On Wednesday a group of interns headed into DC to take advantage of a presentation on abortion access put on by InterAction through the Sex and Politics in the Capital City Intern Advocacy Series. The talk was called “Talk the Talk: Putting Our Values First in the Fight for Abortion Access,” and featured Morgan Meneses-Sheets from the Reproductive Health Technologies Project. It was one of eight lunches they are doing throughout the summer, all focusing on different aspects of reproductive justice and sexual health. Apart from being lured in by the promise of free food, we were excited to hear from other groups and our fellow interns about an issue we feel so strongly about.
Abortion access can be a tricky issue, and Meneses-Sheets’ presentation dove right in to the part of the movement that can be the most contentious of all: how to frame our message effectively, even in the context of sticky points like late term abortion, parental consent, and faith-based objections. She spoke about using a values-based approach to make our position more accessible to everyone, especially those who consider themselves conflicted in their position. The point, Morgan said, is to focus on the values that we all have in common. Small changes in the language we use when talking about abortion can reframe the message to be more accessible. Morgan stressed the impact that simple word choice can have on the reaction on the audience. In general, she talked about how it is helpful to personalize the narrative and make it easy for your audience to relate and consider how this issue is relevant to the lives of the people around them, and not just in the abstract.
After the presentation, the interns split into groups and constructed example arguments for hypothetical situations given to each of us. The hypotheticals let us hear from our peers, with snappy comments that ranged from informative to hilarious, with many variations in between. The different organizations represented meant that there were dozens of takes on possible approaches — cost-benefit analysis, personal stories, reasoned rejoinders all blended together proclaiming the necessity of abortion access. Hearing everyone’s discussion and Meneses-Sheets’ feedback made me excited to take what we’d learned back to our work at Feminist Majority Foundation.
We have to frame the causes we care about so deeply in a way that others can relate to. It can be fun and effective in its own way to be angry and provocative, but to sway opinions we have to show them that these issues are relevant to our lives. The takeaway from the lunch presentation was a powerful message that I’m planning to keep in mind in all of my work this summer — to be effective in creating change, you have to connect with your audience before you will be able to do anything else.
(The materials from the presentation are available through the Reproductive Health Technologies Project; email@example.com or 202-530-4401)