I won’t lie. There were tears shed in the Breast Cancer Action the morning after the 2016 election. My own, and those of the strong, smart, tireless team of women I work with. Like many people working for social justice and women’s health, we feel fear and apprehension deep in our guts about what a Trump presidency means for our communities, and the larger world. More than one person has said she feels like our work has been set back decades by last night’s election of Donald Trump.
Each year around this time I write about system change and the long arc of Breast Cancer Action’s work to change the breast cancer movement and achieve health justice for women at risk of and living with breast cancer. I always remind myself and our community that meaningful change takes time, that there are steps forward and set-backs, and the undeniable necessity of this work. It feels harder today to say all of that. It’s hard to celebrate the wins we did see last night, like a ban on fracking in Monterey County, when President-elect Trump has said that he will “cancel” the Paris Climate Agreement within 100 days of taking office. The pull of hopelessness is palpable. But it also feels even more necessary.
It’s not just fracking and other forms of dangerous drilling at stake here. Donald Trump’s vision for this country is fundamentally opposed to the values that I and Breast Cancer Action hold dear: social justice, compassion, equality, resisting oppression, respecting women. We are a breast cancer organization, but as feminists committed to social justice we are also acutely aware of all the ways our work intersects with the vital and vibrant movements for justice that are happening across this country. We are grateful for and inspired by the ongoing resistance to oppression and injustice we see happening even in the midst of this demoralizing election. #BlackLivesMatter, #NoDAPL, fair immigration reform, ending the school to prison pipeline, the fight for a $15 minimum wage—we want to see these movements win, not be steamrolled by a president who ran his campaign fueling racism, misogyny, xenophobia, and so much more that is antithetical to the world I want to live in.
When it comes to our work here at BCAction for women at risk of and living with breast cancer, here’s just a short list of what a Trump administration likely means for our work and our members:
- Repeal or roll back of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare)—for cancer patients this could mean a return to denial of coverage based on pre-existing conditions, lifetime payment caps, and inability to access healthcare
- An even more pro-industry Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that weakens standards of safety and efficacy for new drugs and devices
- Weaken and dismantle Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations—after initially threatening to eliminate the agency—and put a climate change skeptic named Myron Ebell at the helm
- A toxic environment where women are reduced to breasts and anything less than mainstream standards of beauty are mocked and ridiculed
Real people will suffer the consequences of bad policies. And some communities will be more impacted than others. And this is why, even as we are in shock and grief, we are more committed than ever to our values and vision of the world we want to live in.
Breast cancer is political and breast cancer is a social justice issue. Without question, women’s health broadly is a social justice issue. And like other women’s health issues, the breast cancer epidemic impacts communities unequally and leads to unacceptable differences in who develops breast cancer and when it develops, who gets high quality and timely treatment, and who dies from breast cancer. These outcomes are directly connected to the racism and misogyny that surged in the polls yesterday.
But I know I’m not alone in wanting to live in a world where social justice is a reality; a world that honors women’s diverse voices and lived experiences; a world where people’s health and well-being come before corporate profits; a world based on honesty, fearlessness, and compassion. It’s clear from the election results that our work will be much harder now—but even more urgent and we are that much more committed to creating a just and equitable world for all of us.
As the great ecologist and activist Sandra Steingraber has said: “We are all musicians in a great human orchestra, and it is now time to play the Save the World Symphony. You are not required to play a solo, but you are required to know what instrument you hold and play it as well as you can. You are required to find your place in the score. What we love we must protect. That’s what love means. From the right to know and the duty to inquire flows the obligation to act.” We will keep playing our instruments as loudly as we can; thank you for playing yours.