I can’t believe it’s over. My ten weeks in Atlanta have flown by as a dream, in more ways than one. Who’d have thought that I would pick fights, learn to lobby, and facilitate a reproductive justice workshop all in a summer internship? In all seriousness though, I am stunned that I have to leave a place I consider as dear to me as my home.
A few days ago, I happened to glance over some of what I’d written in my first few weeks of work. As I read my response to my mock appointment, I couldn’t help but smile at my own naiveté. And then, something stirred me to dig out my ultrasound—that grainy uterine portrait that commemorates my mock abortion. How strange that in discovering the distinguishing blip and strip I felt again that visceral instinctive protectiveness that had gripped my gut the first time I laid eyes on my own womb. How strange that I should feel so strongly for something I’d only ever seen detached and out-of-place, while I had felt nothing but raw fascination at the sight of my own cervix. Perhaps it is the life-giving element of the womb as a whole that seizes me subconsciously.
Then I read my response to my first stint in clinic, when I’d still been working in the clean room and had not yet seen more than a few abortions. It was again emotional and awestruck, but for much of it I deferred to Sallie Tisdale’s words for both her eloquence and experience. The stories we had were so similar and still so different, but I did not yet understand all that which she said—though I thought I did. Perhaps I comprehend it more fully now.
But the lasting, profound change has not occurred in me because of the hours I’ve spent in clinic. Yes, it is where I see a difference in my thought, speech, and actions. However, these changes arise due to an underlying shift in mentality. I think I am finally starting to understand the reality of movement building and the grinding daily toil that that entails (spending eight hours a day exclusively Tweeting is far more exhausting than it seems). This all is not to say that I did not work hard or have the most incredible of mentors in the clinic, for indeed I did. Rather, it is to note that while it is exciting to be the one wielding dilators or comforting clients, it is essential to be the one building movement and inciting change—whether it be social or political. Yet it is imperative that we lobbyists and organizers not lose sight of what actually occurs behind operating room doors; to do so is to forget women’s lives, which circumscribe their choices. All the politicking and programming in the world matter not if they have no bearing on actual situations (Why bother fighting for abortion if you are deprived of the choice to conceive?).
While I have learned countless lessons in my short tenure, undoubtedly the most important has been this: We cannot, and should not, presume to understand anything about what another is experiencing if we have not directly experienced it ourselves. Nine times out of ten, we should not dare to suppose a shared understanding despite a shared situation. And yet, we must believe in a common humanity, and strive to provide everything within our power to protect and promote that commonality. This is all that we can, and in fact should, do.