Interview with Tannia Esparza, Executive Director of Young Women United

Q: Can you tell me a little about who you are, your organization's purpose, and what called you to leadership?

A: Young Women United is a reproductive justice organizing and policy project by and for young women of color in New Mexico. We work with those most impacted by injustice to ensure all people have the access to the education and resources they need to make real decisions about their bodies and lives with dignity.

As a Queer, Xicana, and daughter of immigrant parents I know the lived experiences of our communities are at the core of building meaningful change. It is this belief that makes me proud to be a part of YWU’s leadership in advancing an intersectional vision of reproductive justice that includes: improving the access young people have to quality reproductive health care, de-stigmatizing young parenting while building educational equity for expectant and parenting teens, decriminalizing substance using families while improving access to prenatal care and treatment for substance-using pregnant women, ensuring that women of color have access to all birthing options, and defending reproductive rights while building reproductive justice.

Q: In the current media and political environment- why is changing the public story about families so important?

A: Mainstream media’s depictions of family are incredibly limiting and isolating to the realities of most families. While most of our families do not fit the standardized white, upper class, heterosexual nuclear family structure both mainstream media and political energies insist on representing this very unrealistic version of family.

For Young Women United, we understand most of our families celebrate that many of us were raised by siblings, grandparents, and chosen family or that many of us are Queer & Trans* parents. This is why changing the way we think about family is so important. Culture shift plays a big role in all of our work. In our most recent collaborative efforts to defeat a harmful anti-abortion ballot measure in Albuquerque, Young Women United was very intentional about changing the frame of the discussion to include all of our communities.

Q: What was the referendum in Albuquerque- how did it come about, what did you win last Tuesday, and and what conditions led to that victory?

A: This summer, out-of-state activists gathered signatures to place a measure on the Albuquerque ballot that would ban abortion after twenty weeks, the first of its kind to be introduced in a municipal-level election. Alongside other organizations, Young Women United led the Respect ABQ Women campaign, reflecting the experiences of New Mexican communities of color, people of faith and young people. For years Young Women United has been keeping careful watch over conservative tactics against reproductive rights and has strategized to maintain access women and families have to full range of reproductive health options in our state. Together with women, families, and allied organizations, Young Women United was proud to be one of the leaders of the Respect Albuquerque Women campaign centered on the right of every person to make decisions about abortion for themselves.

Instead of making the ballot measure a debate about prolife vs. prochoice, YWU worked diligently to have real and honest conversations with our communities about the complexities around decisions about abortion. Our families make difficult decisions about their lives every day and decisions about abortion, like many others, belong in their hands.

We know that despite huge misconceptions about people of color opposing abortion, our communities understand what it means to have our bodies regulated. We also know that communities of color have been historically left out of conversations about reproductive rights

We are proud that our win was a reflection of the work many groups in New Mexico have been doing for a long time- ensuring that our communities have a say about what happens to our bodies. Together, Albuquerque communities demonstrated very clearly that personal and complex decisions about abortion belong in the hands of people.

Q: What is the media environment like in Albuquerque in terms of media access, rights, and representation- and how did those conditions pose a threat or an opportunity to this fight?

A: Like much of mainstream media all over the country, local television news stations do not always cover social justice stories. We faced challenges in framing the issue with local media because anti-abortion groups were allowed to craft the ballot language. The “Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” made false assertions and contained misleading language. Despite this challenge, many local stations covered our efforts very well. Spanish language television in particular, was the best at presenting the ballot measure as an election about whether or not decisions about abortion should remain in the hands of women and families. National media however, was quite different, as many outlets sought to feature national organizations when the work on the ground for decades has been led by local groups and communities.

Because we knew young people and many people of color often don't get their news from traditional media sources, it was very important for us to meet people where they were at. Young Women United lead social media efforts for the Respect ABQ Women campaign, broadening the scope of people engaged in the conversation.

Q: What communications strategies helped you win? What barriers in public debate did you face, and how did you overcome them?

A: Young Women United centered the importance of art in shifting culture to build momentum to win in this election and build reproductive justice beyond. We worked with New Mexican photographers and designers to create a photo campaign centered on the strength of Albuquerque families and neighborhoods standing against the measure. Because we know the importance of radio in many of our communities, Young Women United also developed English and Spanish language radio ads with Dolores Huerta, who is a proud New Mexican and fierce labor justice leader.

Q: What's next on this fight, what should leaders across the country know, or do- to help change the story on families in the U.S.?

A: Each year, anti-abortion forces introduce legislation designed to eliminate access to safe and legal abortion. While this election is over, we are committed to continue mobilizing our communities to increase access to the rights, resources and recognition that all people need to thrive. We are proud to be a part of a national network of leaders who know abortion is complex and families are too. This is why we urge our allies to continue to center the voices of those most impacted in our work.

Tannia Esparza is a Queer Xicana from Santa Barbara, CA. As the Executive Director, Tannia carries YWU’s change making vision, cultivates a diverse resource base, and supports staff in strategically building YWU’s work. For the last decade, Tannia has been active in social justice movements working on racial justice, gender justice, and LGBTQ justice.


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