GWPF: Alaina, you are the Co-Founder and Vice President of the organization, We Are Woman. Tell us what inspired you to start the organization and what exactly it does.
Alaina LaTourette: In February 2012, in response to the Obama administration’s decision to mandate birth control coverage, the Republican House Committee held a hearing on women’s health and birth control access that included an all-male panel comprised primarily of clergy, but NO WOMEN.
As the events of the hearing unfolded, including the rejection of Sandra Fluke as a witness, I watched in disbelief; my anger and frustration mounting. I felt control of my life and sovereignty over my own body slip away. For years I had rallied, protested, demonstrated and participated in congressional visits regarding women’s health, access to birth control and abortion, violence against women, et al and watched as state by state laws were enacted to prevent access or create such a burden to women that having a constitutional right became a slight technicality rather than a law. For years I had watched in horror as states failed to protect women and children with restraining orders from abusers, only to see women punished when they fought back. For years regardless of all the efforts of valiant activists, our rights as citizens were constantly under attack and the historical ground gained seemed to be slipping away.
I felt powerless, so to vent my frustration, I turned to social media: FaceBook, Twitter and I instantly found hundreds of people to connect with that were as angry as I was. Instead of frantically pacing my apartment all night I was participating in a huge consensus to speak up, speak out, march and demonstrate. For me it was a rejuvenating call to action. I became part of a group of women planning a march on Washington: The “We Are Woman” March (named after the song, I Am Woman by Helen Reddy)
Inspired and enthused to have an outlet, I began to research what it would take to get to Washington, D.C. and I soon learned that planning an event of that scope required management, coordination and funding. Necessity dictated incorporating “We Are Woman” in order to receive donations and make the purchases necessary to organize a rally. Our first rally at the U.S. Capitol was August 18, 2012; it was an election year and our slogan was, “Remember In November.” We had expected 1000 people and close to 3000 showed up. They came with friends and family holding painted umbrellas, signs and banners; some wearing costumes. They sang, they laughed, they danced, they cried, they shouted and joined together with us to make a statement, “We Are Woman and WE VOTE. We are citizens, we are not a minority. We will not sit idly by and allow you to strip us of our rights. This is the rebirth of a growing movement!”
When the rally ended and the dust cleared, some of us went home while others basked in the afterglow and began to think about what to do next. We could not just walk away and pretend the whole thing didn’t happen. There was work to be done and our coming together had created an entity that could join together with other organizations and activists to help bring about great change.
GWPF: You grew up in a unique community where you were taught to identify people as individuals, free of race and other prejudices. Please tell us how that has impacted your life.
Alaina LaTourette: Ultimately, I think being a child of Synanon heightened my sense of what is humane and inhumane, just and unjust. Synanon was a drug rehab/therapeutic community that became an experimental community…some might call it a cult. The children of Synanon grew up without the constructs of racism and sexism. We were all one culture and one community. Did we recognize that we all did not look the same? Of course we did; however those traits never resulted in anyone being treated differently. That is not to say that there were not people who held privilege in our community, but the privilege was based on your relationship to the founder and the amount of time you lived in Synanon.
In addition to not participating in bigotry and negative social constructs, Synanon was a community of activists: civil rights, women’s rights, workers’ rights, and anti-war… Standing up for my rights and the rights of others, the idea that as long as one of us is oppressed we are all oppressed and being in solution was impressed upon me at an early age. By the time I was 13 years old I had attended rallies, demonstrations and met Bobby Seale and Ceser Chavez.
When I left Synanon I went from communal living, where we were all received close to equal proportions of everything and shared the same social status into a society of such extremes. It has taken me years to assimilate (somewhat). It was 1976 and it seemed at the time this country was in a state of wanting to heal, evolve and move forward. Carter had been elected president, there was an air of building community across color and class lines, and people were hopeful. I watched this hopeful post-civil rights era euphoria be eroded since the beginning of the Reagan administration.
I worry, hope, wonder and pray (even though I am not religious) that we can see our way through the haze of internet memes, twitter clouds, violent crimes and police brutality to find a common ground to join together and work for peace, for human rights, civil rights, voter rights, LBGTQ rights, women’s rights (which is really the lives of women, children and families).
GWPF: Would you explain what the phrase, “I Have A Say” means?
Alaina La Tourette: To me, “I Have A Say” is a statement of control and power over your own life (and body). It means: I am not invisible, I have a voice, I have a vote, My body belongs to me, I can choose what is best for me, I am powerful, I am strong.
GWPF: In 2014 “We Are Woman” took your message back to Washington, D.C. Please give us the details of those 2 days.
Alaina LaTourette: Friday, September 12th:
We met with other organizations at the Dirksen Senate Office Building for a Day Of Action, Congressional Visits to discuss HJ Res 56 and HJ Res 113, two different strategies of granting women equal protections in the U.S. Constitution by passing and ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment. After handing out materials and talking points to participants we broke up into several groups and began visiting representatives.
