This summer I had the awesome opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C., with Emily Herrell, PPAZ advocacy coordinator, and three other students for the annual Planned Parenthood Youth Conference. We spent three days in the city going to workshops, meeting other activists and listening to speakers like Cecile Richards and Jon Lewis.
The experience was especially valuable to me as the newly elected University of Arizona VOX chapter president. In one workshop I got to meet other VOX leaders and we bounced event ideas and strategies to increase membership off of each other. While there are some pro-choice groups on my campus, it’s rare for us as activists to be able to connect with other than Planned Parenthood student volunteers. I was relieved to find that most VOX leaders struggled with the same problems (i.e. membership) that we do at the UA.
The big event of the conference is Lobby Day, where each group sets up meetings with their state’s representatives to go over pro-choice issues at the state and national levels. Our lobbyist, Theresa Ulmer, and PPAZ President Bryan Howard also joined us.
Our first meeting of the day was with Congresswoman Giffords’ office, which was bittersweet. I spent last spring interning at her Tucson district office, so it was nice to see some of the office staff again. But, even though I’d never visited her D.C. office before, her absence was obvious and deeply felt.
Because our representatives (at least the ones we met with) are so supportive of Planned Parenthood, we did not have to spend time persuading them the way some other groups did. Instead, Bryan, Emily and Theresa briefed the representatives and their staffs on the current attacks we face in state legislation. Although I already knew that Congressman Grijalva and Congressman Pastor are Planned Parenthood supporters, it was heartening to hear them say it, especially in a time when it seems like all of congress is against us.
And, there was no denying the sheer presence of supporters in D.C. that day. The hill was crawling with students and staff in pink shirts, all so excited to talk to representatives and each other. The most rewarding part of the conference for me was connecting with other students and activists, and discovering the vastness of the pro-choice network.