf of my own Twitter usage).  It is as though my supervisors, Julie and Linsey, have handed me a pair of glasses (preferably Google Glass goggles!!) and I can for the first time see the leaves on the trees as opposed to its rough outline. I’ve learned more about the statistics on domestic violence and influence of firearms and horrible, repulsive corporations (CSX…cough…cough..) that continuously fail to provide a safe and healthy environment for all employees.

As an end note to our visit to Choices, Merle humorously cited Sherlock Holmes who claims he does not know that the Earth revolves around the Sun—given that such information is not pertinent to his work. But, as soon as Watson informs him, Holmes notes that he will try to forget that bit immediately as learning such useless things would reduce his ability to learn useful things. In many ways, I think this is what many “radically empathetic” activists have in common—they are able to filter out the useless information that pops up in our daily newsfeed—be it from Facebook, Twitter, the streets and daily interactions. So, the trending hashtags for this week will be: #radicalempathy #NY4Women #WEA #Miranda #wordsofwisdomfromSherlock

sarah weddington

Sarah Weddington at the #NY4Women rally




Money on the Mind

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One week and over a third of my summer budget later…. I’m officially concerned for myself.  Yepp! The summer’s eight-week budget is almost completely annihilated with an entire seven weeks left. Ugh!!! I’m so financially immature.  It’s disappointing and it’s scary.

A couple things scare me most.

Growing up I always had the privilege of not having to worry about money.  More than I would like to admit, I took money for granted.  It’s problematic for many reasons.  Aside from the headache of my current bank statement, I am so anxious lately that the kind of non-profit work that I have always been passionate about is far from lucrative.  I hate that money is such a concern.  I’m literally terrified of the joy I have at work sitting at my desk of a non-profit social movement. What to do in this capitalist consumer society when my dream doesn’t look like it could ever afford me the American dream?

Speaking with Merle Hoffman of Choices clinic did give me some perspective.  As the owner of a women’s health clinic that offers everything from abortions to family planning services, Hoffman is at the front line of women’s reproductive rights– and she DOESN’T do it for free! As we spoke with Merle she helped us realize that women really are socialized into into thinking that to want money is out of place for us.  As women, we have been told to serve, not wanting profit in return but fulfillment of our intrinsic desire that comes from a nurturing heart. Money is power, so it’s not terribly difficult to see how this would make sense.

Is my love for the grassroots non-profit field a product of patriarchal brainwashing?  Am I just a naive 20 year old who just doesn’t know how to budget?  Is NYC just really freaking expensive? Since I should probably sit down and not spend anymore money for the rest of the summer, I’ll have lots more time to think about this.   Now accepting donations… just kidding 🙂

Choices = power = control = liberation = Freedom from Oppression

Ever since I became a feminist I have despised, challenged and questioned Oppression – first it was the oppression of women within a patriarchal society. Whether it was exercised in institutions, societal values, figures of authority, the media or individual relationships, women were not getting the respect, the voice, and the equal opportunity to make their own choices, which they more than deserve. I then began to explore and understand oppression through many different lenses, of race, of class, and of sexuality. And no matter what form it took, I realized that the power dynamic that it created left the under-privileged, the subservient, and the exploited party, without CHOICE.

So why couldn’t I see pro-life advocates as oppressive? Why couldn’t I understand the oppression of CHOICE through the lens of abortion, through the eyes of the women who went through this life-changing experience?  Although I am still trying to work out this complicated issue in my head, I am so thankful that I was able to walk into Choices, see this clinic in its entirety, and engage with an open mind with a women that is passionate, intense, personal, loving and mindful…Merle Hoffman.

After reading pieces from Merle’s book Intimate Wars and seeing her as a very intense, passionate and enthusiastic activist on behalf of abortion and the clinics that support them…I did not know what to expect from her. I was extremely glad that her responses were personal and purposeful. It made me feel that no matter what our beliefs were, she cared about each one of us in the room, about our choice, supporting us no matter what.

Prior to having the opportunity to visit Choices, and prior to discussing and learning from Merle, abortion was not a topic that I spoke about very much.  Not because it made me uncomfortable, or because I didn’t believe that I could engage in a respectful discussion, but I wasn’t sure—myself– where I stood.  It was not until we discussed the mutually reinforcing forms of oppression that were all at play in the issue of abortion, and not until Merle made clear the difference between Pro-Choice and Pro-Abortion, that I really understand where my confusion and uncertainty came from. These two beliefs were not the same thing; abortion was DEFINITELY NOT a black and white issue but composed of multiple layers.  But most importantly abortion was not even the issue; rather it was a discussion that needed to be expanded to the idea of Reproductive Destiny.

