The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Wednesday September 28th

Op-ed: Lessons from American activists

When I received acceptance into the University of North Carolina, I knew the years ahead would be transformational in my education and career in the field of social work and social justice. In Australia, we commonly look to the USA for ideas and examples of community organizing, collective action and popular protest. I was excited to learn about using community organizing to “win rights,” strengthen political power and achieve change. My goal was to parachute in, soak up all the skills and head home to Australia with a suitcase full of strategies.

And then, just as I’d gained irreversible momentum to relocate to North Carolina, I found out that the Supreme Court of the U.S. had decided to overturn world-famous Roe v. Wade. For us in Australia, this was hard to understand because, “how could faith or political affiliation have anything to do with accessing a standard medical procedure,” we reasoned. Once we understood the gravity of SCOTUS’ decision, it sent solidarity shockwaves through our country. Our male Prime Minister was quick to reassure Australians that, “It is a good thing that in Australia, this is not a matter for partisan political debate,” and described the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision as a “setback.”

In a twist on North vs. South progressiveness, I venerated South Australia’s (my home state) universal healthcare system, which includes access to abortion, when I discovered the grim reality that in North Carolina, lawmakers passed more anti-abortion restrictions in the past 10 years than in the previous 35.

I arrived in the U.S. five weeks ago, and I’ve learnt a lot about community organizing in that time. It’s not the lessons I was expecting to learn, because how could I possibly learn strategies to “win rights,” when the reality in the U.S. is that many of them have been lost. To my surprise, though, this unexpected, and challenging historical moment has allowed other lessons to emerge, and ones that are arguably more meaningful when thinking of transformative principles.

Through attending rallies and engaging with pro-choice organizations, I’ve learnt that even in the circumstances, resistance to government interference in abortion care is alive and well and growing stronger.

I’ve learnt that activists are making choices to stay involved in the fight for abortion rights and there is strength, conviction, and courage in that choice. Advocates in North Carolina continue to fiercely hold the line not just for themselves, but for the surrounding states, too.

I’m learning about what it’s like to have to defend your healthcare rights daily, knowing that an election in November might render your efforts null and void, and still feeling firm in your resolve anyway.  

I’ve learnt that creating practices for collective care and shouldering each other up make the work sustainable and energizing.

So, although I came to the US to learn "practical skills" for community organizing, what I’ve learnt so far is less practical and more profound. Most importantly, I’ve learnt that resistance is not defined by its ability to stop oppression, but rather its ability to offer connection to collective ethics and justice-doing. Ironically, I’ve also come to realize that this lesson is community organizing 101.

Alexandra Rose, first year Masters in Social Work student


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