By Lauren Janikowski
Before I began interning with Professor Maria Novotny last semester, I had never heard of reproductive justice. However, working with Maria on her Hostile Terrains exhibit opened my eyes to the reproductive health crisis that is happening in communities of color all over Milwaukee. As part of Maria’s team, our goal for Hostile Terrains was to showcase the problematic realities many women of color are facing every day when it comes to their reproductive rights. To achieve this goal, we spent time reaching out to organizations working to combat reproductive injustice in Milwaukee. Through our communication with community activists and organizations, I was introduced to Nataley Nueman and Nijeria Boone of Reproaction.
Reproaction’s vision is to “increase access to abortion and advance reproductive justice” (About Reproaction). They are vigilantly increasing accountability and empowering others to get involved in their movement towards reproductive justice. Reproaction believes in normalizing abortions and helping others to understand that woman’s rights are human rights. They are also committed to racial justice because reproductive rights are closely tied to racial issues for women.
Coincidentally, both Nataley Nueman and Nijeria Boone attended UW-Milwaukee. Nataley majored in Women’s and Gender Studies at UWM and is now working for Reproaction. Her work with Reproaction is focused on reversing Wisconsin’s Act 292, or the “Unborn Child Protection Act.” At the time of this interview, Nijeria was one semester away from graduating with a degree in Political Science. Her focus with Reproaction is on working toward equitable access to abortion in Milwaukee. I recently had the chance to talk with both of these amazing women about their work with Reproaction. We discussed reproductive issues going on in Milwaukee/Wisconsin as well as how to get involved when all of it is new to you. Here are some of the questions and important answers that followed.
Lauren: So, how did you learn about reproductive justice?
Nataley: I learned about reproductive justice as I was just being introduced to Women’s and Gender Studies. I took my first class, I think, in Fall of 2014. And I was just really into it right away. But, I think I first learned about it through the Combahee River Collective and when 12 Black women coined the term in 1994. That was a very big part of some of my studies.
Lauren: What got you involved in reproductive justice?
Nataley: I kind of noticed a gap in student activism around sexual assault and reproductive justice, or even just like reproductive health and rights, but more focused on sexual assault advocacy and awareness. When I was a student at UWM there had been some instances where people had been drugged at parties or sexually assaulted on campus… So, I wanted to start a Sexual Assault Awareness organization that was student led and student backed. I started it with a ton of other fantastic feminists and organizers. We started Panthers Against Sexual Assault, also called P.A.S.A.
Lauren: How did you get involved with Reproaction?
Nataley: In March 2018, I had been browsing jobs online, like just nonprofit jobs. And I stumbled across a Reproaction job description. It was a little intimidating, but I was really intrigued by it because it said something about a willingness to learn about drug policy or substance use and reproductive rights, and I had never really been in that space. So, I was intrigued and obviously willing to learn so I applied, went through a few interviews, and got the job which was awesome… But I mean, if people are wondering how to find a certain job, how I did it was I kind of went through other related organizations.
Nijeria: I ran across this ad on Indeed.com. But what Reproaction has been doing is to ensure that everybody has equal access to abortion. And instead of centering these movements on white cisgender women, we focus on marginalized people. So, if a trans person has access to abortion, or a black woman has access to abortion, or all these different marginalized people—if they have access then cisgender white women won't have issues having access.
Lauren: Is Reproaction more focused in Milwaukee or worldwide?
Nataley: Let me just give you a little bit of a background about Reproaction quickly. Reproaction was founded in 2015 by our co-founder and former co-director, Erin Matson. As I said, it was started in 2015, with two co-founders, with the mission to advance reproductive justice and increase access to abortion. Since then, we've grown a lot over the past six years. It's mainly United States, like national issues. We have full-time staff members on the ground in Missouri, Virginia, Washington DC, Wisconsin, etc. My campaign—the Wisconsin Act 292 campaign that aims to eliminate the “Unborn Child Protection Act” in Wisconsin—is specific to Wisconsin as a whole.
