Fueled with a passion for family planning, over 350 advocates from all over the country gathered in D.C from March 24-27 to learn, organize, and take action during this year’s Capitol Hill Days! Each year, our advocacy weekend equips participants with the tools to develop their own advocacy skills. This year’s attendees represented 34 states and over 130 congressional districts in advocating for access and funding to international family planning and the repeal of the Global Gag Rule.
This year’s event began on Friday night with the 3rd annual “Empower Her, Empower Humanity” award ceremony. This year’s honoree was Congresswoman Barbara Lee. Accepted by her legislative assistant, M. A Keifer, the award pays tribute to Congresswoman Lee’s strong commitment to reproductive rights and family planning.
Throughout the course of the weekend, participants strengthened their advocacy skills with a variety of workshops led by experts in the field.
Dianah Nalwanga of Uganda’s Conservation through Public Health (CTPH), shed light on the intersection of population, family planning, and conservation. CTPH works with volunteer and community health teams in protected areas of Uganda, Kenya, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Rwanda to provide family planning and family planning education and to promote public health practices and conservation. CTPH was founded to protecti the mountain gorilla population in Uganda which was threatened by human population growth in the area. Their important work directly and vividly illustrates the intrinsic link between family planning and environmental sustainability.
Chloe Cooney of Planned Parenthood and Jessica Marcella from the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association discussed the recent increase in attacks to reproductive rights. Chloe reminded the group that, “You only get what you fight for. And we’ve got to fight every step of the way.”
Sunday morning’s powerful keynote address by Dr. Jamila Perritt, an Obstetrician and Gynecologist and advocate for reproductive justice, offered a deeper perspective into what is at often at stake for individual women facing restrictions of reproductive health care. She assured that crowd that, “No matter what happens, abortion providers will keep fighting, providing care.”
The newly-minted activists began Capitol Hill lobby visits bright and early on Monday morning, visiting nearly 200 Senate and Congressional offices! Tag Mosholder, a student from Colorado, remarked that “Participating in Capitol Hills Days with Population Connection was an incredible experience… I would highly recommend this experience for anyone interested in grassroots advocacy or simply those looking to get involved with the political process by lobbying lawmakers on salient women’s rights issues, both at home and abroad.”
We are looking forward to next year’s Capitol Hill Days and seeing the work our participants do in the fight for family planning for all.
Each year, hundreds of reproductive rights and justice activists, both new and seasoned, join us for Capitol Hill Days. They are passionate about promoting women’s rights around the world and eager for the tools to work for effective change at the grassroots level. We’re inspired by their knowledge, energy, and enthusiasm each year. Below are profiles of just a few of this year’s attendees.
Alejandra Aguilar is a freshman social policy and women and gender studies major at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania. She is a member of Lafayette’s Planned Parenthood, a group which spreads awareness for reproductive rights. With the group, she helps organize workshops that give students the tools to better understand consent.
Alejandra first heard about Capitol Hill Days when she attended a #Fight4HER event on campus. She believes that reproductive rights as essential, and although she had never lobbied before, she was more than willing to learn.
At Capitol Hill Days, Alejandra had the opportunity to learn how to talk to her elected officials about the issues that matter to her. She said that the training sessions taught her how to convey her passion for these issues in a professional and persuasive away, something important for communicating with her representatives.
Alejandra entered college as a psychology major, but said her experience at Capitol Hill Days has made her reconsider her choice in study. “I care about social justice because as a minority I have always believed that it’s important to make sure my voice is heard and that I could tell my story,” she explains. “If you don’t use your voice others will try to tell your story for you. Individuals and their experiences are important, so we must make sure that people have the ability to be heard. We are all connected and as humans we have the obligation to help one another.”
Sydney Rasch is a law student at the William H. Bowen School of Law at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. This was her second Capitol Hill Days! She attended last year and returned this year as an experienced activist.
Sydney used this year’s conference to focus on delving deeper into the issue and worked on developing new ways to convey communicate even more effectively with her representatives. She describes her passion for reproductive justice as, “the right to have children, the right to not have children, and the right to parent those children in safe and healthy environments.” She sees reproductive justice as a key component in achieving equality, pointing out that “women will never be equal without reproductive justice.”
Before attending Capitol Hill Days, Sydney did not have any experience with international reproductive healthcare or lobbying. However, after attending, she felt inspired to take action. She became involved locally, and lobbied with her local Planned Parenthood, marched in the Women’s March, and became involved with the Arkansas Coalition for Reproductive Justice. An avid photographer, she helps the groups she works with convey a more effective visual presence on social media.
On campus, Sydney is the president of the Arkansas Association of Women Lawyers, the founder, former president and current treasurer of the Lambda Legal Society, a LGBT group on campus, as well as the treasurer of the Bowen If/When/How: Lawyering for Reproductive Justice.
Images from the Weekend
Shoe-leather lobbying: Students in D.C. learn how to press an issue — Cronkite News, Arizona PBS
#Fight4Her continues efforts for Global HER Act in nation’s capital — The New Hampshire