Four thousand activists gathered in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, April 7 for Pro-Choice Lobby Day that included a rally on the National Mall. Among them were Wesleyan students Su Park ’12, Laura Lupton ’12, Katya Botwinick ’13, Jacob Eichengreen ’13, and Mel Hsu ’13, who were presented with Planned Parenthood’s Walk the Talk Award at the annual National Awards Gala for Wesleyan Uncut’s “I Have Sex” video.
“They’re giving us the award on behalf of our generation of activists,” Eichengreen said. “I think they’re specifically referring to online activists, so it’s kind of a neat way of recognizing what a viral video can do and how simple it was to create it. But it’s also more about giving our generation a voice.”
The Walk the Talk Award honors “an individual, family, or institution for their outstanding philanthropy on behalf of Planned Parenthood’s mission and commitment to reproductive health and rights.”
“I think a lot of it is recognizing process and collaboration and the idea that it didn’t just come out of nowhere,” Hsu said before the rally. “It came out of a lot of steps, a lot of people’s input, a lot of people’s feedback and push and pull, and a lot of molding to get to a final product. There’s a lot of Wesleyan in the video, a lot of Wesleyan energy and effort.”
President Michael Roth praised the students’ efforts and the quality of the video.
“I am very proud of this group of students,” Roth said. “I think it’s a great film. I’m a little disappointed they didn’t ask me to be in it, though I think I know why. It’s a strong political film: fun, interesting, and makes its point. The filmmakers certainly deserve the recognition.”
The video, which encourages action in defense of Planned Parenthood, was posted online in early March. As of Monday, the video has received over 300,000 views and 2,000 comments on YouTube.
“Just reading the video’s comments, some of [them were] downright hateful and really hard to read, but the Internet can be democratic in a way,” Botwinick said. “People slammed it on their own personal blogs, but the YouTube page itself was this ongoing discourse where people were constantly talking back and forth.”
The “I Have Sex” video received attention from national news outlets and spurred commentary from both pro-life and pro-choice groups. It also inspired the creation of similar videos by students at a number of other colleges, including Oberlin, Bard, and last week, Skidmore.
“There’s a sense that the Internet is kind of a veil behind which people can hide, and this video, at least in the comments, brought out people from behind the veil,” Eichengreen said. “I think this award is a recognition of that, and a recognition of how if, somehow you do it right or you get incredibly lucky and you make a video that is seen by people, it can effect change and start discourse that can be incredibly powerful.”
President Michael Roth said that he believes the issue of Planned Parenthood’s funding has ramifications on a national level as well as for the personal lives of students.
“The students’ efforts in this regard are a more timely example of political activism on an issue that matters to the whole country,” he said. “It’s an issue that matters for students here on campus, it’s part of their personal and political lives, and it matters nationally.”
Last year, the Walk the Talk Award was presented to President of the United Nations Foundation Timothy Wirth. This year, the members of Wesleyan Uncut were honored alongside the President of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the producers of Friday Night Lights, and MTV.
Although she was excited about the honor, Hsu noted that there was a more serious obligation that accompanied the award.
“I think a big thing for me in going is having to assume the responsibility that comes with making a statement like that,” she said. “Also, if there is an organization that wants to recognize you, they’re hoping that you’ll continue with the same level of dedication and enthusiasm and drive to want to make statements or have a voice. There’s no being quiet. You can’t back away.”
Planned Parenthood paid for the Wesleyan students’ trip to Washington, D.C. to participate in their Day of Action, which included the rally and lobbying representatives and senators. That evening, the students were introduced by the President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Cecile Richards P’13 at the National Awards Gala.
“It was terrifying,” Eichengreen said. “The gala was also a fundraiser, so people paid $250 a plate to get in and we spoke in front of them. In drafting the speech we decided that the best direction to take was to assure people that this isn’t the end; this is just the beginning.”
According to Park, Gala attendees expressed their approval of the video in a variety of ways. Anthony D. Romero, the Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union and first Latino and openly gay leader of the ACLU, began his acceptance speech of the Margaret Sanger Award by holding up a paper sign, and declaring to the room, “I used to have sex!”