Lauren: How does RJ and Reproaction relate to Milwaukee?
Nijeria: So, Milwaukee is number one in the country for infant and maternal mortality. Black women are five times more likely than their white counterparts to die within a month and a half of giving birth. And Black babies are three or four times more likely to die than white babies within their first year. In Milwaukee specifically—being an impoverished place—we think that if you don't want kids, or if you can't afford kids, don't have them. But for the people who don't want to have them, they don't have the access to not have them. So, they either are forced to carry on with a pregnancy that they don't want or do an unsafe self-performed, at-home abortion that, again, could kill them.
Lauren: Do you, as a Black woman in Milwaukee, have any experiences with lack of access to your reproductive rights?
Nijeria: I personally have not, but I know a bunch of people who have had issues with the 24-hour waiting period to receive an abortion. And a person I know, she goes to school out of state and couldn’t access her constitutional right because of all these unnecessary hurdles. Most recently, I was doing research about abortion access in Milwaukee, and the two abortion clinics are right next to each other and they're both over five miles away from the poorest zip code. And I think they are both about an hour to an hour and a half ride on the bus.
Lauren: How can someone learn more about the personhood law in Wisconsin and get involved in the movement?
Nataley: If people, especially in Wisconsin, are very concerned about this law, like personhood laws in general, I would recommend just kind of starting to look at substance use in pregnancy in general, because there are a lot of myths that surround substance use and pregnancy that make pregnancy and substance use a very taboo subject… I think going forward Reproaction is also going to be doing more educational opportunities for people to learn about the myths behind substances and pregnancy—myths versus facts and how to talk about it—because I think people avoid the subject because they don't know how to talk about it.
Lauren: What would your advice be to undergrad students who want to get involved in an organization? How would they go about doing that?
Nataley: So, even just googling and trying to find other organizations in your area that are already doing the work and shooting them a message and saying, hey, I would love to talk to you or get more information about this sometime, that would be a really great first step. Personally, I love when people reach out to me and are like, hey, I want to meet with you and learn about this more, because it really shows that you want to learn more about the issue and that you're kind-of committed and that you're willing to put in the work. It's just about making that first connection and kind of going off of that. I feel like once you're in that sort of area, a whole door will open for you.
Nijeria: We have webinars. I think there's a webinar, maybe two or three every month, and that's a serious way you can get involved. Following our social media for when we have events. We recently did something really cool talking about tying in astrology to reproductive justice, because astrology is so big right now. We have tweet storms sometimes. So, just staying up to date with our social media, and then that'll keep everyone up-to-date with what we're doing.
I’ve learned a lot about reproductive justice from both my work with Maria as well as my interviews with Nataley and Nijeria. Not only has it given me an in-depth look at how to conduct community research and what getting involved in movements actually takes, but it has also taught me more about my communities in Milwaukee. This work has opened my eyes to struggles I had no idea existed because I am a cis-gender white woman.
Reproaction has recently release their documentary, PERSONHOOD: Policing Pregnant Women in America, all about Act 292 and the rise of the “fetal personhood” movement. PERSONHOOD brings the human impact of these policies to light as it follows the story of a rural Wisconsin mother who was incarcerated for pre-conception drug use as she rebuilds her life and fights to overturn Wisconsin’s unconstitutional laws. I had the pleasure of watching Reproaction’s documentary, and it left me ready to get involved.
Lauren Janikowski is a senior undergraduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee studying Rhetoric and Professional Writing.
By Madison Williams
During the Spring 2021 semester, I was given the opportunity to intern with Professor Maria Novotny on conducting community-based research centered on reproductive justice in Milwaukee. Ultimately, the goal of our research was to curate an art installation for UW-Milwaukee’s Hostile Terrains exhibition. The Hostile Terrains exhibition at UWM, which will take place at the Emile H. Mathis Art Gallery and opens at the end of September, will visually explore the ways in which space, policy, and power emerge in and around Milwaukee.
