Tag Archives: Wisconsin RCRC

Storytelling for Change in the Bible Belt

by Shayna Han
RCRC Intern­

When I reach out to you and you to me,
We become b’tzelem elohim
When we share our hopes and our dreams,
Each one of us b’tzelem elohim

These are some lyrics from one of my favorite Jewish summer camp songs. B’tzelem Elohim, the Hebrew phrase from Genesis 1:27, tells us that we are each uniquely yet equally made in the image of God. At RCRC’s first Leading Faithfully Institute in Columbia, South Carolina last weekend, this song kept running through my mind.

At the institute we learned to tell our stories – our experiences, hopes, dreams to build bridges of understanding with new peers in the struggle for reproductive justice – and how to take these personal, relatable experiences and use them to inspire our peers to action. Further, we refined our organizing skills and learned about creating power through our relationships, and how to turn our resources into the change we want to see.

In a group I helped lead, the participants made substantive plans to take these lessons back home to North Carolina. One of North Carolinians had recently gone to jail for participating in the “Moral Monday” protests outside the state legislature in Raleigh. She recalled sitting in jail with the other protesters, witnessing all the people around her opening up to one another and sharing their reasons why they opposed the legislature’s extreme policy initiatives. In our small group at the institute, she said that this – story telling – is the key to winning North Carolina.

On Sunday afternoon, our coalition partner Advocates for Youth presented about the “1 in 3” campaign with a series of personal video-testimonials of women who had sought abortion care. Prior to this session, one of our participants admitted to being conflicted about abortion. After hearing these women’s stories, however, she felt new compassion and understanding, and agreed that a woman should be able to access the reproductive healthcare she needs.

The cornerstone of organizing is giving to others what is inside ourselves. As famed storytelling instructor Robert McKee said, “Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today.” Thanks to this institute, I understand that more tangibly now.  Real, everlasting change comes from the stories we share that allow us to see the same inherent worth, dignity and uniqueness in others that we see in ourselves.

RCRC is holding another Leading Faithfully Institute this August 2-4, 2013, in Wisconsin. For more information, email us at institutes@rcrc.org.

Shayna is currently studying history at a college in the Northeast not far from where she was raised. She just completed an internship for RCRC this summer through the Machon Kaplan Program of the Religious Action Center.

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Sex Ed – Moving Forward

By Nici Paterson, RCRC Director of Public Policy
The State Sex Education Summit, held in Washington, DC, last week, brought together sex educators and advocates from across the country to discuss and strategize about how to improve sex education. Although sex education is not nearly where it needs to be, we have come a long way in the past decade, James Wagoner, President of Advocates for Youth, said. Progress in broadening the network of organizations and individuals who work to improve sex education hs been particularly important. People dedicated to the fight for sex education now include those from the reproductive justice, education, LGBTQ, religious, medical, and HIV/AIDS spheres. 

In order to keep moving forward, however, we need to effectively surmount the cultural barriers that stand in the way – not just the legal and political barriers. The opposition has positioned themselves as on the side of “values,” and we need to establish that sex ed IS about our values. Denial about sex and sexuality and incorrect information are dangerous. Promoting sex education is not a threat to society. How can teaching prevention be threatening?

Currently, anti-sex education legislation and policies are being introduced in several states. In Mississippi, sex education curriculum may only discuss condoms in terms of their failure rate and guardians must opt-in for their children to be able to receive sex education. In Wisconsin, a fabulous bill that requires comprehensive sex education in schools, the “Healthy Youth Act,” passed in 2010 but the new governor has promised to repeal it. Given this climate, it is more important than ever to get parents involved and to use their influence as well as grassroots organizations to achieve our goal of sexually healthy and responsible adults.

Sex education advocates have long been committed to science- and evidence-based education, but we also need to focus on the rights and agency of young people. As we move forward, education should be focused on values and character-building so that sex and sexuality can be seen as a positive and healthy part of life.

By Kelsey Van Nice, RCRC Public Policy Assocaite
There is a real hunger for more communities of faith in the sexual and reproductive health movement – a real, genuine, valued need for religiously affiliated or faith-based organizations and communities to stand up to the rhetoric of the religious right. I become more aware of this every time I am surrounded by my secular colleagues as I was during last week’s State Sex Education Summit in Washington, DC.

During a workshop entitled “Engaging Communities of Faith as Sex Education Advocates,” Cathy Thompson, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, offered us the opportunity for discussion, questions, and sharing best practices with other (mostly secular) colleagues in the reproductive health and rights movement. Cathy was joined by two other panelists, representing RCRC’s close colleague organizations, Catholics for Choice and the National Council of Jewish Women. Although I realize the direct connection of sexuality and spirituality every time I take part in a sexual and reproductive health conversation with a person of faith, the workshop once again reminded me of the need to create a space to talk about this connection. Many of those attending the workshop were looking for suggestions on how to invite people of faith and representatives of faith organizations to the table. A lot of ideas, roadblocks, and past experiences were shared, but the main answer to the question of how to engage communities of faith as sex education advocates is simple: build relationships. When you put time into sharing, connecting, and listening, you will cultivate a relationship.  You will be able to discern what you do and don’t have in common, how your interests and skills line up or differ. And once you have established a relationship, you are much more likely to be able to come to them when you want to partner on issues you both care about.

As simple as it seems, the idea of building relationships as the primary way to engage faith communities can still be hard. The key is patience. Trust and respect does not happen automatically, and it will take some effort to get to that point but it will be worthwhile. Communities of faith can be powerful partners in the sexual and reproductive health movement and in creating positive change for the women and families of our world.

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