EMA Fund’s 2019 Triathlon

Editor’s Note: This year our Triathlon fundraiser successfully raised over $91,000! We are so grateful to all our supporters, fundraisers, and donors who helped make this possible. Mae, EMA’s current Board President, spoke to the EMA Fund Triathlon party in April, addressing our current status, future ambitions, and the hostile environment we now find ourselves in:

Thanks so much, Liz! Welcome again, everyone, to the Eastern Massachusetts Abortion Fund’s annual Triathlon party! I hope everyone’s having a good time tonight! I’m Mae, our Board president, and I’m honored to have this chance to share with you where the fund is headed this year. I’ve had the chance to talk to some of you already tonight, and I hope I get a chance to talk to more of you! I also want to be sure that everyone heard the news that a federal judge is blocking the administration’s abortion gag rule for now, so we can celebrate that too.

It’s great to see so many familiar faces, and also so many new ones—not just in the audience. We’ve had an amazing committee this year of experienced hands and fresh energy working together to make this amazing night happen. It’s been especially wonderful having people involved this year beyond our usual wheelhouse, something we’re planning to see more of soon.

We’ve had some amazing momentum this year. Our two matching periods were positively explosive, especially the week we had a generous anonymous donor matching donations to Utah Abortion Fund / Fondo de Aborto Utah. Raising eleven thousand dollars in ninety-six hours is an incredible feat, and we owe it all to you. As of this morning—the last time I checked, I haven’t let myself dare another look since—we’ve raised over eighty thousand dollars for abortion access in Eastern Massachusetts, and an additional fifteen thousand for abortion access in Utah. That’s so much more amazing than I could have dreamed.

And let’s be realistic: this year has been a really hostile one to fundraise in. Sixteen states have introduced abortion bans. Here in Massachusetts, at least, we’ve been working on the ROE Act, but with the current state of the Supreme Court, one thing has become abundantly clear: We cannot take for granted the relative friendliness we have in this state to abortion.

One of the hardest parts of fundraising for an abortion fund is breaking down that stigma of just talking about it. In some ways, I find it even harder than approaching the idea of fundraising for the more political side. It isn’t about an ideological crusade: it’s individuals’ lives. And it isn’t just the stakes. Instead of asking funding for an ideal of freedom and autonomy, we’re asking friends, family, and strangers to help people go through a process society still frowns upon.

If there’s anything you learn early, growing up in Houston, Texas, it’s how dangerous it is to discuss abortion at all. This was my first year back on Facebook since joining EMA, and my first on the Board, and I’ve had to do a lot of my own work learning to push past that fear both online and in person.

And I know I’m not the only one who’s faced this. It’s scary, putting yourself out there not just as supporting abortion access but asking others to show their support for it. Sometimes you have to deal with silence, sometimes with trolls. Sometimes it’s family or friends that you have to step away from when you realize not everyone holds living, breathing people’s autonomy as valuable simply because they can carry a pregnancy. Sometimes it’s worrying about risking safety or a job in being public with your support.

More than that, we all learn to make judgments, whether or not we intend to—and everyone has questions, “what-ifs,” and “what-abouts.” When you feel unprepared to address the overwhelming questions and many kinds of stigma, internal and external both, it often feels easier to say nothing at all. I know; it’s something I’ve had to fight in myself—and I’m coming at it with an advantage.

I could talk about my mother literally ad nauseum. The stories are myriad, and many rooted one way or another in justice, education, and liberation—find me, later, if you want to hear about Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the rocket launcher, it’s my favorite. Even just focusing on her role in making reproductive justice my focus would take much too long.

What she was never afraid to do was talk bluntly with me. I think about her when I see the NNAF swag that has a really potent observation on it: Everyone loves someone who has had an abortion. For me, it was my mother—and I remember, very clearly, the day I found out.

We were in the car—many of our tough conversations happened in the car—one day when I was visiting Texas after I had moved here, it must have been late 2009, one of our first talks in her white Prius. We were talking about some really heavy things while avoiding the rush hour highways: mental health, the financial crisis, and the growing threat of climate change. She felt guilty because the world she had chosen to bring me into wasn’t going to be good to me, or kind, or gentle, or possibly even livable within my lifetime. Mom blamed herself for the pain I was going through then and would go through in the future.

And she told me, “I was the one who chose to have you. I had three abortions before you, you know.”

I hadn’t.

