Seize the Time

It takes time to get over a loss. It’s taken me a couple of years to come to grips with the fact that I’ve been depressed — because my novel didn’t take off as I had hoped, dreamed, counted on. I didn’t have a real marketing plan from the get go. I didn’t take a hint early on from a friend that the audience for my book is young adult and to act accordingly. I drifted, trying to connect with friends and colleagues in the Reproductive Justice movement for speaking engagements and house parties, while I went about other parts of my life — as a part-time freelance writer and editor; an officer in the National Writers Union, UAW 1981; and a copy editor and writer about choice and labor for Workers World newspaper, among other WWP activities.

But with the resurgence of the women’s liberation movement, beginning with the global Women’s March and Women’s Strike a year ago — in response to the totally retro-toxic-on-every-possible-issue Trump presidency — then the emergence of the #MeToo Movement last fall and now Time’s Up, I am finally coming out of my self-induced emotional coma. The struggle continues! And my novel, Love Means Second Chances, must be part of that action. While many movies have included abortion as a secondary element in the plot, and a few have taken on the issue — “Citizen Ruth” (1996), “Obvious Child” (2014) and “Grandma” (2015) — with varying degrees and types of humor, it’s time for a movie that addresses abortion from both sides, showing anger, fear and compassion, with texture and nuance. What inspires me is that women are now saying: “We need movies that are women-centered, that are written for women, by women — that reflect women’s lives.”

Hey, if it took a white supremacist, capitalist warmonger, philandering misogynist, predator in chief in the White House to set off this seismic upheaval in the centuries-old status quo of racist capitalist patriarchy, so be it. Maybe that’s what it took for well-bred white females to stop functioning like the scared, obedient children we were trained to be — though, truth be told, I started rebelling in 1966. Thankfully women have begun speaking out within the last six months with consistently loud voices that have become as one — like the scores of gymnasts who addressed sadistic pedophile Larry Nassar, mascarading as a medical doctor — during his sentencing in January. All these women workers — from Hollywood actors to hotel housekeepers, posh publishers to nail polishers, food servers to farmers — have exposed harassment, rape and unwelcome sexual advances of any type, be they verbal or hands on, as a primary violation of their human space, their bodily integrity, their hopes and dreams.

This is a new day, the beginning of what I hope will blossom into an era of profound social and political change.

As I write this, I’m searching for words to encourage myself to step into the public arena with my progeny, my book, held close to my heart — only this time with more authority, daring and fortitude. I must admit that scares me — because of all the physical and verbal attacks on pro-choice advocates.  But if I want my book to be turned into a movie, I have to take that risk. I believe my novel tells a story that deserves to reach a wide audience as only movies can. So now I’m giving myself a new assignment, which you’re witnessing: I have to devote more time to promoting my book; restablishing its Facebook page and posting to it weekly; boosting the book on Good Reads and selling it on Google; writing a one-act play and entering it in contests; giving more readings. Yes, it scares me, but I don’t have a choice. My new motto is “Seize the time!”

A Pro-Choice Novel That Speaks to Today

About two years ago, I stopped writing this blog. I felt discouraged that my pro-choice novel, Love Means Second Chances, hadn’t taken off as I had hoped, so I stopped promoting it. But since the election of the arrogant, racist, misogynist, neofascist, anti-worker, anti-LGBTQ bigot, warmonger, capitalist pig, really bad guy, Predator in Chief, a sea change has taken place. Now there is a huge groundswell of resistance against his reactionary policies — including those targeting women’s health care and reproduction that will catastrophically affect poor women on Medicaid and/or covered by Title IX, who are disproportionately women of color.

I have been marching over the last 50 years for all sorts of progressive changes, but the current upsurge in activism is wider, deeper, more encompassing, more profound than the world has seen before. Think of two recent global actions — the Women’s March on January 21 and the Women’s Strike on March 8, International Women’s Day! Now there is an audience for my novel!

Love Means Second Chances is needed more than ever to focus attention on what legal, safe, accessible abortion means in women’s lives. Not only is it a family story about a young woman’s struggle with her devoutly Catholic mother about why she chooses to have an abortion in 1991, but it is also the mother’s story about why she got married at 18 in 1973 when she discovered she was pregnant. How do they resolve the crisis? What role does the grandmother, the father’s mother, play? The book title says it all.

One of the many strategies of those who oppose abortion is to frighten women who consider having one that they will suffer forever with guilt and shame. That is so not true. I had an abortion in 1985, and all I felt was relief and gratitude that I did not have to assume responsibility for a child I would have had to raise on my own. But over time, years after the abortion and long

past the breakup with my partner, I began to feel loss — an ache in my heart. I didn’t identify it as grief then because I had not yet experienced the way one feels when loosing a parent or a close friend. No guilt, no shame, just loss — that I had lost something dear to my heart.

