By Toni Brannagan
At the same time, we began passing around this petition demanding that schools across the United States provide period products to *all* of their students. 35,000 signatures (a few of whom were our faves, Cynthia freakin’ Nixon, Busy Philipps, Padma Lakshmi, as well as Lily Eskelsen García & Randi Weingarten, the presidents of the two largest teacher unions in the country), a full-page ad in The Washington Post later, and one looong bus ride later, some of us from THINX Inc. and PERIOD congregated in the nation’s capitol to deliver our message straight to the Secretary of Education, Betsy “Potential Bears” DeVos.
Alongside activists from PERIOD, the largest youth-run nonprofit, we prepared to hit the streets.
Armed with *literal* activist hats, we marched right up to the front steps of the Department of Education with four boxes filled with signatures in tow.
This good boi stopped by to sniff around, but was pretty playful with us despite being on the clock.
Our fearless director of giveback here at THINX, Laura Blackburn, kicked off our rally with a story from her days teaching fifth grade in the Bronx that highlights the necessity of menstrual access.
“For one of my students, whose period came for the first time totally unexpectedly, that meant that she had to leave the classroom, travel down four flights of stairs, wait for the nurse to finish up with a group of students that she was seeing, get a tampon, come all the way back upstairs, use the bathroom, and then had missed out on the entire math period.
This is just one student’s story, and we know students across the country share similar stories. That’s just simply unacceptable.”
Yas, Laura, yas!
Nadya Okamoto, the 20-year-old founder of PERIOD, stepped up next to share how her passion for periods came to be.
When she was in high school, she and her mother experienced a “time of transition” after mom parted ways with her job, which resulted in the pair staying with friends. They always had a roof over their heads, and Nadya relied solely on reusable period products, like menstrual cups, to manage her period. However, if she found herself without those reusable products, she was forced to use makeshift materials like the rough, brown paper towels in public bathrooms.
“For some reason, all through middle school and all through high school, even though it would make me angry that I or my friends who really couldn’t afford period products had to do that, none of us spoke up. Because there’s this stigma that if you don’t have access to period products, you just sort of grumble, and you just put up with it, because we’ve all been conditioned to understand that periods are something we hide.”
Next, Nadya introduced Dana Marlowe, the founder and executive director of I Support the Girls, a nonprofit that distributes donated bras, tampons, and pads to those in need.
She told us about Donna, an exceptional student from Chicago, who has been forced to miss several days of school while she has her period every month because—you guessed it—she doesn’t have access to menstrual products. Donna is just one of many students across the country (and the world!) who battles period poverty.
Dana also highlighted the intersection between menstrual access and advocating for the disabled community. Providing period products is just step one — making sure they are free *and* readily accessible to all is the true goal. Products that are confined to just a certain building, or floor of a school, discriminates against people who are not able-bodied, a factor that we as period advocates must take into account.
Two students from Grant High School, Chloe and Abbey, told us about their epic win for Portland public high schools. After their work as advocates, period products are now accessible in all public restrooms.
Ameer Abdul, from the PERIOD chapter at Ohio State University, spoke to the importance of people who do not menstruate standing up for people with periods. While not every person with a period is a woman, and not all women menstruate, period poverty is still an issue of gender equality. We hope to see more people like Ameer step up!
We were also introduced to Samantha Holtz, the new president of the University of Minnesota Twin Cities’ chapter of PERIOD.
Right now, their chapter is working with Minnesota lawmakers to bring period products to all public school bathrooms.
PERIOD activist and talented musician, Gabrielle Zwi, graced us with an original song about activism, “See the Change,” while she played the ukulele. It was hard not to get a li’l misty-eyed.
DOE finally sent out a staffer to collect our boxes and deliver them to Secretary DeVos’ people. Nadya inquired about following up with her office, but we struggled to get a straight answer. Stay tuned!
After a quick li’l mini-tour of the capitol (I’ll spare you the pics from the impromptu photoshoot at the Lincoln Memorial), we regrouped back in front of the Department of Education, where we projected our message and continued our demand for menstrual equity.