Let’s hear it – one more time – for the Millennials. Especially the youngest Millennials, just now reaching or approaching voting age. A generation unto themselves.
Invited to speak at a recent “Awareness into Action” day at Drew School, a private college preparatory day school in San Francisco, this writer went with some trepidation into a classroom set up for about ten high school students. Who – when she hasn’t been a high schooler in more than a half century – knows high school students today?
My workshop was on Reproductive Justice. Other choices the students could make included workshops on Mindfulness, Parks Conservancy, Anti-Racist Dialogue, LGBTQ issues and Immigration Law (to name a few.) I figured if 5 or 6 girls showed up it would be fine. By the time we were ready to start there were 14 girls and two brave (and handsome) guys around the table and sitting on chairs and tables in the back corner, plus one teacher keeping an eye on it all.
For openers, I’d written several facts on the whiteboard:
A woman dies of cervical cancer almost once every two hours. HPV vaccine prevents most cases of cervical cancer.
17 states mandate that women be given counseling before an abortion that includes information on at least one of the following: the purported link between abortion and breast cancer (5 states); the ability of a fetus to feel pain (12 states); long-term mental health consequences of abortion for the woman (7 states.) None of the above are true.
Then I told my own story. The story of a 22-year-old who had never had sex – after all, nice girls did not have sex before marriage in 1956. A victim of what would today clearly be workplace rape, I did all the dangerous things that women desperate to end an unwanted pregnancy are increasingly doing today. When nothing else worked, I had a back alley abortion by an untrained man who probably had not even washed his hands.
“I think,” I said to the roomful of attentive faces, “we’re going straight back to the dark ages.”
Not if these young people have anything to say about it.
Aware that they are among the lucky ones, they are concerned about the unlucky. They seemed a little taken aback by statistics like this one:
In 2006, 49% of pregnancies were unintended. The proportion of unintended pregnancies was highest (98%) among teens younger than 15.
. . . and by other data about how widespread is the denial of access to reproductive healthcare for poor women and girls (and men and boys) in more than half of the U.S. “It’s just wrong,” said one student.
So what do you think you can do to change things, I asked.
“Vote,” came the first answer, before I even finished the question.
“We have to learn to listen to people we disagree with,” said another student, who had been rather vocal in her description of political villains. “You may have to bite your tongue,” I said. “Yeah, I know,” she replied. “Because we have to learn how to have dialogue.”
“We just have to know the laws,” said another, “and work to change them.”
“We need to support these organizations, too,” commented another student, tapping the table with some of the materials I had distributed from groups like Advocates for Youth, Planned Parenthood and Sea Change.
For this writer, who lived through the worst of times, the workshop brought hope for the future of reproductive justice in the U.S. Returning to the worst of times is not on the agenda for these Millennials.