Yes, Feminists Exist in Mississippi (and the Rest of the South)
One of the major misconceptions people have about the Deep South is that its history of organizing is over. Women organizers such as Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and even Hellen Keller seem like relics of a more socially conscious Southern past.
But feminism is alive and well in the Deep South. It’s true that the abortion bans in Georgia and Alabama make it seem as though no significant organizing is occurring.
Modern Examples of Feminists Who Organize
In 2011, I met women who fought hard against Mississippi’s Personhood amendment. Planned Parenthood sent additional staff to support its regional Southeast employees, and I even did some phone banking and work for them reaching out to Latinx voters.
Because so many women of various backgrounds organized effectively, voters rejected the Personhood amendment on November 2011 that many pundits thought would pass. 58% of eligible Mississippi voters said no, and only 41% said yes, according to NPR.
The state of Mississippi has continuously attempted to make it difficult to obtain abortions. But on May 2019, federal U.S. District Court Judge Carlton Reeves struck down a heartbeat bill that was signed into law. SB 2116 was a law that would have banned abortions as soon as a heartbeat could be heard, or at about 6 weeks.
Many pregnant women find out about their pregnancy at about this time. Behind the scenes, groups such as the Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund have been organizing in a way that centers working-class women of color with a focus on an intersectional feminist approach.
Their cofounder and executive director, Laurie Bertram-Roberts has been getting national attention for her work. She’s been featured in W. Kamau Bell’s United Shades of America on CNN.
The Jackson, Mississippi-based reproductive justice fund works tirelessly to help women fund much-needed abortions. They also help parents having a hard time. Though the need is much larger than their current capabilities, the organization provides diapers and period supplies to women in need.
Even in circles where women might not necessarily label themselves as feminists, the work of bold women in the state is slowly making it safer for women to speak up.
On April 2018, the Jackson Free Press covered Abigail Piña Mandujano, who was then a community college student with deferred action. Her driver’s license were printed with the words NON-US CITIZEN.
This exposed how the state handled driver’s licenses for non-US citizens legally present in the country.
So Then, How Do We Support Feminists in Mississippi?
I graduated during the Great Recession, so leaving my hometown for a place where I knew I’d struggle and not be accepted wasn’t a hard decision. My family was already here, and meeting progressives here eventually helped.
But there many lessons I learned as well:
- The struggles of women in rural states matter. Despite the glamour and attention we give to larger cities, progressives in rural states don’t just disappear because the rest of the country ignores them and their troubles. I experienced this when I renewed my driver’s license and had to try three times because my local driver licensing office forces people born outside of the U.S. (even naturalized citizens such as myself) to go to a different town just because they say so. Though I received a lot of moral support, most of my friends in Los Angeles used this as a case for why I should move back, which brings me to my next point.
- It's crucial that you don’t punish feminists for where we live. Larger cities are known for embracing leftist or even feminist ideals, but there are many reasons why feminists stay in rural areas. These are none of your business but I’ll share one: I can’t afford rent in my former hometown. Treating women as if “this is what we get” because of our zip code isn’t progressive or inclusive.
- Rural doesn’t equal white. Roughly 37.8% of Mississippi’s population is African-American. Per the census, Asians make up about 1.1%, Native Americans are about 0.6%, and Latinxs are about 3.2% of the state’s population. So almost half the state’s population consists of people of color. This means that many of the leaders whose stories you aren’t paying attention to are mostly women of color who could use your support—moral, financially, or otherwise.
- Feminists here are persistent. There’s only one abortion provider in the State of Mississippi, the Jackson Women’s Health Clinic, known as the Pink House. There’s a cadre of feminists who volunteer as escorts so that women who go there for services (including regular gynecology appointments and even ultrasounds) can feel safe.
So How Can I Help?
So you live in a larger city and want to elevate rural feminists and those who love them. This is not a comprehensive list of ways you can support, but these are some ideas for how you can assist feminists in Mississippi:
- Donate to organizations run by locals. The Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund accepts donations via PayPal, and keeps a list of things they need on their website. They also keep an Amazon wish list of items needed. The Jackson Women’s Health Clinic also accepts PayPal donations.
- Elevate stories of feminists in Mississippi doing important work. Let others know that feminists aren’t just big (but totally cool!) cities. One great way to keep up with occurrences in Mississippi and neighboring states is to check out local weeklies and sites such as the Jackson Free Press and Mississippi Today.
- Volunteer. In addition to feminist organizations, Mississippi has local chapters of the ACLU, Children’s Defense Fund, Southern Poverty Law Center, and the Pink House Defenders still escort women. Contact them with specific skills you can offer to make their jobs easier and what areas they may need help with.
- Register to vote. If you live in Mississippi, state elections are in 2019 and every vote counts. Likewise, if you know someone there, encourage them to register to vote.
Ingrid Cruz is a freelance writer and independent filmmaker/musician. She loves coffee, beaches, and sushi. You can follow her musings at http://ingridcruzwrites.wordpress.com or say hello on Twitter/Instagram: ingridiswriting.
All views and opinions expressed in this interview are those of the author.