I am Pro-Choice. I believe in having the ability to decide your own future and I live to empower women – Women are limited every day because of their gender. In the workplace, walking down the street, in the classroom, in relationships; economically, socially, politically limited — the list goes on.  However, what is most encouraging about reproductive justice is stated by Sister Song, that is, it “represents a shift for women advocating for control of their bodies, from a narrower focus on legal access and individual choice (the focus of mainstream organizations) to a broader analysis of racial, economic, cultural, and structural constraints on our power.” It is unfortunate that women are even placed into this position of choosing..have a child or terminate a pregnancy, because almost all of the time it was not by their own choice.  Whether they must terminate their pregnancy because they are not getting the financial support that they need from their partners, or government, and they have 5 other children at home, or they got pregnant because they were never fully educated on protection and were directed towards using ineffective birth control, or finally – they had been sexually abused, traumatized and raped by a friend, a close family member, or a stranger – this decision is and should be theirs.  These situations are never solely women’s choice, and they depict the consequences of the mutually reinforcing forms of oppression that only women must deal with.  Women have money taken from them, rights, respect, dignity, power, and equal opportunity— I cannot justify any single one of these things. And I undoubtedly can say that it is NEVER just to take away a woman’s right to choose, to shape her own destiny, to create a better future for herself, her family and even the unborn child.


A piece of me is still Pro-Life. Life is sacred; it is a gift from God. Life is a Miracle. A 24 week old fetus can be born and survive at this point in its development. A 24-week-old fetus can also be aborted. At this point in my life I cannot come to terms, and I don’t know if I will ever be able to understand, 2nd term abortions. If a human life can survive outside of the womb, it is too late to take that life away, at this point I do not believe that there should be a choice, at this point the choice is no longer yours because you have created another being that can survive in this world.  This is my exception.  People may not agree, people may see it as contradictory but PEOPLE do not decide my beliefs for me. My beliefs and understanding of issues can grow and develop over time and I cannot deny and erase all of my prior values as I obtain new ones.  This was the uneasiness that I felt when I listened to Merle speak, when my mindset began to shift, when I questioned my past values…But I can have both, I can believe both.

That is the beauty of freedom of speech, of expression, and of having control over your own thoughts… It is the beauty of CHOICE.

Girl, you have to love the struggle

13.06.04-009I feel like time has both frozen and whizzed forward at lightning speed since my last attempt at forming coherent, ‘bloggable’ thoughts. The past week in New York has been a whirlwind of subway lines, aching feet, profound conversations and new perspectives.

On the second day of work for Sanctuary, Brianna, Amber, Laura (an intern from Holy Cross) lived at Chelsea Piers while assisting with the set-up, execution, take-down and follow-up of the Zero Tolerance benefit. As a Moxie group, we discussed our own feminist identities and the inter-sectional nature of the women’s movement between gender, race and class. The workweek culminated with a trip to Choices, a Women’s Reproductive Health Clinic in Jamaica, Queens. While feminism is something I proudly associate with and passionately defend, it was not until reading and later meeting Merle Hoffman that I understood the connection between reproductive justice and feminist activism. I have never had an issue with abortion; I have passively given my support to the move to provide women with the opportunity to assess their situation and make an informed decision about their reproductive future. It was only this week that I realized just how central and fundamental the fight for reproductive rights is to closing the gender gap.13.06.04-276

Sanctuary has educated us on the trends and vocabulary of gender violence, where every form of abuse and violence ties back to the cycle of Power and Control. To witness change and reform, feminists must uproot the unequal distribution of power embedded in patriarchal systems. Claiming universal reproductive rights is the first step for women to gain control over their own bodies.

