Trump’s Government Shutdown Is a Reproductive Justice Issue

| Reproaction

By: Shireen Shakouri

Trump’s partial government shutdown is a pitiful display of two horrors that late-stage capitalism has brought to bear: disconnected political theater and desperate crowdfunding for basic human needs. The first becomes an attempt at distracting from the latter, but both serve the purpose of dehumanizing people in need for the political gain of politicians who don’t give a damn about our livelihoods. In truth: Millions are suffering and will suffer the costs of this political stunt. [1]

During October 2013, I was working in government, at the time a dream job. I had just graduated with a liberal arts degree that spring and started working less than two weeks later. I had no time to lose: student loan bills were starting to roll in, and even then (though more so now), D.C. rent prices were no picnic. As the shutdown loomed, I grew nervous and pinched pennies, uncomforted by conservative pundits brushing off the threat, claiming employees would receive backpay and insinuating that all government workers are overpaid and could weather lapsed or delayed wages. Friends were looking into backup jobs in food service and applying for unemployment, others worried about having to take their kids out of preschool because they couldn’t afford to send them without their paycheck, and in some cases pay for care they wouldn’t receive because of the closures. [2]

Then, as now, the pundits weren’t being honest. Then, as now, it wasn’t guaranteed workers would receive backpay (I eventually did). But federal contractors including lower-wage jobs like maintenance and operations staff, security, and food service would receive no backpay and instead have to deplete their meager vacation days and then be relegated to ‘leave without pay’ until the shutdown ended. And even higher-paid government workers on the federal government payscale often live paycheck-to-paycheck given high costs of living and childcare (D.C.-based government workers have to contend with the highest cost of childcare in the nation). [3]

As with the 2013 shutdown, the current crisis was fueled by conservatives’ profound hatred of poor people. Then, it was ire over the Affordable Care Act, [4] which expanded health insurance access to millions of Americans, [5] and now, the fantastical, racist, and wasteful notion that spending the equivalent of NASA’s budget [6] to build a border wall would improve homeland security. It makes no sense, especially when we consider that migrants have a right under international law to file for refugee status and that the majority of these asylum-seekers are fleeing violence caused by crises the United States stoked over decades, and especially during the Reagan years. [7-10]

You may or may not also recall that anti-abortion Senators during the summer of 2015 threatened a shutdown over their “defunding” Planned Parenthood by blocking Medicaid reimbursements, effectively making their services inaccessible to people who use Medicaid for healthcare. [11] All of these manufactured crises and near-crises perfectly fit into the modern conservative playbook of demonizing the poor, working class, and otherwise marginalized to buttress policy goals that only seek to benefit a select group of rich, white, old, male holders of power. Because let’s be clear: Just because federal workers aren’t being paid doesn’t mean the government is saving any taxpayers money. In fact, it’s going to cost us billions, by most estimates. [12]

And while the press chases the delusional architect of this tragedy, allowing him platforms to spew his hate while he casts migrants as the real villains, the Violence Against Women Act has expired, federal workers are scraping by, and federally backed mortgages can’t be processed, possibly leaving families in insecure housing situations. [13] The Indian Health Service is shuttered, leaving tribes relying on these clinics for their healthcare without help. [14]

I left my old job in major part because of the administration change, but even before that, something was missing. I was drawn to work in the reproductive justice movement because the analytic framework and political praxis encompasses the totality of our lives. When we think about the main components of reproductive justice — the right to parent, the right not to parent, and the right to live and raise our families in safe and healthy communities — they are the components of a full life. Working to strengthen these rights necessitates an intersectional mindset and a bold pursuit of equity. It is not enough to see the violence of denying refugees asylum as a tragedy, but a part of a larger system of oppression that impacts all of us, and that we all must act on, and end.

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