2018 Capitol Hill Days Recap

Published: March 20, 2018

In a year that holds the possibility for the progressive resistance to take back Congress from the clutches of Donald Trump and his cronies, 404 activists stormed D.C. for the weekend to speak out against Trump’s Global Gag Rule and to urge their elected officials to support the Global HER Act and a $1.2 billion U.S. investment in international family planning — including $70 million for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

Student activists and Population Connection Action Fund members and supporters from 25 states and D.C. gathered for a weekend of learning about the impact of U.S. policy on real lives abroad and the international effort to address the damage of the Gag Rule and to defend the reproductive rights of individuals around the world. Advocates also engaged in discussions about reproductive justice and effective storytelling and learned tangible skills about how to effectively engage with our #Fight4HER campaign and to plan attention grabbing grassroots events and actions.

The weekend kicked off with the presentation of the fourth annual “Empower Her, Empower Humanity” award, presented to Congresswoman Jacky Rosen of the 3rd district of Nevada, and a viable opponent of Sen. Dean Heller in this fall’s elections. In her relatively short time in Congress, Rep. Rosen has proven to be a fierce voice for women and their reproductive rights, and we look forward to supporting her throughout this election cycle.

One of the many highlights of the weekend was hearing from Dr. Tlaleng Mofokeng — better known as “Dr. T.” An abortion doctor and reproductive justice advocate from Johannesburg, South Africa, Dr. T inspired the crowd to use their voices to speak up for social, reproductive, and economic justice. She also urged participants to trust Black women, who’ve been organizing and standing up to oppression for a very long time and who are the backbone of the current resistance to Donald Trump.

Melvine Ouyo, the Clinic Director at Family Health Options Kenya (FHOK), described the negative impact Trump’s Gag Rule has had on her clinic. The Global Gag Rule is an executive order, reinstated and expanded by Donald Trump, that defunds foreign nongovernmental organizations that advocate for access to abortion, provide abortions, or refer patients to safe abortion services. The clinic where Melvine works provides cervical cancer screenings, contraceptives, family planning counseling, testing and treatment for HIV/AIDS, and other basic health care services.  She must either forfeit the U.S. funding that supports these services or compromise her integrity by not disclosing the full range of reproductive healthcare options available to patients, despite abortion being legal in Kenya. To continue accepting U.S. funds would mean not being able tell her patients where to receive safe abortion care and would increase the number of unsafe and potentially deadly abortions. Melvine declined to abide by the Global Gag Rule. As a result, the clinic where she works lost U.S. funding. A participant born in Mombasa, Kenya, stood up during Melvine’s session to concur that there aren’t adequate reproductive health options in Kenya, and to report that, in fact, one of the only clinics in her hometown was closed due to a lack of funding.

Sunday’s workshops focused on turning advocacy into action by engaging members of Congress. Ambalika Williams and Lisa Shannon, led a how-to on using storytelling as a form of advocacy. Ambalika shared her personal story about the barriers she faced while trying to receive health care and encouraged participants to use their own stories to appeal to the emotions of policymakers to help them understand why we need their support.

At the lobby day on Monday, student and veteran advocates swarmed the Capitol, meeting with 156 Senate and House offices. For our large contingents from Arizona, North Carolina, and Ohio, constituents stood for meetings in hallways and gathered in special reserved meeting spaces to accommodate the huge numbers of activists eager to speak to their legislators. Rep. Mike Kelley of Pennsylvania’s 3rd district refused to meet his constituents, but that did not stop them from hosting a meeting with a cardboard cutout of his likeness, which we streamed over Facebook live.

We’re looking forward to this tremendous group of activists leading the #Fight4HER through the remainder of 2018 and into the midterm elections.