This was originally published on January 18, 2018. In response to the recent abortion bills that have passed in Georgia and Alabama, we thought it was a good time to revisit this story. If you’re angry, volunteering, donating and signal boosting is always a good idea. -ed.
Walking into the NARAL offices is like taking a breath of fresh air. After passing through a beige lobby and hopping on a brown elevator, the murals and technicolor carpet are especially striking. That energy pours into the rest of the office, where the walls are covered with protest signs and posters. Some are remnants from the many protests that took over downtown D.C. in 2017, while others serve as a sort of mood board, a reminder of the all the work that still needs to get done.
Kaylie Hanson Long is acutely aware of that work. Serving as NARAL’s national communications director, her job revolves around making sure Americans know where our country stands on reproductive rights, and what still needs to get done. “What people don’t remember, because there are a thousand things going on in the world, but what they often forget is that the vast majority of Americans support legal abortion. Period,” she explains, talking animatedly about NARAL’s work and the things they’ve been able to accomplish last year around the country and in D.C. As we chat about what brought her to NARAL, one thing is abundantly clear, there’s nothing she’d rather talk about than her volunteers. Describing them as “the heart and soul of our work” she goes into detail about the things they’ve been to accomplish. It’s this passion that makes Kaylie Hanson Long and her volunteers so inspiring.
Which is why we found ourselves in that technicolor office, chatting about NARAL’s upcoming work with The Outrage, her time volunteering for Obama and much, much more.
Let’s start with the basics, how did you get started here?
When I was in college at The University of Michigan in 2008 and President Obama, then Senator Obama, was running for president. Like so many of my peers at the time he just inspired me in a way that no other candidate for office really ever had. Being at that age, it was a life-changing experience for me to watch this really incredible person, someone who had worked his whole life on issues that were near and dear to me… Some issues I didn’t even know were near and dear to me at the time. I wasn’t doing big things on the 2008 campaign by any stretch but you know, I was knocking doors and trying to do Get Out the Vote work in Detroit.
Was that the first time you had been part of a campaign?
It was the first time I had knocked on doors, it was the first time I had done anything political because I just believed in him and I wanted to do anything I could. Being at UofM the opportunity was to go out to Detroit and talk to people, make sure they got out to vote, make sure they knew where their polling place was and so I did that. It was a really life changing experience. I get a little teary eyed just thinking about it now, and the comparison with who currently occupies the White House, but it was a brief period of time that I’ll never forget and changed my life forever.
I signed up to be a political science major right after that experience. I started taking extra credits so that I could get that double major, because at the time I was a psych major and I still graduated with that degree. I wanted to add political science because I knew I had to get to D.C. or I had to do something to really make a difference in a super small way compared to this man that I really looked up to, so that’s how I decided to get involved in politics. So I got the job at NARAL at the beginning of 2016, and this was the year where Hillary Clinton was someone that I believed in just as passionately as I did the President. To see a woman come this far and to do something in a really meaningful way, and to work at an organization that supported women’s rights and that did nothing but advance women’s rights, it just seemed like the perfect opportunity for me at the time. I was lucky enough that they hired me and here I am.
It all came together all at the same time.
I think that what had been so clear to me over the previous five years or so was that politicians would talk about women’s healthcare and women in a way that was completely divorced from reality and completely did not align with my experience with women’s health, my friend’s experience in women’s health, experiences that women of color have. They were just completely in two different worlds. That was so clear looking at the Republican candidates for president and then of course we learned so much more about our eventual president whose disdain for women really knows no bounds. So it was a really great time to make women’s rights a bigger part of my life and my career.
It was an honor to come here at that time and continue this work in one of the most challenging years for reproductive rights this country has ever seen. So many of the attacks have gone under the radar, it’s incredibly gratifying to be here with such amazing volunteers and colleagues of mine who have spent far longer working on this issue than I have. I’m relatively new to it. There are people who have been putting decades, their entire lives into this work and I just am so in awe of them too.
When did you start to become passionate about women’s healthcare and reproductive rights?
I went to an all girls school so the idea that women could be anything they wanted to be was something that I was taught from a really young age. My mom is someone who always saw women’s healthcare as an issue of gender equality. Making sure that everybody is making responsible decisions and respecting one another, that’s so important and so that was an issue she taught me from a really young age. The idea that women could be whatever they want to be was something that I was taught really young and then getting out of this bubble and realizing, especially in the Republican party, just how many people didn’t believe that… It was up to me to take these values that I learned from my mother and from these really incredible women I had met early in life and take those values into my career in a bigger way. So, I think it was really looking at the way the Republican party had so dismissed women and women’s rights and reproductive healthcare… I was sort of waking up to that reality when I was graduating from college and deciding that was going to be a really big part of what I did.
