By Megan Kinkel
When I first signed up to volunteer with NARAL Pro Choice Virginia, I was invited to attend a press conference held by our Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, where he announced his plan to provide Virginia women with affordable Long Acting Reversible Contraceptives (LARCs).
Prior to that day, I had virtually no experience with Virginia politics. As a San Francisco Bay Area native, transplanted to Virginia for nursing school, I was somewhat nervous that the progressive values I hold dear wouldn’t be reflective of the Commonwealth. I worried that the pro-choice beliefs shared by me and other NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia activists would represent a minority in Virginia. But after hearing Lt. Gov. Northam speak that day, I felt hopeful that my fellow Virginians really do share these progressive values.
That day in January began two months of eye-opening political activism and civic engagement. I participated in the Women’s March on Washington, which was one of the most energizing and inspiring events of my life. The next week marked my first visit to the General Assembly in Richmond, with the Women’s Equality Coalition Lobby Day. Over 100 activists waited in line for nearly an hour in the pouring rain to get inside the General Assembly to lobby for women’s rights. But no amount of freezing January rain could deter our spirit. We were doing something that mattered.
“I loved it and I wanted to do more.”
Following Lobby Day, I returned to Richmond with NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia four more times throughout the legislative session.
During my visits to Richmond, I learned of the inner workings of the General Assembly, including some dubious tactics aimed at silencing progressive Virginians. Things like unrecorded voice votes, 2-minute testimony time limits, and delegates refusing to even schedule votes on certain bills.
I witnessed a standing-room-only Senate Health and Education Committee chamber filled with pro-choice Virginians. Dozens of us, myself included, lined up to testify on behalf of the Senate version of the Whole Woman’s Health Act when the committee chair decided to cut off testimony after only 2 minutes. I witnessed Del. Boysko speak out against Del. Albo’s refusal to schedule a vote on her bill, the House version of the Whole Woman’s Health Act, because he felt it was just “liberal politics.” I was astounded at how casually our voices are dismissed sometimes. How casually Virginia women are dismissed.
However, not all of my experiences were negative. Twice I attended committee votes on HB2267, which allows women to receive a yearlong supply of birth control in a single pharmacy visit. I witnessed bipartisan (and nearly unanimous) support for this common-sense proactive women’s health bill.
I am hopeful that we can continue to find common ground and ensure our voices are heard – or vote out those legislators that continue to ignore the progressive majority of the Commonwealth.
The most important takeaway from my experience is that anyone can make a difference. It takes only one minute to contact your legislator. Call them, email them, tag them on Facebook and Tweet at them. Just because legislative session is over for this year, doesn’t mean there isn’t work to do. In November, Virginia will be electing our next Governor and all 100 seats of the House of Delegates are up for reelection, so we have a chance to really shake things up in Richmond this year.
And remember- your voice matters, you can make a difference, and you can be an activist. I’m not a political organizer. I’ve never worked on a campaign or in government.
I’m a labor and delivery nurse. And I’m pro-choice, and I’m an activist. And you can be too.