Through a collection of research-based art installations, Hostile Terrains hopes to draw attention to the issues of social justice embedded in the material culture and physical environment of our community. UWM faculty, students, and community partners will explore these themes from a variety of perspectives, including African American, Native American, and Latinx communities, through individual exhibits focused on Milwaukee.
Hostile Terrain 94: The Catalyst
The catalyst for this exhibition at UWM was the global participatory art exhibition Hostile Terrain 94 (HT94), which was designed by archeologist Dr. Jason De Leon to memorialize the lives of thousands of migrants who died attempting to cross the U.S.-Mexico border through the Sonoran Desert of Arizona over the past 30 years. Sponsored and organized by the Undocumented Migration Project (UMP), HT94 is composed of over 3,200 handwritten toe tags geolocated on a wall map of the desert in the exact place where individual remains were found. In order to globally memorialize the thousands of migrants who lost their lives in the Sonoran Desert, as well as raise awareness about the death and suffering migrants have experienced as a direct result of the U.S. Border Patrol policy known as “Prevention Through Deterrence” since its implementation in 1994, the installation will be displayed simultaneously in locations around the globe in 2021.
Milwaukee's Hostile Terrains
In a conversation with David Pacifico—the Director of UWM’s Emile H Mathis Gallery and coordinator of this exhibition—he explained how Hostile Terrains at UWM aims to take the basic questions focused on in HT94 and apply them to local contexts and communities in Milwaukee. When asked about the development of the UWM exhibit’s local focus, Pacifico recalled: “The pre-pandemic team of students pointed out that the intersection of space, policy, and violence at the [U.S.-Mexico] border also plays out for African American people, Native People, Women, and myriad other groups” in various locations and contexts across Milwaukee. He continued, “For example, we're lately directed to think about anti-Asian violence in the time of Covid and to recall the long history of anti-Asian policy and action in the US.” Pacifico hopes that this exhibit will make the otherwise invisible, politicized, and even actively ignored problems experienced by specific communities in Milwaukee visible to the wider public, while also helping visitors find common ground within these polarizing topics.
To address the exhibit’s focus on the big themes and questions, Pacifico and his team reached out to UWM faculty who could adequately address them for populations near to home. The Hostile Terrains exhibition will feature art installations that explore topics including, but not limited to:
Reproductive (In)Justice in Milwaukee
As part of this larger exhibition, the project I’ve been working on with Maria, and two other graduate students, aims to shed light on Milwaukee’s multiple reproductive health crises. Issues of reproductive justice in Milwaukee disproportionately impact communities of color, and our project situates Milwaukee as a hostile terrain for those in need of reproductive healthcare services. Our research aims to examine the inequities Milwaukee citizens face in accessing affordable, safe, and knowledgeable reproductive healthcare.
Reproductive justice, which SisterSong defines “as the human right to maintain personal bodily autonomy, have children, not have children, and parent the children we have in safe and sustainable communities,” anchors the scope and goals of this project. The hostile terrains surrounding access to reproductive healthcare in Milwaukee pose a multitude of challenges, and potential consequences, for individuals in our communities. Given these challenging realities, we hope to assemble a participatory and community-driven exhibition by creating a space for the otherwise invisible, and often silenced, voices in our community to be heard.
Over the next few weeks, as the opening of the Hostile Terrains exhibition on September 30th approaches, we will be publishing several posts centered on Hostile Terrains and the research being done by the UWM students and faculty contributing to it.
Visit Hostile Terrains at UWM
The Hostile Terrains exhibition opens at UWM's Emile H. Mathis Art Gallery (located in Mitchell Hall, Rm 170) on September 30, 2021, with an opening reception taking place from 5-7PM. The exhibit will run through February 10, 2022. The exhibition can be visited during the gallery's normal operating hours, Monday-Thursday from 10AM to 4PM, free of charge. Appointments can be made to visit the exhibit outside of these hours by contacting the gallery at: email@example.com.
