The titles and roles of activists may differ, but a good activist can be spotted by their passion and dedication to their work. Most of us choose our paths of activism based on the impact we want to have or life sort of decides for us by placing us in social locations where the only path that makes sense is one of resistance. High levels of recognition are typically reserved for a few select folks. This blog series is not a remedy to this situation, but rather designed to highlight activists and their justice work through brief interviews. This installment is an interview with Kristen Strezo, City Councilor-At-Large for Somerville City.
Could you please share who you are and a bit about the work you do?
I am Kristen Strezo. I am a city councilor representing Somerville Massachusetts, it’s an at-large councilor. At-large means I represent the entire city of Somerville, we have seven wards in our city, and there are four at-large councilors, and I am one of the at large councilors, and I will be in my second term in office. We are an urban community right next door to Boston, four square miles, we have around 81,350 people living here, we are the most densely populated city in New England and I think second in the nation, and we have the largest population of working artists outside of Brooklyn, we are our quirky little us!
What inspired the ordinance to ban anti-abortion fake clinics in Somerville?
Well, I wanted to protect our residence here in Somerville. We are a college town, we have Tufts University here, and we have lots of residents who attend college throughout the Boston area. If we have a resident here from other cities or other states, sometimes we have residents who moved here that haven’t been to the United States. And if they find themselves in a position where they believe that they want to get essential information about their sexual and reproductive health or are concerned that they may be pregnant, I want to make sure that our residents have the most accurate and essential information available to them.
What type of work were you doing before you came into your position as a city councilor-at-large in Somerville?
I have been in the reproductive rights fight for decades. Ever since I was in a feminist punk band! I have been fighting this fight for a long time. I have done a lot of work in women’s studies, gender studies, communications, gender equity, and social justice causes. And I came to Somerville, and the Boston area, for grad school, and I was a mom, with two kids and I was caring for my elderly grandmother who was in her mid to late ‘90s and I cared for her for about 12 years. Because I was a grad student, I couldn’t work full time and I was in this position of caring for two small children and my senior grandmother, but what I could do is I could volunteer in my community, and since women studies and gender equity was my focus and what I do best, I started volunteering in my community and helping out with a lot of issues and became the chair of the Somerville Women’s Commission and was unanimously elected into several terms. I worked on everything from car seat checks to preventing domestic violence and getting resources out there and also pay equity workshops. And then I realized there are so many residents that understand what I am going through, and I understood what they were going through, caring for two small children and my elderly grandmother, so I was like, “I should really be allowing this conversation to continue?”, and I want to bring these issues forward. And back then I was a single mom in low-income housing and caring for a family with two small children, so I was like, “we need to be talking about this,” and I am going to bring these issues forward and who else better to help be in the conversation than someone who is grappling with these issues?
I think that is something our opposition doesn’t understand. It’s very clear they are not having the conversations as to why we fight for what we fight for, and believe in choice and believe in abortion access, is that to a woman living in poverty, or in Somerville we have a large undocumented population, or any one person who is concerned they may be pregnant or have an issue with their reproductive health, these issues are devastating they impact their lives. Abortion is healthcare. And what it comes down to, it is nobody’s fucking business what we choose to do with our bodies.
The fake clinics in Somerville, what were they were doing? What tactics or messaging they were using? All of it is aggravating to see, but I am curious to know what the fake clinics in the town were up to leading up to this ordinance.
We have plenty of data the proves that fake abortion clinics are not about choice, it is not even in the best interest of the people that walk into those doors, many of them are duped and manipulated by false information and clear data over decades have proven that. And my question is, if they have to manipulate their message and lie and deceive to get their message across, then are they really acting with good intentions? And here in Somerville, I make it clear, that with this ordinance, the first in the state of Massachusetts, while it doesn’t shut down any fake clinics because there are not any here, that if you chose to open a fake clinic, you better have medically accurate information. For example, you must present medically accurate information, and we know that statistically, that the volunteers that staff these fake clinics are just volunteers, that don’t have medically accurate information, and are performing sonograms! A random volunteer is performing sonograms on anybody of any age group that walk through those doors. We know that they often will use incorrect information, often times just random inaccurate data, trying to shame people, trying to debase our LGBTQ community, and all of that is unacceptable. We are just asking for medically accurate information and basic dignity and respect. And I advocate for the basic dignity and respect for the people of Somerville.
I hope that more municipalities forward their own ordinances. I hope that many municipalities really take the effort to protect women and pregnant people, and protect families in their cities and their communities against deceptive language, diminutive behavior and that has to be said! The core of this, the core of anti-choice, the core of anti-choice legislation, the core of anti-choice behavior, is anti-woman, anti-family, anti-LGBTQ, and its anti-pregnant people.
What are some of the guiding principles that have held you through the years? And if they have changed, how so?
I want to make the best decisions that will allow me to sleep at night. But also, I fight hard for my community, I always say that. If you look at my logo, on my campaign site, there is an exclamation point, and I fought for that exclamation point because I think it is accurate! Also there is a heart in that exclamation point, and that heart is my service to my community to this earth, my hope to just spread love. My Jewish faith reminds of the importance of repairing harm to the world and to give out kindness. I come from the belly of a low-income single mother and we fought hard for every little thing we had and have. And I want to make sure that everybody has the same chances, especially in this country. We know that inequity is rabid, and my goal is to do everything I can in my power and my ability to right the wrongs of every injustice I can.
Kristen Strezo is City Councilor-at-Large in Somerville, Massachusetts, a suburb of Boston which recently passed an ordinance banning anti-abortion fake clinics in city limits. Reproaction spoke with her to learn more about her advocacy and the impact of this ordinance. Reproaction is a non-partisan organization that does not endorse or oppose candidates for political office. Views expressed by our activist interviews should not be construed to reflect the stances of the organization.