Once the congressional visits were underway, I headed back to my hotel to work while Jacquie Nantier and Wendy Cartwright met with leaders from other organizations. As “Day Of” project manager, it was my job to make sure deliveries to the rally site were on schedule and volunteers for site, stage and sound set-up had all of the information they needed for the rally. Our security volunteers and marshals had to be confirmed and briefed. The latest program plans and schedules needed to be sent out to all of the speakers and bands. Delivery and distribution of the pre-purchased lunch-boxes had to be arranged. I sat in the same spot at the Hyatt until around 8pm as friends, family, associates and volunteers came by and left, some bringing food or drink and some running errands.
Saturday, September 13th:
We had a terrific lineup of terrific speakers such as, Eleanore Smeal, President of The Feminist Majority; Terry O’Neill, President of NOW; Monica Raye Simpson, Executive Director of SisterSong, Kimberly Inez McGuire, Director of Public Affairs National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health; Dr. E. Faye Williams, President of National Congress of Black Women and entertainment like BETTY, Jane Lee Hooker Frightwig and Capital Blend.
We met at the rally site and began the set up. We had a great team of volunteers (which also included friends and family). We were all very excited and spirits were high as people began to show up…and then the rain started. Lightly, at first it was just a mist and as the day progressed the rain became heavier (but not our spirits). Despite the heavy rain we carried on.
Some of our bands couldn’t go, they didn’t want to risk their instruments, and it was too dangerous to use their electronic equipment. At one point the sound and stage engineer suggested shutting the rally down, however the group of women we had assembled to speak wouldn’t hear of it; determined to continue, someone stated, “if the suffragists could stand in front of the White House in wind, freezing rain and snow we could deal with a little rain from a summer storm.”
Although we were disappointed with the low turnout due to the rain, we still feel that the rally was a success. We brought together a diverse group of women (and some men) to speak up for women’s rights, human rights, voter’s rights and social justice. We made some great friends and connected with some wonderful organizations. And, because the rally was livestreamed on Ustream by The Paella Report, we were able to reach more than just those brave and dedicated people who stuck it out despite the rain.
GWPF: You are passionate about the rights of women. What are your feelings about women’s reproductive rights?
Alaina LaTourette: A woman’s control over her life is directly related to control over her body, her sexuality, and reproductive health (this includes access to birth control and abortion). Without access to safe legal abortion, birth control and emergency contraception, you not only remove a woman’s choices you also put her life in danger. By limiting reproductive rights you are taking away a woman’s freedom, her resources and her economic, social and political power. This is oppression.
It is impossible not to feel like there is a war against women. To effectively fight against reproductive oppression we need to connect the frameworks of Reproductive Rights: legislation and litigation surrounding abortion and birth control, Reproductive Health: providing health services and education, and Reproductive Justice: a paradigm linking sexuality, gender, health, and human rights with social, political, and economic inequalities that contribute to infringement of freedom and justice. Connecting these issues gives us a broader base of support and serves as a means for activists and organizations to unite and work together to end oppression.
GWPF: Who are some of your role models when it comes to speaking on behalf of women?
Alaina LaTourette: Angela Davis. Feminist, human rights activist, prison abolitionist, professor, author. When I was a girl she was the ultimate symbol of feminist activist. As a young adult, I carried a copy of Women, Race and Class with me, always ready to use her book as a reference when challenged in a discussion. I’ve just started reading Davis’ new book Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Ferguson, Palestine and the Foundation of a Movement.
Nawal El Saadawi: Women’s rights/human rights activist, physician, psychiatrist, author (fiction and non-fiction), professor, and mother, and she is also a FGM survivor and activist. Saadawi is brave, outspoken and passionate in her activism for women and has been imprisoned twice for standing up for what she believes in. I hope when I am 84, I will still be as active and impassioned as Saadawi.
Grace Lee Boggs: Philosopher, human rights activist, author and feminist. She was well known for her political and social theories as well as grassroots organizing and civil rights work in her community in Detroit, Michigan. Boggs, like Saadawi was a tireless agent for the people fighting for equality and freedom for all until her death last October (2015); she was 100 years old.
GWPF: What are your hopes for the next generation of women?
Alaina LaTourette: I hope that they carry the torch to do the work and make the world a better place. I hope our daughters and granddaughters and great-granddaughters do not take their rights and freedoms for granted. I hope they keep us moving ever forward toward a world free of oppression, discrimination and violence against women.
GWPF: Would you tell us about the documentary, Equal Means Equal?
Alaina LaTourette: Equal Means Equal is an informative and entertaining documentary written and directed by Kamala Lopez. Equal Means Equal takes a straight forward look at the status of women and women’s rights in the United States. Through investigation, interviews and women’s stories the film examines several different issues such as economic disparity, violence against women and reproductive healthcare illustrating the many different realms in which women in the US still do not have equal rights. The film goes on to explain that while we have made some advances, laws such as the 14th Amendment, 19th Amendment, Civil Rights Act of 1964, Pregnancy Discrimination Act, and Title IX do not fully protect women’s rights and we are still not considered equal under the law. This is why, as Kamala explains, we need an Equal Rights Amendment. A ratified ERA would give women constitutional protection under the law.
