The seventh annual “Take Root: Red State Perspectives on Reproductive Justice” conference took place February 24-25 in Norman at the University of Oklahoma. Through Society for Gender Equality, eleven TU students, representing both graduate and undergraduate students, were able to attend.
Take Root is a conference on reproductive justice — a concept which requires some explaining. Rather than focusing exclusively on access to reproductive health care, abortion and birth control, reproductive justice is a framework which seeks to recognize intersections and is focused on allowing people to choose if and when they raise children and guaranteeing that families and children have the right to grow safely and free from violence and discrimination. The reproductive justice framework was created by the women of color of SisterSong, a coalition of women of color, in the late 1990s, among them Loretta Ross. It is meant to be a way of combatting choice movements that embraced eugenics and population control.
This year’s Take Root had a significant focus on the issues indigenous folks face, particularly indigenous women and families. The opening plenary included only indigenous speakers. Among them were Casey Camp-Horinek, who is known for her environmental activism, and Pam Kingfisher, who does work raising bees and fighting against sexual assault of (particularly indigenous) women and girls. Camp-Horinek utilized her time to offer a prayer to Mother Earth and the water, particularly in this time of Standing Rock, Trans-Pecos and Flint.
First and foremost, Take Root is an academic conference. To that end, students and professionals from across the United States attended with the goal of sharing both their academic research and their personal experiences. The first night always has a poster session at which researchers are able to present their reproductive justice work, followed by a networking session. The following day, there are a series of professional development sessions which count as continuing education units for social workers.
Reproductive justice is a very broad framework, which means that Take Root provides a very broad range of information. There were opportunities to attend sessions on the effects of Oklahoma’s opioid epidemic on families, health care access for Deaf/HoH individuals, community/police relations, the connection between oil pipelines and sexual assault, and the experiences of black and brown girls in foster care. In fact, throughout the conference, it was possible to not attend a single session on abortion or birth control access. There were so many other compelling choices because reproductive justice is about so much more than abortion and birth control.
Part of the importance of the reproductive justice framework is that it does not exclude transgender folks. Rather than, as some feminist movements do, focusing on how women are connected to each other due to the synching of their periods, reproductive justice emphasizes that transgender people who are not women may give birth. Reproductive justice emphasizes that trans women may not be able to give birth, but are still women.
Particularly this year, Take Root was a rallying cry for progressive activism. In his keynote address, Dr. Willie Parker stressed that a Trump presidency could be helpful for progressives. Rather than coasting along and accepting the flaws of the modern Democratic party (and from a progressive standpoint, the democratic parts is deeply flawed), progressives have been united in a common fight. He said, “If we want to maintain human rights, we must always make demands on whoever is in the White House.” Dr. Parker focused not on progressive defeat, but on progressive opportunity.
Take Root is a broadly informative academic event regardless of the political beliefs of the people attending. The conference prides itself on being a progressive beacon in the midst of the reddest state of the reddest region of the United States.