Merle is a dynamic, vibrant and brilliant woman at the forefront of the pro-choice fight. During our visit to her clinic, I was captivated by how she confidently articulated her philosophy while engaging with our apprehension and inquiry about her work. Her approach in speaking with us encompassed the essence and mission of Choices. Along with providing prenatal care, preventative screenings and abortions, patients experience the power of education—often their first exposure to necessary information. I was shocked by the elegance and functionality of the clinic, with strategically placed prenatal and abortion wings equipped for patient safety in an emergency. Along our tour, we all jumped at the opportunity to watch a speedy procedure that is essentially a post-abortion ‘search party’. We watched a clinician reconstruct an 11-week fetus; ensuring that all the limbs and placenta were accounted for, she could finalize the abortion. In a moment with the potential for shock, horror and disgust, I was surprised by my uncommon reaction: fascination for another instance that reminded me of my deep love of science. How remarkable that this intricate biological process could be manipulated to engineer the ideal reproductive future for this woman. Does it make me a bad person that questions of moral and religious ‘rights/wrongs’ seemed irrelevant in light of this indicator of one woman regaining control and having a choice?13.06.04-063

Though exhausted and experiencing an information and sensory overload, we peppered her with questions and were sad to leave, spending the subway ride working to commit each piece of wisdom to memory. My three favourites:

1. Regarding how she daily combats anti-choice activists through protests, legislation and personal attacks while remaining tenacious and focused: “Girl, you have to love the struggle.”

2. Don’t shy away from for-profit work. There is a subconscious belief among women that money is bad and in order to help people, we must stay for from it. Making money and advocating for others are not mutually exclusive. Building this business and making a profit provided me with the mobility and means to assist my cause in many locations and from all different sides.

3. I asked how she had time to write a comprehensive memoir—while creating a thriving business, leading the pro-choice movement and becoming a mother: There is so much stimulation and information in our world, all vying for space in our heads. In a society where more is better, it is necessary to limit extraneous information so as to leave the mind uncluttered. Only then will you be able to compartmentalize and accomplish everything you want to do. I loved her anecdote about Watson and Sherlock Holmes: Watson was astonished that Holmes didn’t know whether the Sun revolved around the Earth or vice versa. Holmes simply explained: “my dear Watson, if I filled my head with such irrelevant information, I wouldn’t have any room left to reason through details pertaining to my life.”

I Like to Have Fun

So, one week down in New York and I’m loving it! The food is great, the nightlife is exciting, and I’m enjoying getting to know my fellow Moxies. In the midst of all this excitement I have to somehow compose a thoughtful blog post that ties my recent experiences to a feminist framework, so this week I guess I’ll talk about privilege. I’m a first-generation African-American female, I attend Duke University, have access to an education, knowledge, healthcare, and this summer I’m living free of charge in the Lower West Side; I’m going to D.C. with the non-profit that I’m an intern at, and I even get to meet the rapper Eve tomorrow, I mean does it get better than this!?

Well, I didn’t outline my life just to brag about how great my life is, I outlined my life to remind myself of how privileged I am. I’m so lucky, and in being so lucky and privileged, I tend to get wrapped up in my own life and fail to see the bigger picture- that life is so much more than just me and my problems.

This week I committed my first offense in the Moxie program when I failed to hand in my personal reflection to my site coordinator on time. Instead of emailing the reflection, I decided to chat up some friends over a cup of frozen yogurt. I went back to my room, fell asleep, and that was it. The fact that I could take this reflection so lightly shows that I am already taking my experience for granted, and the fact that I could and was taking this experience for granted shows that I am privileged and maybe even a teeny bit spoiled. The truth is that 50-60 years earlier, a 1st generation African American female could not do what I am doing now. It took the hard work, sacrifice, and perseverance of activists and leaders to give me the privileges I enjoy today. So, while it is totally understandable for an unaccompanied 20 year old to get caught up in the excitement of city life, I challenge myself to develop my identity as a leader, a risk-taker, and as an activist.

Men and women fought for racial and gender equality in earlier generations where it was (in many cases) fatally dangerous to do so, despite this, they continued to fight for societal change. I am extremely thankful that it’s much much easier for me to partake in social activism. I am extremely thankful that I can be a young college student and enjoy myself in the city; but it is not enough to simply reap the benefits of movements of the past, I have to give back so others can enjoy as well.

Workin’ Hard or Hardly Workin’?

600319_10151984748612846_1645845760_nIt’s not as if I haven’t worked before. I spent years running after eight year olds at a YMCA summer camp, and helped run programs for Duke’s Women’s Center over the last few months. I even played sports and volunteered after the hours upon hours I spent at school. It’s not as if I haven’t worked before….so why am I so tired?

I’m pretty sure I spent the first few days of my internship relaying those thoughts to my fellow moxies. The hour-long commute to and from work coupled with the eight hours of work absolutely exhausted me. But the word exhaustion just didn’t do the feeling justice. My muscles were tense, my neck ached, my back was sore, and although I feel passionately about ending street harassment and love Hollaback!, I got home feeling, quite frankly, grumpy.