My first job out of college was being a field organizer for Richard Blumenthal, who at the time was the Attorney General for my home state in Connecticut. He’s someone whose been unapologetically supportive of reproductive rights and abortion access his whole career. I mean he is such a champion and he is one of NARAL’s biggest champions. So being introduced to the issues through working for him and working for his chief of staff, her name was Laurie Rubiner and she’s just an icon in the feminist movement and I was lucky enough to be her assistant. So kind of learning from her about the way that the world really was and the work that we really had to do was always so inspiring to me and so it was a great way to start my career.
On a day to day basis what are you doing here?
So I’m the National Communications Director, so that means a lot of things. On a normal day, gosh it feels like there is no normal day, especially in 2018 which of course we’re only 11 days into…
Feels like it’s been forever already.
What people don’t remember, because there are a thousand things going on in the world, but what they often forget is that the vast majority of Americans support legal abortion. Period. That’s regardless of what decision you would make for yourself, what decision you think would be best for your family, but the support for legal abortion is clear. End of story. What has happened is this fringe minority of anti-choice individuals, who kind of works behind the scenes, they’re incredibly well funded. People forget that. People forget that this is where the majority of people in red, purple, and blue states stand.
My number one mission when I come to work everyday is to make sure that the world understands what our amazing volunteers are doing, how other people can become members and get involved themselves to push for the values that we know they have, and making sure that the true story, the real lived experiences of women are told so that we don’t end up living in this fantasy land that anti-choice Republicans would really like us to be living in. Whether it’s a world that they want to create through policies where abortion access is non existent, or birth control is inaccessible, but also working to combat their desire to tell this really inaccurate story about women’s healthcare and public opinion. So making sure that all of that is advanced every day and making sure that politicians, and elected officials and candidates who are with that seven in ten majority are elected or supported. That’s sort of what I think about day to day. That’s my driving work everyday.
I’m glad you mentioned volunteers because we were talking about how your volunteers are your rock…
Yes, our volunteers are everything. We are at well over one million members across the country, so we have people in all corners of the country– red, purple, and blue states, all districts. NARAL members are everywhere and they have always prioritized their own personal fight for reproductive freedom, especially last year. The anti-choice movement has been trying to chip away at reproductive rights for the better part of a decade and beyond. There’s a lot of work happening on their part behind the scenes to erode reproductive freedom. What’s also happening is our members are working with elected officials in their own backyards to pass really strong proactive legislation that actually expands access to reproductive freedom. We saw that in Nevada, for example, where there’s a Republican governor. We saw this in Oregon, we saw it in Illinois this year, we saw it in Delaware. I mean, all over the country our members are creating this environment where elected officials will be supported for introducing and then passing legislation that can advance reproductive freedom, which is of course an important component to gender equality.
Our volunteers are the heart and soul of our work. NARAL pro-choice America is an advocacy organization. We’re not medical providers, we’re not litigators, we are advocates. This is the time when we have seen our volunteer sign ups surging, especially given the environment. We’re so happy to bring in more and more people to pass legislation. Just in D.C. a bill passed this week that allows women to access birth control without a prescription in a pharmacy. That was because NARAL members really helped to push that bill over the line and create an environment of support, or create sort of an environment where elected officials can lean on us to rally the troops and make sure that everybody was aware of it and get the votes in the right place.
The work that I do is to tell their stories. I want people to know that they too can be a volunteer and sign up to organize with us. I want people to know about the hard work that they’re doing, to knock on doors, and to make the phone calls, and to rally in state capitals and to make sure everybody knows what they are doing.
Did you folks see a large spike after the Women’s March?
Yes. Absolutely. We saw people who were first time volunteers, who had always sort of heard about NARAL, but never quite made the leap into getting involved. So definitely lots of new members because of that, and also people who had been members for a really long time but wanted to take their activism even further and signed up to become fellows with us. So this is for people who could live and breathe reproductive rights every day and had the time to do it and wanted to make activism a bigger part of their lives and be outside of their formal careers, or their student life, if they’re in college. We saw tons of that. We can definitely all have those days where you look at this White House and you look at this Congress and get super depressed, but I am snapped right out of that funk when I have a conversation with a volunteer, or when I check in with our field team and they can tell us how many doors were knocked that day in support of reproductive freedom.
The silver lining of 2017 was activists went harder and bolder than ever before and passed really solid legislation that expanded reproductive freedom, so there’s a lot to smile about over the last year or two.
What would you say is the hardest part of your job?
There is a lot to do. We are an advocacy organization for reproductive freedom, but of course as all women know, our reproductive healthcare touches all parts of our lives. So that means it’s almost impossible to achieve economic security without access to the full range of reproductive healthcare. That means that these issues touch all of these others economic issues. It means that we have a responsibility to be mobilizing in states all across the country, so there’s a lot to do. I will say that it is definitely a lot, but there is no place I’d rather be.