By Rachel Bloom-Pojar, Danielle Koepke, Chloe Smith, and Madison Williams
Last month, we made a commitment to amplify, support, and engage with antiracist writing, rhetoric, and organizations across Milwaukee. We made a promise to highlight the ways that everyday writing and rhetoric are being used to advance social justice, challenge oppression, and empower communities. In order to hold ourselves accountable to these commitments, we pledged to publish an Antiracist Action update reflecting on our actions each month, and this is the first of those updates.
Our goals for our Antiracist Action updates, beyond holding ourselves accountable, are to give our readers options for taking tangible actions to support the antiracist missions of local and national organizations as well as celebrate and uplift the ways in which various organizations and activists improve, empower, and fight for our local communities.
Communities across Southeastern Wisconsin continue to be in the national spotlight around issues of racial injustice and police brutality. To the right are just a few of the major events over the past month that have highlighted the need for increased anti-racist action and community organizing.
What We’ve Been Doing
Here are some actions we’ve taken in response to recent events. We encourage you to do the same.
Check your voter registration status and make a voting plan now. Decide whether or not you will be voting absentee or in person, then make the necessary arrangements—request your absentee ballot, figure out where you will go to vote in person, what time you will go, how you will get there, etc.
Call the Kenosha Police and Fire Commission and Governor Tony Evers to demand the resignation of Kenosha Police officials. Follow the link for contact information and a sample call script from the Wisconsin ACLU.
Sign Color of Change’s petition calling for Mayor John Antaramian and Kenosha City Council to fire Kenosha police chief Daniel Miskins.
Sign Color of Change’s petition demanding that the officer who shot Jacob “Jake” Blake is held accountable.
Sign Color of Change’s petition demanding that the NBA league office and team owners lift the strike ban in players’ union contract.
Discuss antiracism, protests for racial justice, and how to make sense of current events with your children. Here is a list of resources for talking to children about Race, Racism, and Racialized Violence. One of us recently bought the book Antiracist Baby and has added it to storytime with her child.
Talk to family members about current events, racism, and privilege. We’ve been working through some difficult conversations with family members who don’t understand the gravity of racial injustice and the necessity of swift antiracist action. Here’s a resource where Ijeoma Oluo, author of So You Want to Talk About Race, offers advice on conducting these conversations.
We Want to Hear From You!
Is there an antiracist cause, organization, or event that we should be featuring? We invite you to write a post on it. Here are our guidelines for submissions:
Send submissions and questions to writingandrhetoricmke at gmail dot com. For posts on upcoming events, please submit drafts at least 3-4 weeks prior to the event. We look forward to reading your posts!
Happy New Year, readers!
As Writing & Rhetoric MKE comes up on its one year anniversary, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on what we've done and where we hope to go. I'm Rachel Bloom-Pojar, the professor who has asked her students to write for this blog, but who hasn't written a post, herself, until now.
I've been more behind the scenes with this whole project--helping give feedback on content, designing assignments that lead to the posts, and thinking big about where we're going in the future. As we were wrapping up the fall semester, my students asked why I hadn't written for the blog yet and argued that I should. They made a great point that resonates with an important piece of writing pedagogy--don't ask your students to do something that you haven't done (or wouldn't do). So, here I am, taking on the task to write more for the blog in 2019, starting with a little explanation of what I hope we're doing here.
At the heart of this project is a simple idea: I wanted to create a space to highlight and amplify the excellent work that communities around Milwaukee are already doing with writing, rhetoric, and literacy.
In learning about this work and connecting it to what we're studying at UWM, I've been asking students to recognize the ways rhetoric and writing are used for social justice and community-building around Milwaukee. I've placed community expertise next to academic expertise and have asked my students (most of whom are also teachers) to think critically about the knowledge-building and writing practices we value in schools. We study the historical and contemporary oppression and biases that are linked to the designation of certain types of writing and speaking as "better" than others. And they ask great questions about how to challenge the racism, sexism, and classism that are deeply embedded in people's ideologies about language in and outside of school settings. Through finding concrete practices and local connections to what we study about language, race, culture, and power, they are able to better understand theory as something that is alive and open to change.
