Attend any Planned Parenthood, NARAL, or other reproductive rights rally in any major U.S. city and you’ll see a diverse assortment of women gathering for a diverse array of reasons. One constant, however, is the presence of young women.
Young women are extremely active in the reproductive-rights movement, participating in campus organizing, serving as clinic escorts, and publicly sharing their stories. But many of them believe that their contributions to the movement are consistently undervalued or erased altogether.
The latest erasure comes from a seemingly unlikely source: Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the Florida congresswoman who chairs the Democratic National Committee. In a New York Times interview published Wednesday, Wasserman Schultz discussed the perceived generational divide in feminist support for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is running for president.
“Here’s what I see: a complacency among the generation of young women whose entire lives have been lived after Roe v. Wade was decided,” Wasserman Schultz said.
The backlash to her remark was swift. More than 9,000 people have signed a petition asking her to step down as head of the DNC. On Twitter, millennials and their allies have been rallying under the hashtag #DearDebbie for more than 24 hours.
In an email to the Daily Dot, Matson explained that she started #DearDebbie because Wasserman Schultz’s comment simply “isn’t true.”
Matson cited youth engagement in clinic escorting, abortion fund meetings, and hashtags like #DearDebbie and #ShoutYourAbortion as high-profile evidence that young women are anything but complacent when it comes to the reproductive-rights movement.
“It is largely younger people who are driving the grassroots movement for abortion access and reproductive justice today, and anyone who claims they’re apathetic or missing is clearly out of touch,” said Matson, adding that the individuals who are truly complacent are the “allegedly pro-choice officials who talk a big game about reproductive rights when it’s election time” but who rarely follow through in Congress.
“In this light, her remarks seem even more outrageous,” Matson continued, referencing Wasserman Schultz’s questionable history of defending reproductive rights.
Matson also highlighted the congresswoman’s alleged hypocrisy in her own #DearDebbie tweets.
#DearDebbie, complacency doesn't look like young people organizing. It looks like pro-choice elected officials apologizing for abortion.— Erin Matson (@erintothemax) January 6, 2016
#DearDebbie, complacency looks like saying "Roe" instead of "abortion."— Erin Matson (@erintothemax) January 6, 2016
Many of the other women using #DearDebbie echoed her criticisms.
#DearDebbie I've dedicated my life the past seven years to organizing for reproductive health, rights, and justice. Am I complacent?— Alicia Johnson (@lorenealicia) January 6, 2016
Matson believes that these tweets are a powerful form of protest. Reproaction launched its own petition condemning Wasserman Schultz and her remarks, and Matson told the Daily Dot that the group will include a sampling of #DearDebbie tweets when the petition is presented to the congresswoman’s office.
“I’m a big believer in all forms of activism—online and offline,” she explained. “I believe social media activism, including but not limited to the use of hashtags, plays a huge role in helping to destigmatize abortion and create a cultural climate that will be more favorable for advancing equality and dignity in the future.”
Wasserman Schultz had not responded to demands for her resignation at press time. But she did respond to the larger backlash on Twitter.
Millennials know that wasn't the case – they are leaders in the fight to protect abortion rights. They know progress isn’t final. 2/6— Debbie Wasserman Schultz (@DWStweets) January 6, 2016
But even when we’ve achieved big victories, like with Obamacare, we continue to see the other side try to roll back progress. 4/6— Debbie Wasserman Schultz (@DWStweets) January 6, 2016
The mantle must be carried by each generation. We have 10 months to elect the next Democratic president. Let’s keep fighting, together. 6/6— Debbie Wasserman Schultz (@DWStweets) January 6, 2016
Her clarification is unlikely to slow down the #DearDebbie stream. The young women using the hashtag believe they are being silenced—and they’re not willing to let their contributions to the fight for social justice be undermined any more.
Photo by Carrie Nelson