Fortunately, in the early 1990s as I was becoming aware of the feeling, I was the book editor of a now-defunct women’s magazine. One day a book about rituals came across my desk. As I read it, it inspired me: I could create a ritual to speak directly to the child I might have had. So one bright winter afternoon, after setting out a plant, candles and incense on my living room floor and surrounding myself with white light, I spoke to the child’s soul. I do not remember the exact words, but I wrote a scene like it in Love Means Second Chances (page 235):

[Christy] started to cry as words came to her: I light this candle for the baby I chose not to have. Wiping away her tears, she said to the tiny soul as much as to herself: I pray for you — that you are safe and secure. I’m so sorry I couldn’t be your mother now. You didn’t do anything wrong. It wasn’t your fault. I wasn’t ready. It wasn’t the right time for me to be your mother. I hope you’re not suffering. I don’t want you to suffer or feel rejected. That’s not it at all. I love you with my whole heart, and I only want what’s best for you — always. You must believe me. I would never harm you. That’s why I couldn’t bring you into this world now. I loved you too much to put you in a bad situation. Maybe you could come back in a few years when Ramon and I are married and settled, and we’re able to really care for you and do right by you. We couldn’t be the kind of parents now whom you deserve. Forgive us for that. I’m sorry you had to go through the abortion. I hope you didn’t suffer. I hope the love that I feel for you now — and that I will feel for you for all eternity — will help heal any hurt you may have suffered. Please, please forgive me and accept my love.

Doing the ritual erased my loss, as it did for Christy. Loss turned into soul-to-soul love, which my soul will carry forever. I knew then that I had to share that experience in the novel, which I first envisioned in 1979. I owe it to all women who have abortions to illuminate the spiritual dimension that is usually hidden. Though not all women experience loss, it is my gift to those sensitive souls who do. After the ritual, it took me another two decades to write a third draft, which I finally self-published in 2011. Now I want to share that with every woman who has had an abortion or elects to have one in these very difficult times — especially already stressed-out mothers who go to great emotional and financial lengths to secure their family’s future, to those who dare to self- abort, and those who choose to help their friends’ often desperate decisions.

My hope and intention are that this book, rooted in family and religion, will help counter the negativity, hatred and lies that shroud this highly politicized issue. That the book will help lead, in some way, to a new social order where all women, including transwomen and all who are gender nonconforming, will be able to exercise their reproductive rights and experience true reproductive freedom, justice and equality. Everyone deserves no less as part of our birthright. 

Open Letter to the Reproductive Rights Movement 2

On January 22, I wrote a blog that I posted on the website of my pro-choice novel, lovemeanssecondchances.com, entitled “Open Letter to the Reproductive Rights Movement” on January 22, 2015.

That was my first mistake. That was based on my (shall we say optimistic) assumption that after last summer’s controversial New York Times article about the movement for comprehensive women’s health care and subsequent coverage in RH Reality Check, those organizations fighting for reproductive rights had met with the ones fighting for reproductive justice — and seeing the error of their ways and desiring a united movement — the reproductive rights groups had agreed to adopt reproductive justice as the all- inclusive term describing this struggle.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. I offer my apologies to the reproductive justice groups for erroneously addressing my appeal to you for a national march. I should have addressed it to the reproductive rights groups.

Loretta Ross, Marlene Gerber Fried, and Dr. Zakiya Luna schooled me. Both Marlene and Zakiya referred me to Miriam Zoila Perez’s article posted on Colorlines, entitled “A Tale of Two Movements” (tinyurl.com/na6yfxv), which breaks down six basic differences between the two groups. They can be summarized in two words: race and class. Both have plagued the women’s equality movement since its founding 167 years ago — signified by Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech in 1851, the segregated Women’s Pavilion at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, and the all-white, elitist leadership of the suffragist movement — to this very moment.

After looking at history, I believe the only way we will ever be able to end the current horrendous attacks on women’s rights by the powers that be — the overwhelmingly white, male, patriarchal, capitalist establishment — is to build a united, multiracial, multinational movement that encompasses the needs of all women, but especially of the most oppressed — the low-wage workers who are two-thirds women, the majority women of color, and immigrant, rural, young and disabled women. A divided movement cannot win, and win we must because the fate of future generations is in our hands.

As an activist who focuses on these issues and a member since 1967 of Workers World Party, which is socialist and multiracial/multinational, I am profoundly convinced that activism, or peoples’ protest, is the only way to bring about real change. That kind of change altered this country profoundly in the 1950s-60s, but issues of class were largely ignored until the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. addressed them — which certainly contributed to his murder. Now as we see, thanks to the national Black Lives Matter and Fight for $15 movements and the latest tragic death of an unarmed Black man in Baltimore and the righteous response there, the issues of race, class, and all kinds of injustice and inequality must be addressed for real, meaningful change to occur in this country. That’s why I proposed there be a national march for reproductive justice with slogans like ”Access to legal abortion matters,” “Black and brown children’s lives matter” and “We can’t raise families on $7.25” to show support for and allegiance with the movements already in the streets.

