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Our Bags are Packed, Part II

Khadine Bennet,
ACLU of Illinois
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July 28, 2010

(Originally posted on RHRealityCheck.)

I love road trips. Actually I’m addicted to road-trips.

My first road-trip was back in ‘99, the summer I graduated from college. I convinced my friend Ben that it would be a good idea to pack our stuff into a Penske Truck and move from Jamaica Plain, MA to Berkeley, CA. I don’t know what excited me more – actually living in California (aka the activist promised land) or the 5-day, 11 state road-trip we were about to embark on.

We made mix tapes that served as the perfect soundtrack to our experience; we saw parts of the country that I was always curious about; we ate awful rest area “food”; and we learned that the salt lakes in Utah are really made of salt (I was curious, we pulled over, I tasted it and (1) it was salty and (2) my tongue was numb for the next half hour).

The day after we parked the Penske in Berkeley, I got my first post-college, California job. For a period of about two weeks, I worked as a canvasser for the Women’s Choice Clinic in Oakland – a feminist clinic that provided a full range of reproductive health care. Each day we were dropped off in a different city in the Bay Area, and spent about 4 hours going door to door, talking with strangers about the services the clinic provided – services that included family planning, STD prevention and treatment, education about reproductive health, abortion care, prenatal care and deliveries. We also asked strangers to consider making a donation to support the work of the clinic; donations that would enable the medical staff and counselors to continue providing sliding scale reproductive healthcare for women who otherwise might not be able afford it. In some ways, my canvassing job was like an extension of the road-trip. Everyday for two weeks, I took a trip to a new part of the bay to talk to people I’ve never met about reproductive health and access.

Though my time as a canvasser was short, I learned a lot about the reproductive health barriers faced by the people in my new home town. I got a sense of how difficult it was for small independent health facilities to raise enough money to provide healthcare, pay doctors and pay security; I learned that the abortion provider only came on certain days of the week because he was needed at other clinics, and because the clinic couldn’t find a full time provider. I learned that talking to strangers about helping to pay for someone else’s medical care, especially for their abortion, could lead to a spectrum of responses – from frothing-at-the-mouth anger, to indifference, to tears and story telling.

Why am I telling you about my first road-trip and my first California job?

Well, those were two pretty pivotal experiences in my life. One of these experiences led to my now chronic road-trip addiction, the other reaffirmed my commitment to working on reproductive health, access and justice issues, and both of those experiences come to mind as Allie and I embark on the Road Trip for Reproductive Health and Access.

Each day for about two weeks, Allie and I will head out in a van and travel to at least one Illinois city to talk with healthcare providers, sexual assault counselors, health officials and everyday people about reproductive health and access. This time, instead of asking for clinic donations and educating folks about barriers to reproductive healthcare for women in Oakland, I’ll be the one receiving an education – I’ll be the one who listens and learns more about barriers that people in Illinois cities face when attempting to access and provide reproductive care, services, and information.

It’s eleven years later but some things will never change – I’ll have an opportunity to learn more about parts of the state that I’ve been curious about; I’ll get to create a soundtrack for our trip – instead of mix tapes, we’ll listen to the never ending i-pod playlist; and I’ll get to eat that awful rest area “food” that I secretly love. One thing will change though – I will not, I repeat, will not pull off on the side of the road to taste “natural wonders” of the city we’re visiting … unless that natural wonder involves ice cream.

The ACLU of Illinois is embarking on a project to put a human face on the status of reproductive health and access to care in Illinois. Over 10 days in July and August, we will be traveling the state, listening to women, men, young people and doctors throughout Illinois as they share stories about the barriers they face in accessing and providing reproductive health care and information. As we travel more than 2000 miles, through 13 Illinois cities and towns, we will learn more about the challenges everyday people face in filling prescriptions for birth control, in finding doctors who will provide needed services, including abortions, in dealing with Medicaid funding or in receiving comprehensive, age-appropriate sexual health education in public schools.

You can follow along at or on twitter and facebook.

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