March’s National Digital Dialogue, organized by the Media Action Grassroots Network (MAG-Net), focused on the connections between reproductive justice and media justice. The call was moderated by Betty Yu (MAG-Net) and Andrea Quijada (Media Literacy Project). The speakers on the call included Jessica Collins (Media Literacy Project), Adriann Barboa (Forward Together/Strong Families), Micaela Cadena (Young Women United), and Misty Perez (Free Press).
Reproductive Justice (RJ) is simply defined as the right to decide if, when, and how we parent. Reproductive Justice is a social justice movement rooted in the belief that individuals and communities should have the resources and power to make decisions about their bodies, genders, sexualities, and lives. Reproductive Justice, like many social justice movements, heavily relies on the power of communication and media to build our bases, create and fight for policies, win campaigns, organize our communities, and share our stories. We need both media justice and reproductive justice in order to live healthy, sustainable, and liberated lives.
What’s At Stake
Today many communities lack access to health resources, particularly low-income and rural communities. In addition, there is an overall gap in comprehensive sex education for youth and adults and in medically accurate and culturally relevant health information. There are barriers to birth control, barriers to protection against sexually transmitted infections, barriers to living wages that affect the health of parents and children, barriers to a healthy environment free of toxins and pesticides that can affect our bodies and ability to parent. There are immigration policy barriers that divide families and other policies that limit who and what is defined as a family. Reproductive justice is a movement that emerged from people of color who experienced and understood that many cross-sector issues impact our sexuality, bodies, and health. The RJ movement is larger than the right to have an abortion—it includes the right to have a child and to have that child be healthy, and it demands the right for us to be our whole selves. It means we have the health resources and information we need to support our self-determination.
Culture Shifts in Reproductive Justice Today
There are many organizations working on RJ at the local and national levels. Forward Together and its ten-year Strong Families Initiative is redefining family by organizing communities, launching campaigns, and working on policies that serve all the ways our families look. Our families may include young parents, single parents, they may be queer, they may have no children, they are the three in four families in our country that are rarely represented in our media and in our policies.
Young Women United (YWU), an organization led by young women of color in New Mexico, has been working with young parents to shift the culture so that they are honored rather than stigmatized in their schools and in the larger community. YWU has also been working on issues of youth health access, supporting new mothers in birth support and breastfeeding, and providing resources to substance-using pregnant women so that they have access to quality pre-natal care. YWU has been successful in shifting culture and the dominant narrative regarding how people view young parents. In teen prevention campaigns across the country we have seen young parents stigmatized again and again. In mainstream media, shows like Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnant portray young parents in a sensationalized manner. YWU has reframed young parents as people to recognize and honor. A state memorial was passed in New Mexico recognizing August 25 as a day to honor young parents. In 2013, YWU, with the support of young parents across New Mexico and other allies, passed a bill allowing for excused absences for young parents. This bill allows young parents in high school to raise their children, while also reaching their educational goals.
Media Literacy Project, a organization based in Albuquerque that works to transform everyday people into critical media consumers and engaged media justice advocates, has run a successful Girl Tech program where young women of color are trained in media deconstruction, media justice, reproductive justice, storytelling, and video production. The directors create short videos on a reproductive justice story that relates to their lives. The videos produced during the first three years of the program included stories on comprehensive sex education, birth, young parents, traditional healing, youth health access, and support for those struggling with drug addiction. Media Literacy Project is the New Mexico Anchor for the Media Action Grassroots Network.
Free Press is a national media reform organization advocating for universal and affordable Internet access, diverse media ownership, vibrant public media and quality journalism. With increased media consolidation, telecommunications companies are making content decisions about which messages can be created and sent and which ones are blocked and kept invisible. In 2007, Verizon Wireless rejected Naral Pro-Choice America efforts to use Verizon’s mobile text-message program to communicate to its membership. At that time, text messaging was a new and important new tool for advocacy organizations seeking to educate and alert their members. Free Press’s SavetheInternet.com Coalition called for congressional hearings to address public outcry over the phone carriers’ censorship policies. Verizon’s decision interferes with political speech and mobile users’ right to get information that they choose to receive.
The Media Action Grassroots Network (MAG-Net) is a national network of 150 grassroots, culture/arts, media and social justice organizations working to advance a people centered media justice agenda to end poverty and eliminate racism. In today’s media landscape, men are the ones mainly making policy decisions and speaking about the health and lives of women, queer and transgender communities. The corporate media perpetuates and gives a limited representation of what a “conventional” family should look like. Our communities who are consistently misrepresented in the mainstream media understand how powerful the media is in shaping ideas and opinions that impact our policies, our health, and our lives.
MAG-Net recognizes there are many shared values and principles the media justice and reproduce justice have around advancing gender, health, social, racial and economic justice. There are fundamental media policy fights that affect all of us, there are fundamental reproductive justice fights that impact our health and families. We work to bring together policy experts, community organizers, reproductive justice advocates, artists, and media makers to challenge the corporate media’s narrative, to shift culture through telling our own stories, to support each other’s campaigns and build our movements to scale to impact policy change. We need to have the relationships in place to support one another and push back against racist and sexist media representations of our communities. MAG-Net works to build a strong unified movement so we’re not just reacting and pushing back against corporate media, but we’re also cultivating, owning and creating alternative media outlets where we can shape, create and share our own stories.
Media Justice and Taking Action
RJ and other social justice organizations rely on the Internet to send out messages, collect stories, collaborate, and to run their operations in a 21st century media environment. To do this effectively we need a free and open Internet, closing the digital divide, and we need less media consolidation and more diversity in media ownership so that people aren’t telling our stories for us, misrepresenting, ignoring, or silencing us. We need community media such as low-power FM radio stations, mesh networks and other systems that provide free public wifi, community access channels, local papers, and local online news organizations that work for the community. We need to work with and pay artists to create images that resonate and represent us. We need to collaborate and increase our reach through strategic coalitions, resource sharing, and other collective strategies. We need to continue to build youth leadership and train others in media technologies so that they can thrive and share what they have learned with others. Lastly, we need policies that support all families and that support our right to communicate.
Jessica Collins, originally from Kansas City, has lived in New Mexico for 13 years. Jessica joined Media Literacy Project in 2003 and has trained thousands of youth, educators, and community leaders across the nation on media literacy topics including gender, race, sexuality, body image, reality television, and digital storytelling. She runs Media Literacy Project’s Girl Tech program for young women of color who learn about media justice, reproductive justice, video production, and storytelling for community change. She has developed several multimedia educational resources including Challenging the Debt Industry, a documentary and media literacy curriculum on predatory lending. Jessica serves on the board of Young Women United, a reproductive justice organization by and for women of color. She has a passion for film, storytelling, and working with youth. She enjoys deconstructing TV shows, music videos, and target marketing tactics. Jessica has over ten years of filmmaking and media literacy experience and is a graduate from the University of New Mexico where she earned a B.A. in Media Arts.
Betty Yu coordinates the Media Action Grassroots Network(MAG-Net) where she manages our national media justice network of over 100 grassroots community organizations, coordinates nine regional chapters and curates the media justice learning community. She has over 15 years of community organizing, media activist, and filmmaking experience. Betty has additionally worked as a labor organizer for the Chinese Staff and Workers’ Association, an immigrant rights workers center in New York City’s Chinatown. She is also co-founder of National Mobilization Against Sweatshops (NMASS), a 15 year-old multi-racial workers center. Betty is a board member for Deep Dish TV and Third World Newsreel, two media organizations that nationally distributes radical videos and films.