But a march for reproductive justice would not help our cause now that Hillary Rodham Clinton has announced her candidacy for president. It would immediately be denounced by the Republican Party and its many candidates as a way to trash Clinton and all whom they think support her. So that’s out of the question now. But it is still possible for activists demanding reproductive justice to play a positive role, as the election campaign proceeds, in challenging the anti-women issues that will surely be raised.

I received an email from the Center for Reproductive Rights about the outrageous case of Purvi Patel, the South Asian immigrant of color who was found guilty and sentenced to 41 years on March 30 in Indiana due to contradictory charges of feticide and child neglect. That’s just the attention to reproductive justice issues that’s needed to build a united, multiracial, intersectional, cross-class movement demanding human rights for all women. Let’s make sure all such issues are inclusively addressed from now on.

In sisterhood, sincerely,

Sue Davis

An activist since 1967 in the movement for social and economic change, focusing particularly on women’s rights, especially reproductive rights and now reproductive justice. A founding member of CARASA (1977), the New York Pro-Choice Coalition (1985) and WHAM! (1989) and currently volunteer with Haven and work with the International Working Women’s Coalition. Published a pro-choice novel in 2011, which can be sourced at lovemeanssecondchances.com.

Open Letter to the Reproductive Rights Movement

Dear Sisters:

The status of reproductive justice in the U.S. is worse than in the previous 42 years since Roe v. Wade became the law of the land. According to recent Guttmacher statistics, states have passed 231 abortion restrictions in the last four years. More than half the women of reproductive age (15-44) in the U.S. live in states that are hostile or extremely hostile to abortion. In 2014, 27 states were hostile, with 18 extremely hostile.

What can we do about this deplorable situation?

I suggest we look to the past for proven agents of change. People marching in the streets demanding their rights and opposing wrongs are the most impressive, effective force for change. Just think of today’s #Blacklifematters movement or the historical struggle in “Selma” or the many marches and demonstrations in the stunning documentary about the beginning of the Second Wave of the feminist movement, “She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry.”

Even though there have been strong local or regional demonstrations in recent years, notably in Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin, there has not been a call for a national demonstration since 2004. While such mobilizations used to cost pots of money — for flyers, ads, long distance phone calls, transportation — such costs have been significantly lessened with the widespread use of social media. Just look at how activists in Ferguson, Mo., have set up a national network since August that has initiated marches in cities both large and small all over the country. Estimates are that up to 400,000 people were in the streets proclaiming “Black lives matter” and “I can’t breathe” before the holidays, and thousands came out on Martin Luther King Jr. day on Jan. 19.

With all the resources and communication networks available to the major organizations in the reproductive justice movement, it would only take a conference call to pick a date, agree on an agenda, call a press conference, and use social media to publicize a march in D.C. and other areas around the country. How about Sunday, March 8, International Women’s Day, or another Sunday in March during Women’s History Month? How about the slogan ”Access to legal abortion matters,” “Black and brown children’s lives matter” and “We can’t support families on $7.25.”

Young women feel the humiliating stigma that demonizes abortion today. This is intolerable. In the 50s there was plenty of secrecy and fear when women were risking their lives to have abortions. Legalizing abortion was supposed to change all that. But secrecy and fear are still with us in today’s openly racist, sexist, anti-LGBTQ, unequal, unjust society, so anti-sex, anti-women, anti-working-class, anti-poor. Though those who oppose abortion claim to be defending fetal life, we in the reproductive justice movement know only too well they do not lift a finger to change social and economic conditions or public policy to help women or families.

The majority of women who have abortions already have at least one child. The economic pressures on single mothers are enormous, which is why many leaders of the low-wage movement in the fast food and retail industries are women. These women  need to know that the reproductive justice movement is allied with them. And women of color need to know that the RJ movement is marching with them to end racist terror and police violence because all families matter.

Do the right thing. Women of all colors and our allies need to be united and visible in the streets demanding what is rightfully ours — access to the myriad things that are essential to guaranteeing human rights for women.

In sisterhood, sincerely,

Sue Davis

An activist since 1967 in the movement for social and economic change, focusing particularly on women’s rights, especially reproductive rights and now reproductive justice. A founding member of CARASA (1977), the New York Pro-Choice Coalition (1985) and WHAM! (1989) and currently volunteer with Haven and work with the International Working Women’s Coalition. Published a pro-choice novel in 2011, which can be sourced at lovemeanssecondchances.com.