03 June 2008

Strengthening Strategy in South Beach

Nothing makes true progressive change seem more possible than when activists take time out of their busy lives to come together to build on past successes, strengthen coalitions, and share strategies to bring about transformative shifts in policy and public debate that will have a concrete, positive impact on the lives of women and families nationwide. We're so honored to be able to help create this space at gatherings like our reproductive justice grantee convening in Miami, taking place today and yesterday in sunny, humid Miami.

Over the years the Ms. Foundation for Women and other social justice advocates nationwide have come to understand that the most strategic, successful approach to bringing about lasting social change involves making connections to build power: across issues, organizations and policymaking levels, and across race, class, and gender. For the second year in a row, MFW asked grantees from our Reproductive Rights Coalition and Organizing Fund to invite representatives from other organizations to the convening with whom they'd like to build or strengthen their partnerships, specifically groups that would bring a new perspective, constituency, and/or resources to the table and help move a particular policy or advocacy initiative forward--ultimately, creating a stronger reproductive justice movement and broader base for change.

Over two days, this year and last, groups have had a chance to review what's worked and what hasn't, to strengthen their strategic plans and to identify new, innovative organizing tactics so that when they return home they'll be much better positioned to ensure success.

For example, MFW grantee Migrant Health Promotion's La Voz Latina partnered last year with the Lower Rio Grande Development Council's Rio Transit and Planned Parenthood to ensure regular transportation for migrant farmworking women living in rural South Texas colonias so that they could access reproductive health care services. They were so successful--there are now regular routes to 99% the colonias in Hidalgo County in which La Voz Latina works and 1500 women use the bus service each month--that they're coming together to move into a new county, Cameron, where they will replicate the organizing strategies they used in Hidalgo to identify and develop local leaders, promote awareness about reproductive health, and encourage women to access services--the majority provided by Planned Parenthood--via public transportation.

As expected and unexpected challenges occur, such as changes in funding for transportation or reproductive health care services, they'll have a solid coalition of all three groups--La Voz Latina, Rio Transit and Planned Parenthood--to advocate for the rights and needs of the thousands of women they represent. And not just that--women from the colonias will advocate for and defend their rights themselves, thanks to training from La Voz Latina and intercambios (exchanges) between women from Hidalgo and Cameron Counties.

[Lucy Felix of Migrant Health Promotion, in attendance at the convening, was one of our 2008 Women of Vision awardees. Watch this video to learn more about Lucy's visionary leadership and the groundbreaking work of La Voz Latina.]

This collaboration in South Texas across reproductive justice and advocacy, transportation access, and reproductive health care services is just one example of the creative movement building across issues, organizations and communities taking place here. Moreover, folks aren't just working within their coalitions but across them as well, sharing ideas around access to transportation that worked in Texas that may work in West Virginia, or strategies for defeating parental notification ballot initiatives in California that may be applied to similar challenges in Illinois.

Look for more in the coming months and year for updates about the coalitions meeting here in Miami and their strategies for expanding the base of the reproductive justice movement and bringing about concrete social change for women and families in their colonias and cities nationwide.

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