Get to know members of the Young Women's Leadership Council in this regular feature. In this issue, Council members and February News Editors, Myra Duran and Lani Blechman get personal and deep - and maybe even share a little advice.
Lani: “Myra, I'm excited to introduce you as one of the folks who recently joined the Council! I know that your experiences and perspectives add a great depth and breadth to our collective knowledge. I was excited to meet you in person back in November at the Council Convening and the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective Membership in Washington, D.C. And I'm also excited to get to know you better through Council Conversations.
In order to start this off, I'm going to use something from SisterSong. One of the self-help questions that was introduced at a recent meeting was: How did you get involved in the rj movement? Was there a particular moment when you knew it was a place where you wanted to spend your energy?”
Myra: “I knew I wanted to spend energy working on reproductive issues was actually learning about issues in a class I took last spring. We were learning about birth control testing/experiments that were being imposed by the U.S. government on Puerto Rican women and black women in the Bronx as well as women in Puerto Rico. It angered me to hear about this so I decided to do more research and that's where my actual passion for reproductive justice was sparked.
I always was involved with issues dealing with women's health long before last spring because I interned with the Gabriela Network in the summer of 08' where I did a lot of outreach and advocacy for victims of human trafficking and sex trafficking. In particular, we focused on Filipinas here in the States and in the Philippines.
I continued working on women's health issues when I interned with the Feminist Majority Foundation in January of 09-June of 09. I focused on their campaign to expose fake clinics and spearheaded that campaign at UCLA with Bruin Feminists for Equality. This was around the same time I found about the experiments being done on women of color and issues of forced sterilizations.
All this combined was what sparked the activism I currently love to do and will continue to keep advocating for women, their health, and their rights.
On a different and more personal note, my question for you would have to be: What is one item of yours that you cannot live without and if you can be stuck with anyone on an island, who would it be and why?”
Lani: “Twice a year, the Amherst Survival Center does a big furniture sale on the Amherst commons. They put up a big huge tent up and sell donated furniture for two days straight. A couple (five) years ago I got this kind of dorky piece of furniture that I absolutely could not live without. It's this short stool thing that's maybe a foot and a half long and half a foot wide. And it's super sturdy so it has a zillion uses - it can be a step stool, or a low seat, or if you sit next to it, it's a little desk. And to top off the dorkiness, it's mint green with a pink teddy bear painted on top.
Now, if I was stuck on a deserted island, I might have to have my cat Ramona with me. But I might just be saying that because she's lying on my chest right now while I struggle to type around her. But she is a great (mouse) hunter and the most loyal friend I have (she follows me around the house). Plus she gets pretty sad when I'm not around - so I guess we might as well be stranded together.
I think this just goes to show that I go back and forth between being ridiculously practical and maybe a little too sentimental.
As I write this, I'm sort of anxiously waiting for dawn - my favorite time of day. The last two winters, I've gone through these phases where I wake up really early in the morning. In the Northeast, really early + winter = dark. The darkness makes me a little cranky and sad, but dawn is like a second start to the day. And the view outside of my bedroom window is mountains to the east. So dawn is kind of magical. What's your favorite time of day?”
Myra: “Haha, your stool sounds awesome!
Well, my favorite time of the day in Southern California would probably be when the sun sets in and all the colors in the sky become light pinks and oranges. There's just always something about the sunset that makes me want to go running through the street and it feels good when there's a light breeze. Sunsets also make me want to cuddle and appreciate each day as it comes. Haha, this is totally what’s going through my mind during this time of day and I just feel calm with peace of mind.
My last question to would have to be: What have you learned the most during your years of activism and what advice would you give beginning activists?”
Lani: “What have I learned during my years of activism? You make me sound so old! (I'm 23 – which isn’t to say I don’t know some things!)
One of the biggest lessons that I've learned and that I'm continuing to learn: communication across differences. I think one of the most important things to figure out if you want to be affective is how to communicate. And this is constantly changing. You need to learn what you're trying to say and the best way to say it. Sometimes you need to learn a language that's new to you. A few examples for me have been Spanish, academic-speak, zine-writing, blogging, social justice-talk, and communication across generations. Just to complicate it all, while you're learning this new language, you need to figure out how to make it authentic coming from you. I struggled a lot learning academic-speak not because I couldn't learn the skills but because I knew it was teaching me how to communicate with a select few and how not to communicate with the communities that I grew up in. So eventually I tried to meld the two. This is just an example of written communication. Interpersonal is even more complicated - and probably more important!
One of the languages that I'm currently working on mastering is the language of diplomacy. If you had asked me about this six months ago, I probably would have laughed at you for even suggesting that I might have an interest in it. But I've found it important, for instance, in my role as Staff Advocacy Committee Representative at my work place, Hampshire College. I think ultimately what I'm taking away from this new language tutorial is: you want to push for change - not push people away. And ultimately, that's the whole idea behind affective communication, right?
You really want my advice? Here it is: seek out mentors. Don't get bogged down thinking that they have to be older than you - peers and younger folks have just as much to offer. And you don't have to ask permission for someone to be your mentor. I guess I think of it more as building my political family. These are the relationships that I cultivate because they help me nurture and sustain the activist side of me. Also, let go of thinking that your mentors will have all the right answers. (That's one I'm working on too.)
Myra, it's been really great working with you as co-editor of Raise Your Voice. I'm really thankful to have this opportunity to get to know you better! Your passion for reproductive justice issues, particularly immigration, and thoughtfulness have really made this work smooth and fun. I'm looking forward to all that is upcoming!”