Monday was tough. On Independence Day, the day meant to commemorate the Declaration of Independence, there was another mass shooting, an event Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker aptly described as our “uniquely American plague.” And still, there was the shadow of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
How do you celebrate the idea of liberty when you’re feeling less free?
Brittany Brown, our labor and workers reporter, and I talked about this. Before she was here, you may remember, Brittany was in Mississippi; she lived maybe two miles from Jackson Women’s Health clinic.
She told me the clinic sits right in the heart of a particularly artsy neighborhood in Jackson, amid restaurants, bars and boutiques. Across from a hotel and near a taco shop. The bright pink building both fit in and stood out. It made visitors ask, “What is that?” And they’d always be surprised at the answer.
“It was like it was hiding in plain sight,” she said. “People think of abortion clinics and abortion care as this taboo thing. We don’t talk about it. But having it there was like saying it was an everyday occurrence, an everyday thing.” As in a routine health care option.
Still, there were clues to outsiders for what was going on there. The ever-present anti-abortion protesters with signs accusing sin and depicting mutilated fetuses. The “Pink House defenders” helping patients enter and exit safely. And Brittany said she made a point of letting people know what that building was, of acknowledging it as the lone abortion clinic in the state.
Brittany didn’t cover health then, so she didn’t cover the clinic until the day of the Supreme Court leak. On that day, she said, it was eerily quiet. There were more reporters there than protestors. Brittany said she heard from another journalist that the usual protestors were in Ukraine, handing out baby formula. (Others heard they were handing out bibles.) This, of course, was when there were baby formula shortages in America, in Mississippi. She said it seemed a “sick irony” that the people so ardent about saving babies were absent when babies needed them. Or maybe, she thought, they already saw victory.
The clinic escorts she talked to that day seemed tired and hurt but hopeful, still fighting. Patients, after all, were still driving in and out for appointments. It was, personally, she said, a therapeutic moment, too. Our visuals director Andrea Morales was there, making images. Indeed, the reporters were mostly women and, particularly, women of color. “It was childbearing people, so it was deeply personal.”
MLK50 values the lived experiences of the people we cover, we consider that a kind of expertise. Our own experiences, too, help with our understanding of issues. So I asked Brittany where she is in processing all of this and what it means for her work. “I really need to tap into this moment and pay attention critically. I’m glad to work in a field that allows me to do that.
“I took abortion access for granted. I was born in 1996. I didn’t know how deeply a lack of abortion access affected people. As a society, we take a lot of things for granted, the liberties we have.
“It makes me think about my future,” she said. “I took for granted what America is and what America represents. Now I think more often about where Black people, where women, fit in this space. I’m 25 and I wonder what the next 25 years of my life are going to look like.”
Our conversation was tough, too. But it made me think more about the work we do.
Going forward, I’ll think of every story we write as part of a reevaluation of the Fourth of July. We need to mark the day less as a celebration of 1776’s declaration that marked early Americans’ break from British rule and more as a declaration of a future that sparks a different break — from those who think they should bestow independence.
Because the truth is you can’t celebrate the idea of liberty when you’re feeling less than free.
Adrienne Johnson Martin is executive editor of MLK50: Justice Through Journalism. Contact her at email@example.com
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