To Understand The World
by Lori Garrott

My leap into the field of activism was mostly sparked by the fight against Initiative 26 in Mississippi—The Personhood Initiative.  We won that fight in 2011 and I can’t thank the sponsors of that Amendment more for what they created in Mississippi. We surprised the entire country with that win. Even further, I think we shocked the shit out of ourselves.

THIS is the "rest of the story"--the life that exists for us outside the mainstream media cycle.  The story of Mississippi women who continue to stand up and fight what we've been told is a losing battle.

There was no definable organization of women in the State of Mississippi when Initiative 26 was put up for a vote. Honestly, Personhood would have passed without a peep in Mississippi until one woman, Cristen Hemmins engaged in a lawsuit against the bill represented by the MS ACLU.  The case eventually ended up in front of the MS Supreme Court. There was no national organization in the state, no real education to the population. I just heard about “Personhood” and the case was “before the MS Supreme Court”.  Then I ate a bunch of cake and passed out from sugar intake—like a Good Little American.  

Mainly because I suffer from a case of Good Sense (the kind my Mama gave me) and as a social worker in this state for 15 years-one with the highest teen pregnancy rate-I actually believed that state legislatures would see what a REALLY bad idea looked like—hint, it looks like Personhood (also those Truck NUTZ things, but they've yet to legislate them. Or any nuts for that matter)

 The MS Supreme Court eventually decided they could not vote on the constitutionality of a law that had yet to be enacted. So, Initiative 26 was allowed on the ballot. Something that baffled many of us as the Mississippi State Constitution states that we cannot alter the Mississippi Bill of Rights by ballot initiative.  But that’s Mississippi! In fact, I find that par for the course in Republican politics for the past five years. If we don’t like the rules, we’ll just change them. Right down to your feminine hygiene products.

Sitting at my desk one day in September of 2011, I saw this sentence come across my Twitter timeline: "Mississippi Supreme Court states Personhood can remain on the ballot." Then there were two minutes I think we all paused and asked, "Well fuuuuuck, what do we do now?" We needed someone to say something about this. We needed someone to be listening.
Turns out there was someone listening—The Mamas. I talked to some other friends of mine—all Mamas like me. We related what this amendment would personally mean for us if it had been applied when we were trying to create our families. There were stories of women being cut open to remove loved potential children from tubes, women who experienced their children dying inside of them knowing they would carry the heartbreak—if not the baby—for the rest of their lives. Remembering that push to deliver our children into the world as being so life giving, each of us understood how close to the precipice of taking life that same push could be.

So The Mamas went to work. Some of us formed political action committees, some of us made signs, and some of us learned how to get our faces in front of cameras. We knocked on doors, handed out flyers and held rallies.  Mamas, who had previously done nothing political, and with no aspirations for such, stood on street corners holding signs. We did it with 6-week-old babies and strollers and toddlers that tore up the flowers in front of the women's monument on the South Capitol Lawn—fitting, I think. We met other Mamas—Atlee,Stacey, Cristen, Jill, Laurie and Amy—who were holding signs of their own. Some had in-vitro babies, some had lost babies and some prayed for babies. Some of them had heaven babies or earth babies who were already grown and trying to have their own babies. Some of them had two generations of babies behind them and wanted those babies to give them more babies. But one thing united all of us. We couldn't let this happen.

We Mamas started using all the skills we'd learned juggling car pool and practices and cooking and our numerous undergrad and graduate degrees, and we applied them to social organization. We used minivans to lug protesters. We packed food and babies in wagons and showed up at rallies with goldfish crackers and bottles of refrigerated breast milk and neatly painted signs. Instead of posting pictures of our kids on social media, we posted articles and legal arguments. And by damn, with the entire "NO to 26" movement seeming to happen as organically as the brownies or soccer or Halloween costumes that Mamas seem to make look so easy, we did win.

And after we did? We stayed in touch. We did this through social media (an invaluable tool in this fight).  And we paid attention.

