Alexis McGill Johnson | The 2022 MAKERS Conference

Alexis McGill Johnson at the 2022 MAKERS Conference.

Video Transcript

- Please welcome Alexis McGill Johnson.


ALEXIS MCGILL JOHNSON: Oh. Thank you. Thank you so much for that warm welcome, but thank you to that panel conversation to the original Jane Heather Booth, to the producers of the Janes, and to the legendary and genius Madam Loretta Ross. Give it up one more time for them.


Look, to hear them is to witness the power of storytelling, the power of truth telling, and what it means to build an infrastructure for hope. Every call that they answered, literally and figuratively, was a hope trying to be realized. It was the hope of someone fighting to be free. And what you also heard is that hope is hard. Hope requires sacrifice. It requires discomfort. It requires personal risk, because that's because hope isn't charity. It is an act of resistance.

Planned Parenthood, I lead a network of abortion providers. And I think about my job as being a keeper of stories of hope. When I'm sitting on a plane sometimes telling people what I do first thing I get is a story. You'd be surprised. People will share the most intimate details with you about their lives.

I thought it was odd at first, but then I realized they really just want to share their hope. Like one day I was sitting next to this aviation expert and we happened to be on a really turbulent flight. And I'm not a great flyer, I have to be honest, even though I'm on the road all the time.

Somewhere during the flight, she just grabbed my hand, and she explained to me all of the mechanisms of the plane that keep a 747 up in the air. And I was so just grateful for her kindness in that moment. And I just said thank you so much. She said, no, thank you. Because if it wasn't for the abortion that I had at 22, I wouldn't be here to help you.


OK? It wasn't a remarkable share. It wasn't a share of regret or shame, it was really just a matter of fact story about agency that she had, about recognition of the privilege that she had knowing that her future had yet to be written. That she could bet on herself to make her own future. Not everybody has the luxury to bet on themselves, right? We just heard choice is a luxury. So the question we have before us right now is, how do we all get to make the future for reproductive freedom?

Well, first, we can't get to the future without acknowledging the reality. And the reality is that right now abortion is banned in 18 states, moving towards a national ban that will impact people who are already living at the margins. Black, Indigenous people of color, rural, undocumented folks. And if you think it's not coming for you next, access to birth control and limitations on IVF are on their way. We've already seen the bills being introduced.

But rather than bemoan this reality, let's make sure that if we do as Loretta said, center the people most impacted. That we can take that rage and reality, as bleak as it may be, and make it the foundation for our resistance. Second, you can't build hope without a vision. You can't make a future unless you know where you want it to go.

So let's think about what a future state could be. Maybe a country where access to safe and legal abortions a reality for everyone, no matter where you live, no matter who you are, no matter how much money you make, without a Hyde Amendment holding you back. Think about reproductive health care that is available, that is affordable, when you need it. Like birth control, sex education, medically accurate information that is free from judgment, stigma, and bias. Rights that are not dependent on who sits on which court, who is in what White House, or who is elected to the state house. Or a strong intergenerational, intersectional movement where we meet one another with compassion and affirmation. Isn't that what we all hope for?


Look, it's not enough to fight to get back to where we were. We need to fight forward to where we want to be. Here's the thing, you know it's also going to be a long game. There are no shortcuts here. The opposition spent the last 50 years suppressing votes, taking over courts, shaming patients, threatening providers. So we are going to spend our next 50 years working across all 50 states to organize, to litigate, to expand care through technology and networks and get ourselves back into the Constitution.


Last, there's no hope without you, right? You know that right? You know the cavalry is not coming for us because the cavalry is you. You are a maker because you are in this room, right? You have had an opportunity to make your own future. It's because you've had the luxury of choosing hope. That luxury is a responsibility. It is a calling. It is a demand of you.

So stand in your power and use it. If you are a business maker, support the movement. Donate, volunteer for abortion funds, independent clinics, local Planned Parenthoods, support people who need abortions. If you're in leadership, talk to your employees.

But don't stop there. Ask yourself, what am I doing for my communities and my consumers? And remember, hope requires discomfort. It requires risk, right? You have to be a maker who's also a risk taker. Do business with states that align with your values and don't do business with states that don't align with your values.


And yes, follow the leads of corporations who say they won't give political contributions to lawmakers who support bans on sexual and reproductive care. That requires risk and that is a requirement right now. If you're a culture maker, make art. Share your stories, document the reality that we are in. And if you are a media maker, please stay away from false equivalencies and extreme examples when the reality is that abortion is normal health care.


If you are a tech maker, help us protect our privacy, our access to information. Take a stand when these draconian laws come into place and ask you to turn over your information about patients. We need all of the help we can to innovate in this moment. And if you're an athlete, an artist, an influencer of makers, then use your platform to talk about inequality and freedom. Every time you demand equal pay for equal work, you are chipping away at inequality. The laws that we have reflect the norms of our society. So when we demand equality, they can't pass laws that codify inequality.

And if you are just an ordinary maker who is trying to make it through the day, because we're all that maker someday, if you don't know where else to start, just have a conversation. Think about the people that you knew, right? The people at work, at your kids' schools, and your family. Maybe they're reconsidering their position for the first time. Maybe there's a story that they read that they just can't stop thinking about.

The sepsis cases that were just mentioned a few minutes ago are happening right now. Do something about that. Why don't you seize an opportunity to do something that national organizations have often neglected to do, which is go local. Build state infrastructure. Look around. See who's doing good work where you live. And also, run for office.


You don't have to be deputized. You can actually go out and make your future too. And when we look back from the future, what are we going to see? What is the story that we want to tell in this moment? I hope it will be a story of courage, of unity, of fighting for the goal that supersedes all others, which is freedom for ourselves and every generation that comes after us.

I hope it looks something like one of my favorite poems by Alice Walker entitled "Hope is a woman who lost her fear." We won't get free until we are unapologetic, until we are unafraid, until we tell our stories, until we put real capital on the line, until we resist, until we risk. I don't want to just be hopeful, I want to be powerful. I want to be free. So let's lose our fear, let's find our power, and let's make our future. Thank you.