Listen, Fight and Grow a Thick Skin: Ms. Talks to Texas Writer-Activist Jessica Luther

Screen shot 2013-08-09 at 10.41.39 AM

Jessica Luther is a fierce feminist writer and reproductive rights activist from Austin, TX, who most recently helped rally the feminist army (both in Texas and on social media) to protest anti-abortion bill H.B. 2. She is a dynamic presence in the feminist blogosphere, tweeting from @scATX and has published her writings in The Guardian, The Atlantic, Salon, Bitch, Racialicious and Shakesville.

Ms. Blog: What was it like to be on the ground in Texas protesting against anti-choice bills S. B. 5 and H. B. 2?

Jessica Luther: Incredible and energizing, but also exhausting. It is hard to find words to encompass all that it meant to me.

I know so many hard-working people who fight all the time for reproductive rights and justice in this state… [but] there was this perfect storm of horrific legislation, the power of multiple networks and a time crunch that created this incredible moment.

Being able to be a part of it in any way was life-changing. I went from feeling impotent to feeling powerful. I went from feeling like I was one of a few to feeling as if I was one of many. I went from feeling silenced to feeling like my voice mattered.

Even though the measures unfortunately passed, what are the next steps for reproductive health activists and women in Texas?

I know there are legal actions against H. B. 2 that will be filed, and we hope that the court is on our side. The Fifth Circuit federal court is famously conservative, so even though many aspects of the law have been ruled unconstitutional in other parts of the country, we’ve learned in Texas that there is no guarantee that we will see the same here.

After that, we need to listen to what providers and clinics need and support them in whatever way possible. We need to locate politicians (and possible politicians) who vote pro-choice and support them. We need to find like-minded people in our own local communities and foster those relationships, both professionally and personally.

We also need to expand who is actively included in the movement, reaching out to LGBT and progressive religious groups as well as giving more space to groups that are led by and for people of color.

There is a part of me that has to believe that if we keep working at it, things will get better. They must. What we are fighting for is important, our advocacy is necessary and … when we combine our voices, we can change things for the better.

How did you first get involved with pro-choice activism and the feminist blogosphere? 

I have always been interested in the study of the body. It’s the basis of my dissertation (which I’m currently completing in history). So, it makes sense on some level that this would translate over into what I care about politically. About 3 years ago, I somehow discovered both Feministing and Shakesville and my mind was blown. It was as if I had found a place that I needed but didn’t even know I was missing in my life. At that time, I started my own blog and joined Twitter. The following February, I participated in a march at the Texas state capitol against the horrific anti-choice legislation that Gov. Perry was pushing then and went home and started my reproductive rights blog, which was profiled on the Ms. Blog.

As an academic and a historian, I know that words have power. Storytelling has power. There is also something about taking an idea and fleshing it out uninterrupted through blogging and other social-media platforms. And then once it’s out there, continuing that conversation through comments, social media, additional blog posts. One of the most read posts on my blog was written by a friend over two years ago about her late-term abortion, and it is continually linked to, found via searches and (unfortunately) consistently relevant in this political atmosphere.

luther and cecile richards


What feminist issue(s) is at the heart of your activism? 

Reproductive justice and intersectionality. All people need and should have access to all kinds of reproductive health care. But in order to make sure this is true … the movement must be inclusive. It must make space for all experiences and voices. White, cis, heterosexual, middle-class women cannot be the only people speaking. In fact, we white, cis, heterosexual, middle-class women need to learn to step aside, open our ears and listen. Everyone involved benefits, the movement benefits, and we slowly move toward a more just society.

Did you have a  feminist “click” moment?

I have always been a feminist, as far back as I can remember. Learning more about systemic inequality throughout history, as I studied the history of race and gender, made me much more aware of how systemic inequality operates. It was gradual but it became something I could not ignore.

Who are your feminist inspirations/role models?

Melissa McEwan, the creator and editor of Shakesville. Her writing and, in the last year or so, her friendship have taught me more than almost any in my life. Melissa Harris-Perry: A smart, successful academic woman, mother and wife who has affected the world by being consistently brilliant. I read everything that Jos Truitt, Roxane Gay and Trudy write, and I am better for it each time. On a local level, I am constantly inspired by Heather Busby, the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice TX and one of the founders of Lilith Fund, our local abortion fund. And Brittany Yelverton, a community organizer for Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas. I knew Brittany a bit before this summer, but watching her in action, corralling large groups of people, coordinating multiple events at once and smiling through it all was a master class in on-the-ground organizing.

What advice would you give to young feminists looking to get more involved in activism?

Grow a thick skin. Be open to criticism and be ready and listen to people who are directly affected by whatever change you are trying to effect, and give their experiences added weight.And get your voice out there. Start a blog, tweet, moderate a Facebook group, start a local feminist drinking club, write op-eds, get deputized to register voters. Find people who encourage you and embrace them—thank them—and return the favor.Be prepared to lose more than win, but know that the joy of the wins, even if few and far between, outweigh the pain of defeat.

Photos of Jessica Luther and Texas demonstration provided by Jessica Luther.