This is the most important work happening right now whether you’re a volunteer with NARAL or you’re donating your time with MoveOn.org and being a part of what I like to call a proactive resistance. There is nothing more important to do right now. Even though at times it can be really draining because of so many things going on, I know at the end of the day that this is what I was meant to do. This is what we all need to do, frankly.
When it comes to getting involved, what would you recommend for someone who’s like “I’m not big into activism, I don’t know a lot about politics…” Someone starting off at the bottom?
There are so many different things to do. It’s hard to know where to begin. I would say for those people who have not really been activists before or don’t consider themselves to be activists, sign up. Get on our email list. Start there. Sign a petition. Even those small actions of signing these petitions… We are bringing those petitions to HHS, right to the senators, and senators will receive these binders full of thousands, sometimes millions, of signatures and that really sways them. So what might seem a really small thing, is really really important.
For someone who feels like “I want to get off the computer” come knock on doors with us. Even in Washington, D.C., this bill didn’t pass itself. We were knocking on doors making sure people were aware of what was going on and getting signatures from people at the doors to make sure that there was support for this bill the D.C. City Council. Come join us for a volunteer night, come by for an hour to our office in Washington, or one of our amazing offices across the country run by our affiliates. Just stop by for an hour just spend some time making calls. It’s super easy once you get trained, which takes not very long at all. You’ll leave feeling gratified. I know I felt so gratified when I first started doing this work 10 years ago. You’ll definitely feel like you did your part when you read the news the next day because inevitably someone will have said or done something on this issue.
Is there anyone in the D.C. activism scene or political scene that especially inspires you?
Yeah. I think that someone who really inspires me is a woman I have the honor to work with here her name is China Dickerson. China is the executive director of the Young Democrats, has worked with me here for about a year and is someone who has passion for people and progressive politics unlike anyone I’ve ever seen. She is someone who comes to work with a smile on her face, a go get ’em attitude, is just ready to fight everyday. When I talk to her I’m inspired. I just really admire her and she makes me better at my job. She’s been doing this work for longer than I have and she has tremendous respect from so many people in democratic politics, especially in women’s rights politics. She’s just an incredible person and I feel so lucky to work with her everyday.
What’s your favorite part about living and working in D.C.?
There are so many different things to do all the time. You can go to a rally outside of the White House and then go to a dance show at Dance Place later that night in Northeast. You can go check out new parts of Petworth that maybe you hadn’t explored. The cultural and political, the way that the two intersect… Those two scenes are really exciting to me and I’ve just made some really good friends here. People are kind, people are good, people are dedicated to their neighborhoods. I love the diversity of experiences that you can get just in this city.
Small thing– I love biking in this city. I really love how bikeable this city is and I find that it makes it really accessible to me, who hates to drive, and I’m a big supporter of making sure that more people can get on their bikes and have safe bike lanes. I really appreciate that part about the city too. When I think of other cities I would live in I always think, “Okay, well what’s the bikeability there?” That’s a big thing for me.
I’m so terrified to bike in D.C.
You have to be smart. You have to obey traffic signals. You have to remember you’re on a bike not in a car. Take your time, you can’t be rushed. I really do like that it’s accessible, really everything is accessible by bike.
One more question, you guys are doing some exciting stuff with The Outrage so can you tell me a little about that?
We are so excited The Outrage decided that we are going to be recipient of their latest collection. We’re going to be having a big event to kick off the launch of this new line. I’m just so excited because The Outrage is just one example of a unique way to get involved with proactive resistance and to be changing culture, quite frankly. I was a dancer growing up and I have a real appreciation for the arts and I think that visual representations of politics and resistance is critical to making a difference, and that’s what The Outrage is doing. They’re making sure that awareness is a part of fashion and I think that that’s really important right now. We’re really excited to be partners with them and they’re just such a great organization.
Is there anything I didn’t ask that you’d like to add?
I want to make sure that people that have never signed up to be activists before also understand that there is a lot of work to do even in a blue district, state. Just because you read about something happening in a state that’s not yours, there is a ton to do even in blue states to make sure that reproductive freedom is protected. Maybe we’re setting an example for the rest of the country, maybe we’re expanding healthcare access because even in blue states there are anti-choice laws on the books that really need attention. Expanding access to abortion, and birth control, and paid family leave, we need to do that work.
One thing that I hear from friends who live in blue states is they feel like, “Oh, there’s not a whole lot I can do here,” and that’s just not the case. There’s so much to do. Sign up. Come be a part of NARAL even if you feel like you live in relatively safe spot. And quite frankly, your champions need support. It’s easier to fight another day if you’re a senator getting thank you’s for the work that you’re doing, so making sure that we’re saying thank you to right people is really important. Champions like Kirsten Gillibrand or Charles Allen in D.C., they need to hear thank you and we are so grateful for them.