But that’s just it—getting home wasn’t the end of my day. I’d have to spend at least half an hour cooking dinner for myself and take a shower and do more work for my program. The days felt so long, but I was still getting eight hours of sleep! I didn’t understand what was going on. The exhaustion would not go away.

You should know a little bit about me. I’m twenty years old and in good shape. I’m single. I have Internet access most of the time and I have enough money to purchase ingredients to make myself meals throughout the day. I’m white. What should you have gathered from that? I don’t have kids. I’m not married. I’m young and I don’t have health problems. I don’t have to wake up early to stand in line at the library to use a computer to send an email. I don’t struggle to eat. I’m privileged.

Thus, I find myself thinking about working women, and working moms. Women who struggle. Women who commute and work long work days and have to come home and take care of their families. Even female breadwinners in partnerships do most of the housework—most of the family care. This means that the vast majority of employed women who have families work long workdays like I do (and probably in less rad jobs), come home to feed their families, clean the house, and take care of the needs of their children and/or partner. With that exhaustion. Let me emphasize: with that exhaustion.  Adding a struggle of class—of making enough money to clothe or feed or maintain good health—complicates the situation further. Adding a discriminatory struggle faced by those of different races or sexual orientations makes things even harder.

I found myself thinking about that a lot this week, and I’d love to hear what your thoughts (and what helps you after a long day of work!). Hollaback at yo’ girl!

Risks and Dollar Bills

“Why not go into the profit world?” said Merle Hoffman as I sat in her conference room alongside the other Moxie girls. Why didn’t this ever cross my mind? This entire time I dreamed of becoming a doctor and doing nonprofit work overseas in an impoverished country. I also dreamed about starting my own non profit (which I do not know what I would focus on or what my mission would be), and I envisioned someday designing a method to give my hands as support to others who need it. But to make a profit, now, was something that never even crossed my head!

My family always instilled in me the importance of helping others who are in need. I was raised to help, to aide, to support others in need and to expect NOTHING in return—not even a thank you. As Ms. Hoffman described her initiative to make a profit through helping others, I began to feel this antsy, thrilling, inspired little voice inside of me…maybe I could help others, and just maybe I would receive a profit from using my own ideas and my own hands to create a difference in this world. helping
Despite feeling motivated to make a profit by my giving to society, I feel a bit in disbelief. I grew up volunteering at local hospitals, hospices, and elementary schools. Why did I spend my entire childhood doing this? Is it because I wanted an early opportunity to experience working with people and children? Or is it because I liked speaking to others and hearing about their struggles and achievements?

Actually, it’s a little of both. Through the hundreds of hours that I spent each year not receiving any monetary value for my work, I always felt extremely proud of the time I spent giving my care and affection to my students and patients. Never did the need for money cross my mind. Now, however, that I look back at my childhood I am skeptical about the volunteering I did. Should I have asked for a wage? Should I have done less quality work because I was not receiving any monetary value?

Even though Ms. Hoffman’s voice continues to echo in my head, I the voluntary experiences I have had through my childhood and teenage years are essential to my ability to work with others now. The numerous encounters I had with people as a volunteer will continue to help me as I work with others in the public sphere. My basketball coach always said “Practice give you perfect,” right? Maybe through the years I spent practicing, I gained the poise and confidence I have now as I work with my colleagues at Legal Momentum and as I speak to my Moxie girls.

Not only was the conversation with Ms. Hoffman eye-opening, but the daily conversations with the Moxie girls have truly made me reflect on my goals and aspirations. But hey, that’s what a summer program like this one is supposed to do!

Although I continue to have my dream about becoming a doctor, there are many other things I want to experience before I settle down and become a physician. The only reason why I have been so hard on myself about following this path and not letting anything get in between is because I am too scared to take risks. I fear the unknown and I fear losing grasp of where I am now. However, both the Moxie gals and Ms. Hoffman have been depositing the idea of taking risks—taking risks to achieve what makes me happy. In the end, these risks could lead me to ultimate bliss. Coming to Duke was a huge risk that I had to prepare for mentally and physically, of course.
And I comforted myself and convinced myself that this was it. After four years, I was going back to good ole’ California. Now, however, I ask myself, “What were you thinking!!?” There is so much more work that needs to be done and so many more sites to see before you settle down and work in a hospital. There are so many social injustices still prevalent all over the country that I need to help address by taking risks. Moxie has given me insight into the various aspects of life that I had never ever touched or even though about. Now, I feel empowered to take risks, to fight for justice with my own education and sovereignty.