A Conversation with SisterSong’s Monica Simpson
I first met Monica Simpson a year ago for lunch at a Panera Bread Company café in Atlanta, over black bean soup and salads. I was excited to be with her as we planned for a Sunday morning sermon she would be delivering at my then congregation. Her appearance would be especially timely following the selection of Reproductive Justice as the Congregational Study/Action issue over the next several years and the role her organization Sistersong (based in Atlanta) had played and will play in redefining and expanding our work in this arena. She is the executive director, having come to work there following years of working in non- profit social change organizations.
The Sistersong Collective was formed in 1997 and initially funded by the Ford Foundation to educate women of color and policy makers on reproductive and sexual health and rights, and to work towards the access of health services, information and resources that are culturally and linguistically appropriate.
Through her activism and organizational work, Monica has become a nationally sought-after facilitator and organizer. She has been featured in many publications for her activism, and has written many articles on LGBT issues, philanthropy and activism. Monica is a founder for Charlotte’s first Black Gay Pride Celebration, and Charlotte’s African American Giving Circle. She also sits on the board for Resource Generation and the Fund for Southern Communities.
Her pulpit visit was electrifying and illuminating, as she shared her own story growing up in the South, coming out as a lesbian in a conservative environment, and her own understanding of what reproductive justice is, a term coined a decade ago to describe a framework for her work and our work together that encompasses far more than the provision of services to individuals, “reproductive health” or “reproductive rights,” through protecting a woman’s legal right to reproductive health care services, particularly abortion.
She eloquently laid out what ”reproductive justice” entails: as described in the excellent curriculum developed by the Unitarian Universalist Association www.uua.org/reproductive/index/shtml , a focus on the social inequalities that “shape the lives of marginalized women, the exploitation of women, girls and others through their reproduction, labor and sexuality. Success would mean that children are raised in safe and healthy environments; that pregnancies are planned and healthy; that unwanted pregnancies are ended or avoided; and that their sexuality can be expressed authentically and without fear.
After her remarks to the Atlanta congregation, more than 50 individuals, women and men, signed up for future work in reproductive justice as they now understood it.
Monica and I have found each other again: in Washington DC during the gathering of women’s groups working for fair and comprehensive immigration reform, shining the light on the plight of undocumented mothers separated from their children and other injustices under the existing system. We walked the long halls of the Senate and House office buildings together.
Last week we both showed up for the first Moral Monday in Georgia, modeled after weekly demonstrations in North Carolina last year. (and the nationally publicized mass Moral March next Saturday in Raleigh). The initial Atlanta gathering—and the next one—focused on Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, which if adopted in all of the states could provide coverage for an additional 4.5 million lower income women. Georgia is one of the states whose governor has refused to participate.
Monica was not only present, she was front and center, one of the lead off speakers at the rally, which attracted around 200 people, who stood in a freezing hard rain. I caught up with her by phone to talk about the link between the Moral Monday movement and the reproductive justice work that the UUWF and the UUA share with Sistersong.
The connection is “a huge deal,” she said unhesitatingly. “The communities where this expansion is most important are communities of color”.
This federally subsidized healthcare impacts a woman’s right to parent children in healthy and sustainable ways, let alone caring for our own bodies, she noted.
While access to healthcare has been highlighted in Georgia’s Moral Mondays, in North Carolina, the focus has been on voter ID laws, asking for repeal of measures passed there that have discouraged and disenfranchised women and men of color and young people, primary constituents of and advocates for the services, rights and conditions necessary for fully realizing reproductive justice.
The larger stage, the number of groups, the energy of Moral Monday will only strengthen and magnify this effort.
Next week: A continuation of the conversation with Monica Simpson with a look at the State of the Union Address by President Obama.