I think these writers have done an excellent job highlighting a variety of spaces, events, organizations, and ideas that take up writing and rhetoric in innovative ways around our city. While the website needs some work with categorization and navigation, I'm happy with how far we've come in one year with two classes of smart, emerging scholars who have taken on my challenge to write something a bit different for their graduate seminars.
As we look forward to fully launching our new PhD program in Public Rhetorics and Community Engagement, I hope that Writing & Rhetoric MKE can develop into something more than a space for public writing with graduate classes. I want it to become something dynamic that is run by our graduate students and I hope they will help shape the vision for what this could be. I hope it will be a space that invites contributions from writers outside of our program and UWM. I hope it can provide content that supports and engages with diverse voices and perspectives of everyday writing and rhetoric around Milwaukee. In the coming weeks and months, I plan to write more posts as this vision develops, and these will feature conversations with the individuals who will help build the future of Writing & Rhetoric MKE. For now, I'll leave you with a quote that has inspired my vision for how the blog and our program can actively participate in sustaining social movements, resisting violence, and doing the work of social justice:
"What literacy, composition, and rhetoric might do is further explore the language and literacy practices of...activists, organizations, and everyday resisters historically and contemporarily, and apply them as models to construct radically intersectional methodologies, theories, and pedagogies that emerge from or grow the coalitions that build and sustain these movements. Language is a crucial element in resisting this violence, and as scholars of literacy, composition, and rhetoric we are especially skilled and thus charged with developing new and affirming existing practices that do the work of social justice." -Eric Darnell Pritchard (251-252)
I attended a presentation entitled The vMLK Project: Crafting a Necessary (Digital) Space to Explore Rhetorical Leadership and Civic Transformation. The vMLK project is an immersive, ambient recreation, including sound and visual renderings, of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1960 speech, “Fill Up the Jails” of which there are no known recordings (UWM, 2018) using virtual reality (VR) technology. Drawing from Minor Re/Visions: Asian American Literacy as a Rhetoric of Citizenship by Morris Young, I use this post to make connections between Re/Visions and the vMLK project. “Re/vision (a term familiar to writing teachers) is a key process in the connections between literacy, race, and citizenship, where we work with existing material, negotiating ideas and arguments, but also work to re/vision what these ideas and arguments can be, what they can teach us and others” (p.8). With the opportunity to talk to Morris Young in class via Skype, the author discussed his work & his book published in 2004. From the class discussion, the question was raised, how we might apply the narratives to today’s climate and how is it evolving?
The existing materials in this case are the resources of photos, videos, documentaries and people who lived through the civil rights era to re/create the historical event. To move the project beyond the existing materials to virtual reality, different disciplines were drawn on to produce the reenactment of the MLK, Jr. speech by an actor (from theater world) to try and capture the “voice” of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The physical environment of the church where the speech took place was demolished. Architects & designers relied on photos of the church to recreated in a virtual reality environment; and the sound engineers who worked to re/create the sound effects of the public address system based on both the speech reenactment and the physical aspects of the church. The project tries to provide an experience the audience member can feel as an embodiment of the event as if one was there.
Young states regarding narratives, “When we read stories, we attempt, whether consciously or unconsciously, to make a connection between stories and our lives"(p. 26). Although the MLK, Jr. speech, “Fill Up the Jails” happened over 50 years ago, we still are captivated by the stories of the people who were engaged in the civil rights struggle. To read their stories not only to see ourselves, but to understand history and what they had to go through to fight for citizenship, their identity, and their rights. It is the narratives about the struggle, knowledge, ideas, arguments and the language/writings during the civil rights area which help to shape the public discourse and the laws we have today.
The principal researcher of the project, Dr. Victoria J Gallagher of North Carolina University, specializes in rhetorical criticism of visual and material culture. Her explanation in the difference in approaches between King and the Reverend Douglas Moore (i.e., their ideas) to engaging social justice was interesting. Within the context of the civil rights movement, Dr. King believed in the traditional rhetorical approach – the art of persuasion, of to not only to inspire people to engage but to inform the masses of their rights during the political climate at this time. Dr. Moore believed in a direct-action oriented approach, a type of tactic in organizing a group (i.e., a strike or protest). Thus, the June 23, 1957, non-violent protest at the Royal Ice Cream Company.
