Monday, August 13, 2012

Planned Parenthood's Youth Organizing and Policy Institute: Gulf Coast

Over the weekend I attended Planned Parenthood's Youth Organizing and Policy Institute (YOPI) in Houston, Texas. The mission of YOPI is to train young activists between the ages of 18-24 to mobilize their communities around reproductive justice and sexual health. Millennials (those currently aged about 13-30) have not only the largest voting block in America right now, but according to Pew Research Center are also the most ethnically diverse and the most politically progressive in our nation's history. YOPI engaged participants through workshops and small group break outs that ultimately led to an advocacy effort at the end of the training. Planned Parenthood is bringing YOPI all across the nation to about 1,000 young activists through 8 regional conferences.

Each conference discusses challenges unique to each region. I've written a few blog posts regarding Texas' issues such as the dismantling of the Women's Health Program and mandatory waiting periods and ultrasounds.

After an enjoyable 3 hour bus ride over to Houston, some Austin area folks and myself arrived to the smoothest check-in ever. We received our guides, our name tags, and this sweet V-neck Planned Parenthood t-shirt. I requested to be a small group facilitator, so I got an extra fancy tag.

Liz and me representing Voices for Reproductive Justice and being super stoked when we arrived

The first night was extremely inspirational as we broke out into small group and learned about what called each individual to action in our story of self. This was something I struggled with because 1. I suck at telling stories and 2. I love nitty gritty facts and struggle with personal anecdotes (which one do I choose?!). One of my favorite parts of this night though was hearing my mentors' stories from my local Planned Parenthood affiliate. How had I never asked them before?! 

We got back to our hotel at a decent time, but I was so excited that I literally could not fall asleep until about 2am. Then it was back up super early for a meeting at 7:45. Here is a picture I got of my small group on the second day.

From left to right: Caroline and Kathy from UT, Sarah and Molly from Texas State, and me

The second day was a lot different. This was the day we were to come up with our Vox Chapter's purpose, and over the course of the 13 hour day (on about 5 hours of sleep for me), an extremely detailed strategic plan of how we were going to fulfill our purpose. Initially I felt overwhelmed at our region's mission to register 1,000 voters and get 2,000 voter pledge cards by October 9th, of which a large part is to come from VRJ since we are at UT. Luckily I have the most amazing boss ever who pulled me aside and calmed my concerns. Thank you Miss. Brittany Yelverton (seriously though, I was a mess)! I didn't get many pictures from this day because it was literally back to back meetings for me.
Dyana, me, and Brittany after a 13 hour day.

The last day was much less stressful as we reconvened in small groups to come up with a story of our community and rehearsed our call to action. We even got to take some pictures before we left.

My fellow peer educators at the conference. Thank you Tiffany Vo for the picture!

Then, depending on travel plans, we split up to either block walk or phone bank. My group was assigned to block walk getting pledge to vote cards. I've got to be honest, I loathed the idea of block walking. It made me extremely nervous and I just didn't want to do it. I hate when people I don't know knock on my door, so I didn't want to knock on anyone else's door. Here was my breakout group for block walking before we went out.

Some VRJ gals! me, Liz, Caroline, and Kathy

We broke out into teams of 2 and a few teams of 3. We were given 40 addresses and 2 hours to get as many pledge to votes as possible. Y'all, block walking is SO FUN. My team got 11 cards out of 40 addresses. I'm pretty happy with that 1:4 ratio! We also met some really friendly people who were happy to take a minute or two out of their day to help our cause. Lavern was my favorite. Lavern is an  80 year old woman who, after mentioning her children and grandchildren, asked us if $5 would be enough- before we could get to our pledge to vote pitch. Hilariously awesome. When all of the 8 or 9 teams got back we had collected 50 cards (that 1:5 ratio sounds good too!)! 

My team from left to right: Kathy, Sarah, and me (GO TEAM!)

Oh the other awesome part of this was the lemonade Dyana had for us when we got back from block walking. This little girl had a lemonade stand to raise money for new shoes for school. Dyana bought all of the lemonade and a team even got a pledge to vote from her mom. GIRL POWER!

So basically, YOPI was a huge learning experience for me: I learned how to organize and strategize, but most importantly I made so many friends. This picture below is all of the Austin folks that I can't wait to work with. Thank you all for being so amazing and let's get together for some one-on-ones!

photobomb FTW

Thanks to Tiffany Vo for the picture of all conference attendees!

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