Gaylon Alcaraz, Executive Director of Chicago Abortion Fund and Linda Garcia Merchant, Founder of Voces Primeras are working diligently to educate the Chicago community on a variety of topics from reproductive justice, to women finding their voices to tell their stories. Through taking to the streets and creating a film, both women are getting their points across to the Chicago — and sometimes the global — community.
Alcaraz’s organization, Chicago Abortion Fund, works to distribute information to community members, politicians, proponents and the women they serve.
“Abortion is a very personal decision, not a political one,” said Alcaraz to the group in attendance to view The A Word, the first in their installment of three of CAF’s summer film series, at the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum Thursday.
In the short film, members of CAF’s My Choice My Voice leadership group “come out” as having undergone an abortion procedure. The film focuses on the personal stories of these women, and follows them on their journey to raise awareness about reproductive justice.
“We love what we do,” said Crystal Thompson, a member of the leadership group and panelist at the screening.
The film is just one example of the methods Alcaraz and members of the My Voice My Choice leadership group is using to reach out and educate the community on reproductive justice. With Alcaraz’s direction, the young women learn and blog about topics like birth control, sexual transmitted diseases, domestic violence and the portrayal of women of color in the media.
In April, CAF held a forum that discussed hip-hop and abortion. For two years Alcaraz and members of the leadership group have been working on producing The A Word with Linda Garcia Merchant.
“The girls were involved in every step of the process,” said Merchant. “A lot of the time, they did the filming. I taught them the basics of holding the camera, getting the sound right … They captured the spirit of the work. It’s wonderful to watch how dedicated they are to this work.”
Both Alcaraz and Merchant found it important for the film to travel along a timeline that allows viewers to see the inner-workings of the life of reproductive rights advocates. The film showcases these advocates as women who have actually undergone the procedure, and didn’t stop there — they became empowered through education.
“This is about a woman’s entire life,” Alcaraz said. “You’re not just coming to the table giving money to somebody that wants to have an abortion; you’re coming to support a woman.”
With the help of CAF, many of the women go on to pursue higher education. For example Brittany Mostiller, an assistance recipient and member of the leadership group is seeking her bachelor’s degree in Women’s Studies at Northeastern Illinois University.
For a combined 15 years, Alcaraz and Merchant have worked on behalf of sexual minorities. Both are lesbian women who have found purpose in advocating for the rights of women everywhere.
“The same people that fight against us, fight against the LGBTQ community,” said Alcaraz.
Asserting that the reproductive justice debate is a class issue, and an access issue — the pair hope that the film will provide a much needed behind-the-scenes look at the women who come to CAF for assistance before and after they receive help.
“I saw Gaylon in action, and I told her, ‘You know there’s a film in this,’” said Merchant. “I realized how much joy [the women] bring in doing this, and how wonderful that is. It’s the kind of work where you’ll have to draw on that joy … Gaylon leads that charge.”
Merchant’s work doesn’t stop at reproductive justice. She is currently working on an oral history project with professors from the University of Michigan. The film will document a total of 50 Midwestern Chicana activists from the ’60s to the ’90s. Inspiration for her work comes from her mother Ruth Mojica-Hammer who, as a feminist activist, was the first Latina to run for Congress in Illinois.
Merchant also plans to do more around filming the story of advocates of reproductive justice in the future. “I’m very much about the individual telling their own story, because I am inspired by the subjects, and I know that it is the subject and their world that I want to see,” said Merchant.
As the founder of Voces Primeras, which translates to “First Voices”, Merchant has completed five films that tell the story of women’s lives through the women themselves.