Name: Brianna Twofoot
Town: Westbrook, Maine
Where you work (name, town): Portland, Maine (but really, all over)
What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?
When I was teaching 2nd grade in Mississippi, a colleague and I noticed a huge number of high school girls dropping out of school due to pregnancy, or sharing horror stories of sexual assault, rape and incest. Since comprehensive sex ed wasn’t being taught in our local high school, we decided to organize after school sessions on sex ed, covering everything from birth control to spread of stds to self-esteem and empowerment to healing after sexual assault or rape. It felt like a risk teaching these subjects in the deep, rural south. Teachers in the local high school discouraged us not because of ideological differences, but because they didn’t think students would show up. Optimistically, we prepared an event for 50 girls. When we opened the doors to the cafeteria, over 300 girls were waiting to participate in our sessions. One of my proudest moments as an advocate was standing on top of a cafeteria lunch table, walking fifty high school girls through the creation of a healing quilt, which I still have. I lost my voice by the end of the event, having spent a few hours yelling over the din of the crowd. Two important lessons I learned that day that I carry with me still: 1) Never underestimate your ability to make a difference, especially when people around you suggest that you can’t, and 2) Never underestimate young people.
Which of your current projects are you MOST passionate about right now and why?
Every legislative session, this answer changes. This year, I am most passionate about the anti-choice bills before the state legislature. I attended the entire public hearing for three anti-choice bills. The bills would require women to attend two doctor visits with a 24 hour waiting period in between before obtaining an abortion, force doctors to read a coercive, biased script to women seeking an abortion, and require minors to obtain parental consent for abortion. I care about these bills in part because because I am pro-choice and in part because of what these bills represent philosophically. At the hearing, supporters of the anti-choice bills talked about women needing to take at least 24 hours to make such a big decision during such a stressful time. Believe it or not, women can make decisions with just as much confidence and reflection as men and we don’t need a law to force us to do it. I know six women who’ve had abortions, all for different reasons and with different feelings about it after the fact. I don’t know ANY women who made the decision without careful thought, though. To suggest that this bill would help women by providing for them the basic right to take time to make a decision is blatantly condescending and terribly offensive.
The culture perpetuated by anti-choice policies must end. Women are not, as a sex, meek and fragile and we don’t need the government to help us make medical decisions. The government should stop trying to sneak into my medical exam room, and the medical exam rooms for every other woman and teen in the country.
What’s the largest challenge to success that you face and what do you need to overcome it?
I am a young, brown woman. It wasn’t until I entered the professional world that these descriptions mattered. Often in Maine, I walk into a room and notice that I am the only person of color present. When working at a Texas elementary school, someone assumed I was the cafeteria worker, despite my business casual dress and Teach For America name tag. I’ve observed people overlook my comments, only to support my ideas when an older, more established individual says the same thing. As for sexism, I say to the men of the world: Not even my dad calls me sweetie, so maybe you shouldn’t either. I don’t see my identities as a barrier. I do see my confidence in the face of prejudice and assumptions as a barrier to success.
I’ve worked to overcome these insecurities by empowering myself with education and training, surrounding myself with other young, brown ladies and men, and… force. Participating in the Emerge Maine Class of 2011 provided me with incredible public speaking training, which has helped me find my voice and use it even when I’d rather be passing out. I meet regularly with other advocates who face these similar challenges, and we share our experiences, vent, laugh, sometimes cry and generally feel supported. After all of that, I practice, practice, practice. I ask for challenges at work. I have difficult conversations even when it scares me.
Why do you live in Maine?
I live in Maine because it’s home. My family moved to Raymond, ME when I was 14, though I like to joke that I am a “true” Mainer because my grandmother lived here in her younger years. Whenever I have lived away from Maine, I felt a homesickness that not even the whitest beach and bluest ocean water could squash. So I moved home and intend to stay home for the years to come.
What issue keeps you up at night?
Believe it or not, privacy issues keep me up at night. Working at the ACLU, there isn’t an issue area that we work on that hasn’t at one point or another made me bite my nails. Government intrusion into my life the issue that keeps me up in even the slow or successful times. I don’t want the government keeping track of where I go, what I buy, emails I send, medical procedures I obtain, etc. Here’s why: I have deep faith in the Constitution and American democracy, but in the event that either or both of those fail, I don’t want the government to be able to find me and separate me out based on religion, gender, race, ethnicity, whether or not I’ve had an abortion or an AIDS test. You get the idea.
If you could change ONE thing about your town, what would it be?
I wish that Westbrook had a Back Bay equivalent for running. The roads aren’t very friendly to walkers or joggers, what with their small breakdown lanes and incredible traffic.
What’s your take on recent political events in Maine?
I have been moved by the coming together of progressive people over the past nine months. Truly, a progressive movement in Maine has grown, and I think we’ve done a pretty good job fighting back bad laws in the face of incredible obstacles. Over the winter, I felt somewhat hopeless about politics, particularly when I sat the nearly 2,000 bills in our legislature. Watching people stand up for their rights in response to some of these truly toxic bills has been inspiring and left me with renewed hope.