Complications and Drawbacks of Being in Hyper-Liberal Spaces: Thoughts on CLPP

This weekend, Hampshire College hosted the 33rd annual Civil Liberties and Public Policy conference, also known as CLPP. With their mantra “From Abortion Rights to Social Justice: Building the Movement for Reproductive Freedom” displayed from the ceiling of the main meeting space, CLPP focuses on reproductive health issues and policies for women and the many ways reproductive health intersects with other important topics such as religion, immigration, and youth.

Information and activist training are crucial to the core values of CLPP, and speakers from all over the country with a multitude of backgrounds join together to bring their passions and truths to students from around the nation. With panels, sponsorship booths, and plenty of enthusiastic youth, CLPP is well-equipped to take on the challenges of reproductive justice in a nation leaning towards conservative policies and a world where injustices against women prevail each day.

However, despite these resources provided by intelligent and eager activists, there is no challenge presented. Where CLPP sees success in speaking truth, I see liberal students being coddled. In workshops designed to inform and educate, I left feeling drained, frustrated, and unfulfilled.

In the first workshop I went to, entitled “The Christian Right’s Successful Strategies to Stop Abortion Access, Attack LGBT Rights, and Codify Conservative Religious Values”, I expected to be educated about the practices of the Christian Right and how to better arm myself when in discourse with someone caught between these views.

I thought these workshops would, as they were advertised, “train” me on various topics. Rather, I left with more questions than answers. I know knew the specific names of Conservative families and organizations that donate to pro-life and anti-LGBTQ+ groups, but I wondered how this would truly help me in the fight for reproductive justice. Perhaps someday I will come face-to-face with someone representing one of these organizations, and nothing in this workshop prepared me for what to do in this situation, or one similar. Furthermore, when I dared to ask a question about an abbreviated term a speaker used, I was told that she would not discuss it and was abruptly cut off. How was I supposed to learn and empower myself and those around me if I don’t have the proper education? The assumption of knowledge was rampant throughout the conference and various terms were used that left me feeling clueless, like all the work I had done to educate and improve myself was worthless because it didn’t measure up to the so-called allies surrounding me.

Another crucial aspect of the conference was the unbearable polarization of “us vs. them” rhetoric. Workshops quite literally centered around “winning” over the conservative Right, a whole political party painted as an enemy. Isn’t that exactly what the conservative Right does to the Left? Produce divisive allegations designed to criminalize the other side. Yes, we may firmly believe that we are right on the issues, but creating an atmosphere of hate and disgust towards a whole group of people is unproductive and limiting.

Along with this also came a lot of self-congratulation around having a large population of women of color in attendance. Yet, upon taking note, there were hardly any Native American, Indigenous, or Southeast Asian women present. It’s so crucial to have women of color in spaces of activism, as through their personal experiences, more knowledge and understanding is brought into movement building, however, when specific perspectives are not represented, can a

movement really congratulate themselves? After speaking with people who have been to CLPP in years past, they noted that this year was actually less diverse than in years past, possibly indicating a level of exclusion within the conference space. With this exclusion also comes a level of disrespect for others in the same space. CLPP occurs at Hampshire College, an institution severely underfunded, so much so that almost all dining staff on the campus were recently let go. And in the midst of that tragedy, respect was absent. Trash was strewn all over the tables and the floor, leaving people with no jobs to clean up the mess. Maybe that seems trivial, but respect for all human beings, their jobs, and their dignity is at the center of movements like this.

Perhaps the final aspect of this conference that made it so exhausting was its focus on abortion as the single-handedly most important aspect of reproductive health. There were no workshops on aspects of reproductive health post-partum depression, on sexual assault or harassment, or cervical, ovarian, or uterine cancer. Yet over ten workshops mentioned abortion in their title, with even more addressing the topic in the actual workshop. Without any focus on other pieces of reproductive justice, other pieces of womanhood are washed away into the background. The other, equally important, safeties and rights of women are overshadowed with by abortion in many instances. Abortion rights and access are important and under attack, however, they are not the only rights that will disappear with the defunding of Planned Parenthood.

CLPP has the capability to better educate young populations and change perceptions of the Left, however, they are taking an easy path and only focusing on conversation, more so, unproductive conversation, that is not truly helping reproductive justice movements. Where is the challenge? Where is the progress? How can we truly apply our work to help out communities when we can’t get past “us vs. them”? CLPP is powerful, the people running the workshops are impressive, but what they are doing their priceless information and abilities is not helping anyone.