GWPF: As you know, Global Woman P.E.A.C.E. Foundation advocates against all forms gender based violence but female genital mutilation (FGM) is our primary cause. What advice do you have for us in our campaign to combat FGM in the U.S.?
Alaina LaTourette: I’ve thought about this quite a bit and I am not sure I have any new answers for you. I first learned about FGM in the late 90’s when model Waris Dirie revealed in a Marie Claire interview that she had undergone FGM as a child. I remember the shock and a sort of disbelief that I felt because it was unimaginable that such a horrible thing happened to women; followed immediately by even greater sense of distress as it dawned on me that not only does FGM happen, but it is being done to girls and not women.
Waris Dirie’s bravery brought FGM to the eyes of the world and inspired other survivors to come forward and speak out. Increased awareness has resulted in many organizations, created to raise awareness and combat FGM. Over the last nineteen years articles have been written, books (non-fiction and fictional) and documentaries and movies about or including stories of FGM that have made this violent secret mainstream knowledge that FGM is not a rare and isolated event that happens “to some of those people over there”, but a very real threat to many girls and women around the world.
I have seen some promising change globally, and would like to see more (including more law enforcement). However, I was troubled to see, when I was preparing my speech for your 2014 “Walk to End FGM” that here in the United States the number of girls at risk of FGM has doubled. While I know that a large part of this growth is due to immigration, the question becomes, what can be done to ensure that those girls who are at risk do not become victims.
I would advise contacting other organizations that can help you take the great programs you have created at Global Woman P.E.A.C.E. Foundation and put together a national platform that can be implemented across the United States. There are also organizations that will work with you to review your programs and services to strategize how they can best work/serve targeted communities in different areas.
GWPF: What are the future plans for We Are Woman?
Alaina LaTourette: Currently, as it is an election year, we are doing a lot of work centered on voting, voter education (information) and voter rights as well as raising awareness of the legal status of women in the U.S. and the benefits of ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment. We have been promoting Jessica Neuwirth’s book Equal Means Equal and Kamala Lopez’s documentary as we feel that the two projects complement each other nicely and show good examples of how constitutional protection under the law can further advance and support women’s equal rights.
We have recently founded We Are Woman Action Alliance a nonpartisan advocacy and political arm of We Are Woman. WAW Action Alliance will engage in educational and electoral activity, including legislative advocacy to further the advancement of human rights, gender equality, women’s rights, access to medical treatment and health care, and associated issues regarding women and families. In founding the WAW Action Alliance we are taking a fresh look at We Are Woman to see how we can best serve our communities and what are the necessary steps we need to take to grow as an organization, such as expanding our board and growing our staff and finding new or better methods of fundraising.
GWPF: In spite of your busy schedule, you still find the time to be a devout grandmother. How do you balance your life?
Alaina LaTourette: Precariously; sometimes it’s difficult to find a balance. The last several years have been non-stop activism and advocacy and having Andrew, my grandson, in my life has required me to redirect my energy to being his parent/caregiver and his advocate.
The first year was really difficult and tumultuous; life as we knew it was completely interrupted. This past year we seem to have acclimated and things have gotten easier; for all of us. My schedule revolves around his schedule and we have fallen into a rhythm. I have several hours a day when I can be productive and that time gets broken up into paid work (when I have it), researching child development and educational advocacy, and We Are Woman.
The biggest challenge seems to be finding time for Alaina and ways to meaningfully engage with my husband Max; time in which we focus on each other in a non-parenting, non-family activity (or discussion). Still, seeing how far we have come and knowing that children have a way of growing up and odds are in my favor that things will continue to get easier.
GWPF: Where will Alaina LaTourette be in 5 years?
Alaina LaTourette: I would like to get back to art and writing. In 5 years I want to have participated in one group show, published at least one book (fiction or non-fiction) and have gotten up the nerve to read some of my poems in public. Where do I place activism in all of this…I am not sure, perhaps it will be in between the lines of a poem, written into a story, or boldly painted on a canvas. I only know, in my heart and soul, that art is calling and I need to find a mean of response.
GWPF: Do you foresee the day when women will have total equal rights?
Alaina LaTourette: I definitely see a day when women will have equal rights under the law in the United States and other countries. A ratified Equal Rights Amendment will go a long way in securing constitutional protection and providing support in making federal policy and when going before higher/supreme courts to challenge violations and discrimination.
Having equal consideration under the law and true equality are very different things. Although I am hopeful that we will keep progressing forward I don’t foresee the equal thing happening in my lifetime. We are a patriarchal society with a history of oppression (and imperialism) that goes back beyond centuries. To achieve equality for all would mean a huge shift in culture and social constructs; not to mention money, property and power.