I still don’t know more than that. I don’t know when those abortions happened. I don’t know who her partners were at any of the times, or if she told them. I don’t know how they reacted. I don’t know how far along she was when they happened. I don’t know what it was like for her—a naturalized Salvadoran immigrant—in the 70s and 80s going through that, medically and socially. I didn’t think to ask more; I thought I’d have the time. I wonder, all the time, what I could have learned from her.

But I have found three gifts in what little she told me. One is that once I get past the fear society beat into me, she gave me—in reproductive justice as in so much else—the sense that I have a duty to speak my mind, that forthrightness is a virtue.

Second is the compassion both the concrete answers I have and uncertainty from the answers I don’t have teach me. Imagining what the myriad possible paths of her life may have been like have helped me unlearn so many kinds of stigma that even we as supporters of abortion can internalize, whether it’s about someone having many procedures, or when in a pregnancy an abortion happens, or what the other facts of someone’s life around this singular event may be. What does any of that matter, so long as everyone gets the compassion and care I would have wanted for Mom?

The third is the absolute certainty that I was loved, and I was wanted, and I was the best choice for her life, and that she thought she and Dad could do right by me—and that when she regretted having me, it was only thinking of me and my future in a broken world.

Because that’s really what reproductive justice is about: all-encompassing support for people’s choices, letting them have the families they want, how and when they want them, and living out their lives in health and safety. To create that world, we have to be willing to look inside ourselves to unlearn so much pain and fear and judgment. Only by overcoming stigmas of all kinds inside ourselves can we create a world without it and give people the care they deserve.

Which is a reflection of the process the EMA Fund has been going through since summer of 2017, on an organizational scale, as we’ve asked ourselves hard questions about institutionalized oppression baked into the framework of the world we live in and our place in the movement. Even as we’ve been running Triathlon, we have been reexamining the core of who and what we are. Today, we’re finally standing at the edge of taking all we’ve learned and turning it into very real action.

This past year we have poured time, money, and labor into our racial justice realignment to create the foundation of a new shape for EMA as it enters its twentieth year. Throughout this process we have continued our core mission of funding abortions. In 2018, our hotline volunteers answered over six hundred calls and used over a hundred thousand dollars to fund more than three hundred abortions. The money raised over the last weeks through all of your generosity will provide the bulk of our funding for our callers as we continue this work. You have changed so many lives.

We shifted a lot of labor to make space for our necessary racial justice work, but now we get to begin to put the learning we’ve been doing into practice. One of our next big steps will be returning to volunteer recruitment. We will be making a conscious effort to center people of color, especially in new leadership recruitment, as we change our volunteer corps to accurately reflect the people we need to support.

We will also make efforts in community outreach to try to reach those who may need our help but don’t know we’re there for them, whether because of stigma or the bindings of racism and so many other forms of oppression that keep our communities apart.

Beyond all that, by the end of the summer we will be ready to make some very big announcements about the structural changes finally taking concrete form after over a year in the making. This will include our proposal for our long-awaited shift to paid staff—which we have already taken steps towards in formalizing the paid Triathlon coordinator role two years running and in creating an interim paid hotline coordinator role earlier this year. It’s going to be a lot of work and a lot of money, and we will need your help to make it happen.

Finally, as all this is going on, we are continuing to run our hotline and fund abortions. Besides our own needs here in Eastern Massachusetts, barriers are increasing all over the country. We are going to see need increase and costs increase with more out-of-state cases. Not just Boston but all of the Northeast will have to work together to create a stronger, more cohesive movement to provide abortion access in places where we take it for granted. We have to be ready to catch our siblings across the country when they need us, and to lend them our strength to fight the battles we all face.

This work has never been more urgent, and our needs never higher—not least because we need to approach this work with integrity, with compassion, and with a lens of justice. Our internal work and transformation continues into a new phase, and we cannot do it without the support you all give us.

I’m going to hand you back over to Liz now, but I hope you stick around to listen to our wonderful allies here tonight–and thank you, in advance, for sharing your voices with us. As EMA has reexamined our place in supporting reproductive access and the broader spectrum of movements working for justice, we have come to recognize how important it is to support and make space for each other’s fights, which are inextricably intertwined with ours

Thank you all so much for your time and your work. It means more than I have words for—and yes, I know I have a lot of them, but not enough for this. Your generosity and passion continues to blow me away, every day, and we hope you’ll help us take this leap forward into a new era for Eastern Massachusetts Abortion Fund.

Thank you.