This led to a year later and a huge fight against a TRAP law that imposed an impossible regulation against our one standing abortion clinic:  admitting privileges.  This same law is currently being used in other states in an attempt to close their clinics.  And really, I can’t say that it isn't slick. Most people don’t know that the majority of doctors working in hospitals don’t have "admitting privileges."  The law is solely designed to close down a safe abortion clinic under the guise of “protecting women”.  And without the judiciary system to apply checks and balances, it’s extremely successful. This law led to a rally at the Last Abortion Clinic on the 40th Anniversary of Roe.  

    Me and Cristen Hemmins at Roe Rally

Sadly, it was like a reunion for most of us women who’d led the fight against Personhood.  But we still treat a protest like a good old fashion Southern Git Together.  There was visiting and talking about everyone’s chirren—interspersed with giving interviews to international news channels or documentary crews completely fascinated with America’s continued puritanical fight against abortion—and our accents, I’m sure. (And let me tell you something that French Women and Mississippians share, a LOVE for smoking. I couldn't understand that woman for shit but she had the best cigarettes.)  After two years, we are so well-versed in talking points and messaging that I’m pretty sure most of “The Mama’s” could kick your ass in an interview. Currently, our record is much better than Rick Perry's.

Through it all, we kept in touch on social media.  We formed groups.  We listed messaging and tips to deal with media.  We made sure that every woman who joined the fight was provided with the needed tools.  And we are still offering this information and advice. When the coordinated attacks on women’s rights started during the 2012 legislative session in most Republican controlled states, we were able to dole out some invaluable advice regarding organizing previously unorganized women.  We still have that as one of our goals.  And yes, it still shocks the shit out of most other states that we seem to know what we are doing.

And so here we are, two full years later, still fighting and engaged in what I've renamed the “Great American Stand Off”—praying for judicial escape from an ill-informed and stupid law. Currently, we stand our ground here—the clinic grounds—under the safety of an injunction. But who knows for how long.

A lot of us women translated these laws and attacks into concrete resistance actions and Laurie Roberts started a volunteer clinic defense program which is a coalition effort with Occupy Mississippi.  She eventually became the President of the MS chapter of NOW and we use this as a collection point for Reproductive Justice Funds.  These funds are used 100% to fund abortion and reproductive health care services to women who cannot afford them.

We walk women into our Last Clinic every day.  We hold their hands and make sure they aren't harassed by protesters as we are continually harassed by legislatures. We no longer activate “phone trees” for our kid’s preschools, we do it for legislation--I've timed it.  I can text a friend a piece of information from the Last Clinic’s front door at 7:30am and have it picked up by national media within 48 hours. And one invaluable piece of information I can give you is this: BUILD THOSE NETWORKS.  Those networks are precious to you.  They will be what you stand on when the men have taken even the soap box.  Build social media groups.  Stay in them even outside of active legislative sessions.  Be active.  But, most of all--wake up.  And STAY AWAKE.

Just as sure that we are protecting the women we hold everyday when we walk them into the clinic, we also know we are protecting a fundamental constitutional right—and that requires vigilance. We stand our ground here every day and say, “This clinic will not close”.  We do it because of the calls we get from frantic women asking where they can get an abortion and how they can pay for it.  We stand our ground here because we are on the front lines of the battle and for decades this war has only ever been won by women who drew a line in the sand and said, “You will go no further.”

Our line is drawn around Jackson Women’s Health Organization.  And our signs say, “This clinic stays open.”  And we fight for that, every day. 

Now, that's not to say we don't try to make our days at The Last Clinic as fun as possible.

Sometimes we even hang out and make duck lips with Cynthia McFadden while she's interviewing "Anti's".

Sometimes we get to tell the "Anti's" they are pieces of shit (please note the person he referred to as "fat" in the video was a 17-year-old volunteer escort. Really classy, Roy. Roy McMillan is a standing feature at the clinic. This happens every single day.)

Sometimes we are attacked because of bumper stickers on someone else's car:
(As a side note, he's very worried that our camera isn't recording as well)

And sometimes we just have fun.

If you'd like to follow us as we continue to fight for our last standing clinic, you can read about happenings and see videos and commentary at The Last Abortion Clinic You can also follow our Youtube Channel. If you'd like to donate to our reproductive justice fund, please contact us through our "About Us" page on our blog!