When I was asked to come to Mississippi about three weeks ago to organize students against Initiative 26 or the “personhood” Amendment I honestly did not know if we even had a chance of winning. The amendment could have made abortion illegal and banned most forms of birth control including the pill. With Mississippi being the bedrock of the Bible Belt and its deep-rooted history of racism, sexism, and classicism, I knew it would be an up-hill battle to mobilize students quickly against this initiative. That being said, I was pleasantly surprised by the overwhelming outrage students had when learned about the implications of Initiative 26.
I helped organize students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in Mississippi including Jackson State University, Alcorn State University, and Tougaloo College. When I did my first class announcement at Jackson State about Initiative 26, not only were students outraged about how this initiative could affect the pill, but they wanted to get involved and volunteer to spread the message to their peers and classmates. With the majority of students not only on Jackson State’s campus, but on campuses across the state barely familiar with the initiative when myself and other FMF organizers arrived, it did not take long for students to realize that their rights to the the pill, IUD’s and emergency contraceptives could be at stake if 26 passed.
Students at Tougaloo held forums and a rally against 26; student organizers at Jackson State handed out fliers, educated their peers, and mobilized at the “Hot Spot” for a Rock the Vote rally; and Alcorn students proudly displayed “Vote NO on 26” signs on the windshield of their cars. It was inspiring to see both women and men students energized and participating in grassroots organizing on their campuses around not only a state issue, but a national issue concerning reproductive rights.
Most of the students I worked with were African American and they understood how much family planning services are needed in the African American community in Mississippi. African Americans in Mississippi make up a third of the population and many live below the poverty line. When I went to visit a campus in Cleveland, Mississippi, I went to have breakfast in what was clearly “the black part of town”. I started to have a conversation with the woman who waited on us about my age and about what I was doing in Cleveland. She proceeded to say that she had five children and that the only reason why she has so many children is that she could not consistently afford birth control. She also said that if Mississippi takes away the pill that does not know what she would do.
The students that I worked with knew many of these same stories and knew that if the pill and abortions were to become illegal it would leave many poor families, particularly poor black families in Mississippi in a cycle of poverty. They knew the history of Mississippi and how government had taken away their rights and their ancestors rights in the past. With this, they stood together, talked to their families and friends, organized their campuses and helped defeat 26.
I am so proud and honored to have worked with the students that I met! They put in a ton of hard work and were right there with me to defend Roe in Mississippi.