Dr. Gallagher explained MLK, Jr. was of course a very influential leader but also, ordinary people showed courage and engaged in social justice. By examining rhetoric and civic transformation of past events through digital humanities, their contribution (narratives) helps to educate and empower all with knowledge or literacy significant to American citizenship.
You can read more about vMLK Project at https://vmlk.chass.ncsu.edu/.
The UWM Archives is one of the only institutions in Wisconsin with a social justice collection strength. Combined with its focus on Milwaukee and UWM history, the repository is filled with local stories of community organizers and activists. UWM’s Latino Activism collection contains photos, correspondence, press releases, newspaper clippings, and official university documents that detail the struggle for Latino rights on campus. In the early 1970s, Milwaukee’s Latino population exploded, but the number of Latino students on campus was pitifully low in comparison. University staff and community members attributed these low enrollment rates to the lack of support for Latino students on campus, so Latino activists took their case to Chancellor Klotsche. After sit-ins, protests, camp outs, and several arrests, the Spanish Speaking Outreach Institute, later called the Roberto Hernandez Center, began to connect with and assist UWM’s Latino population. I took a look at some of the records in the Latino Activism collection to see what they had to say about the power of Latinx rhetorics and community.
Community was the backbone of the Latino activism movement at UWM in the 1970s. This flyer, titled “Latin community takes over UWM Chancellor’s office”/ “Comunidad Latina retoma la oficina del rector de UWM,” is an explicit call to community for assistance in direct action. Calling themselves “the latin community,” there is no distinction between students and non-students, only the call to “support” in occupying the Chancellor’s office. This blending of community and use of family support has been a class trend for Milwaukee-based Latino activism. They rhetorically link their purpose in protesting to Klotsche’s absence at a community meeting, asserting their occupation as a direct response to disrespect and disinterest. This connection between administrative absence and occupation is an interesting rhetorical strategy that simultaneously legitimizes their tactics and calls attention to institutional buffoonery. The flyer is also written in English and Spanish, indicating the varied languages within Latino community in addition to their attempt to garner support from non-Spanish speaking allies.
After the Latino occupation of Chancellor Klotsche’s office, UWM acquiesced to the creation of a Spanish Speaking Outreach Institute. This document is the official proposal and “commitment” of the institute, outlining ten guiding principles. This record is drastically different from the flyer in several ways. First, this record does not make a direct call to any community. It mentions the “Spanish speaking community,” but later refers to the issues of “non-English speaking” students as if they are interchangeable. Second, the rhetorical strategies suggest that the creator of the record, the Council for the Education of Latin Americans (CELA), was interested in “solv[ing] the problems of the Spanish speaking community,” rather than rectifying the institutional inequality related to these problems. The document explicitly details the disappointingly low number of Latino students that UWM was willing to support through the institute, indicating tokenization rather than inclusivity. Lastly, this document is only written in English, suggesting that its intended audience was not the Spanish speaking people it was supposedly addressing, but the English speaking CELA and UWM administration.
UWM’s Latino Activism archive details the community activism and rhetorical power used to create the Spanish Speaking Outreach Institute. Milwaukee’s Latino activists and the community that supported them are directly responsible for the resources and connections available to contemporary Latino students. While some of these historical documents indicate a deliberate disregard for a multilingual community, the UWM archive has done some work to alleviate this. The metadata for the records, which is necessary for searching, browsing, and researching, is available in both English and Spanish. It’s important that these records are available in multiple languages since they directly pertain to the Spanish speaking community. The Archive also follows Library of Congress subject terms which are typically limiting and outdated. The collection subject terms include "Hispanic Americans," which we've discussed several times in class as homogenizing and eurocentric. Aside from these criticisms, the UWM Archive is a great place to dive into the rich history of Latino activism on campus.