On one of the last days of September, I was in D.C. We had gone down for a music festival and taken an eight-hour train ride. It was quiet until New York City, and then the cars got really crowded. It reminded me, as I am reminded every time I’m on a train, of Abigail Deutsch’s poem, “After the Disaster.”
A late, straight couple sat down across from us. They were obnoxious and too sickly sweet for public, making out while my knees touched the man’s.
The festival was great, and we were exhausted, not in bed until 4 a.m., with an 11:30 train back. I have about six different jobs now, so I was compulsively checking my e-mail, and I saw an eimail from my advisor.
“Hi Phoebe,” it began. “President McCartney would like to nominate you to represent Smith at a White House event on October 14 with Vice President Kamala Harris on the impact of Dobbs on young people. I suggested you because of your writing on abortion with Ms. magazine. The college would cover your expenses. Are you interested?”
And so I was like, “Uhhh, oh my god. Yes. Duh. How is that even a question?”
And then I didn’t hear back for weeks. Until about two days before. And then, boom, sitting in my inbox, an e-mail from the Office of the Vice President of the United States of America: “On Friday, October 14th, Vice President Harris will be hosting a reproductive rights discussion with student leaders from across the country. We would like to invite you to attend the discussion with the Vice President and a breakout session with White House staff.”
So I pooped my pants a little. And then I called my mother. Thank god for Mothers. As travel-anxious as we both are, girl can make an itinerary. I booked a flight, she booked a hotel, I bought some slacks and a Smith College lapel pin, and I was off.
When I got to the hotel there were businessmen everywhere. Such incredibly well-pressed suits made the creased blazer tucked in my backpack quiver in fear. I could hardly sleep, I was so nervous. When I showed up to the American Council on Education’s headquarters the next day for a pre-event, I could tell I was not the only one a little nervy.
I counted about 80 of us. It was probably the most economically, racially, and (nationally) geographically diverse group I’ve ever been in. I met a young woman fighting for more social equality at Florida State. I met a young person who attended Anges Scott College, one of the Seven Sisters of the South. I met students fighting for better policies involving sexual assault, and students who ran sexual-assault support groups. Students who distributed condoms and other contraceptives; students fighting on the front line for abortion access in Louisiana. Students just out of the military, and some who were barely 17. I met the Vice President’s staff, who all encouraged us to pursue politics, to continue to fight the good fight.
We went through a few rounds of security, and then there we were: in the White House. (Or, really, in-the-White House adjacent.) We waited and waited and waited. And then her step-daughter came in. And for me, at least, that was a big cue. And then in came Madam Vice President herself.
She was wonderful. I was so impressed by her speaking skills. I thought maybe her remarks had all been prepared. I mean, I know it’s her job, but damn, was I impressed. But more than that, even, I was impressed by my peers.
There’s no one way to do anything. I was so surprised I got invited to this event. I don’t organize on campus. Hell, I’ve been so busy that I haven’t participated in much of any on-the-ground activism since the 2020 election. Mostly, I write. And even then, I’m a student and I’m busy and I’m lazy. There’s always more to do. Always, always, always. But you can always talk to someone new about something important to you. You can always educate yourself and others. You can create change, however small.