Deja Foxx: I Was Arrested Protesting For Abortion Rights — & I’d Do It Again

Photo: JP Yim/Getty Images.
Deja Foxx is a social activist who’s been fighting for comprehensive sex education and reproductive rights since she was 15. Since then, she’s continuously worked with Planned Parenthood, was an influencer and surrogate strategist on Kamala Harris’ 2020 presidential campaign, and founded GenZ Girl Gang. Now, at 22, she’s studying Race and Ethnicity at Columbia University, creating content, and continuing her work in the reproductive justice space — including a recent action down in Washington, D.C. following the reversal of Roe v. Wade.
It was 4:30 a.m. on June 30, just six days after the fall of Roe v. Wade. Two buses of people were headed down to Washington D.C. from New York City to participate in a reproductive justice action organized by the Center for Popular Democracy Action, the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, and the Working Families Party. The plan was for us to march down to the Supreme Court, hold the intersection of First Street and Constitution Avenue, and have our voices be heard — and risk getting arrested in an act of civil disobedience.
I’ve been in the reproductive justice space since I was in high school. I grew up in Tucson, Arizona. I  was homeless in high school, and ended up living with a boyfriend and his family as a result. I was taking a sex education class in my public school that was last updated in the ‘80s, didn't mention consent, and was medically inaccurate. As my teacher flipped through a PowerPoint on contraception, he made a comment that he didn't really need to teach us this because our parents would. And I knew that that wasn't my situation — there was no one who was going to fill in these gaps for me. I wanted to be the first in my family to go on to college, but I first needed control over my body to have control over my future.
In high school, I started showing up to school board meetings and learned how to use my story to become an agent of change making. I brought my friends along to do the same, and after six months, we won a legislative victory at the school board level to edit the existing sex ed curriculum with a board made up of people with varied political views, including myself. Every Tuesday, for the next year and a half, we sat and rewrote the curriculum. It has been updated and changed since then, and there’s been a lot of additional work by students that have continued fighting since I graduated.
In 2017, when I was 16, I had a viral moment in which I confronted my senator, Jeff Flake at a town hall about his vote to deny Title X funding to Planned Parenthood, which is what millions of low-income people, like me as a teen, use to get birth control. I asked why he, as a white man, would deny me access to the things I needed to get ahead. The soundbite went viral, and I woke up the next morning in the public eye. I went live on CNN, the Washington Post called me the new face of Planned Parenthood, and my part in this movement immediately went from private to public.
Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images.
Since then I’ve continued to be active in the space, but this particular action [in response to the reversal of Roe vs. Wade] would be my first time getting intentionally arrested in the name of reproductive justice. As a woman of color from a low income background who has not had the best experiences with police, I felt nervous. Any kind of physical encounter with police — being touched, being grabbed, being held by the arm — is stressful and anxiety-inducing. But I also felt a deep sense of community and a link not only to the people around me, but to history. There is nothing I would rather have been doing than this. This is being on the right side of history.
When I initially signed up for the action, the form asked if I was planning to get arrested. I had marked yes. Then, when I was on the bus [to the action] I once again confirmed and consented. The decision to risk arrest was easy for me — I’m young, I work a flexible job, and I work in politics where not only will my employers in the future understand why [an arrest] is on my record, they will applaud it. Because the planned action would [take place] in front of a wall of media and cameras, I had a good sense that my physical safety would be taken care of. [It was] the kind of visibility that offers protection from police. I didn't need to worry about money at this moment either, and that hasn't always been true for me.
We made it to our meeting spot, a church, at around 10:30 a.m. and were joined by influential people such Tarana Burke, the creator of the Me Too movement, Judy Chu, a U.S. representative of California, and faith leaders like Dr. Reverend Barber, a minister, social activist, and former president of the North Carolina NAACP. I've never been a churchgoer in any significant way and in large part it’s because the church has often felt at odds with the things I believe in. But, sitting in the pew, listening to the reverend talk about reproductive justice and bodily autonomy through the lens of spirituality was really moving and powerful.
We were given $50 by the organizers, the cost of our arrest fees, as well as food, water, and sunscreen. They had green bandanas for us, so I grabbed one from the Working Families Party that said, “abortion is a human right” and tucked it into my tank top, then tied another green bandana from Planned Parenthood that said, “we won’t back down” to my bag. The green scarf emerged as a symbol of the reproductive justice fight in Argentina in the late 2010s. The majority of the activists fighting to decriminalize abortion wore green scarves, and the movement was called “Marea Verde” or “Green Wave.” The symbol has moved to the U.S., and is a nod to the fact that this fight it international — there are lessons to be learned outside of our borders.
Since the action took place the same day that Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson was being sworn in, the organizers decided that singing would be more appropriate than chanting. We were taught songs by Nelini Stamp, one of the co-founders of the Resistance Revival Chorus and a leader of the Working Families Party. She was at the front of our march with a megaphone as we walked, and she was also the final person holding the intersection — she's an icon, she's a legend.
We began our demonstration around 11:50 a.m. and marched past the Capitol Building and the Supreme Court. Those buildings are built to make you feel small, but there’s something very refreshing about the knowledge that other people have marched these streets, that this is intergenerational, that our fight is ongoing. The energy was cathartic. I cried. Singing does that to people — music does that for people.
When we arrived at the intersection of Constitution and First, there were tons of press and media. Heading into the center of the intersection at a red light we sat down. There was an announcement that if you were not getting arrested, it was time to move. Those folks walked to the sidewalk while the rest of us dropped the banner and sat down, holding the intersection. It took less than five minutes for police to surround us.
They arrested people two at a time and put bracelets on us. We were led by the arm to the holding area where [our]  I.D.s were confiscated and a photo taken. It took about two hours for them to get to me. This was a mass arrest — there were 181 people whose information had to be taken down and processed. Once I gave my information I was led to another area where my consequences were explained to me. I needed to pay my fine and if I didn't pay it after 24 hours but before 15 days, I would risk going to court. In my holding area, I sat with representative Judy Chu, the architect behind the Women's Health Protection Act. We  talked about the importance of voting and why young people feel the way we do. 
When we were able to return to the church, it was chaotic. The fact that so many of us had to remain in D.C. for 24 hours before we could pay our fines meant there were more logistics to figure out. Organizing doesn't just end after everyone gets arrested. You need to make sure that those people have places to stay and a way to get home, that people are accounted for and that they have food and nourishment. There are healthcare staff on site in case someone is feeling unwell or needs attention and there are people putting together rapid response videos to put [our actions] out there to a larger audience to make sure that the work that we just did, the action we just took, has an impact on public discourse. There were tons of people lined up against the walls on their laptops, furiously writing stories and editing videos. I had booked a hotel, so I went to my room, took a shower and a nap, reviewed my own footage and edited my own videos, and geared up for the response on social. I had to moderate comments on my personal posts and check disinformation in real time. When you're dealing with something that's getting millions of views within a few hours, [moderating the reaction to the video] can be really, really important — and a lot of work for one person who had just been arrested.
Today I’m still grieving the overturning of Roe v. Wade. [Grieving] is important for me and the sustainability of my work. I've been doing this work for seven years — I did it before Donald Trump and I'll be doing it long after him. Supreme Court Justices have lifetime appointments. They are going to be there when I step up to run for president in 2036, they're going to be there making decisions about my children's lives. We're in it for the long haul.
We need people to continue to show up and take the lead of organizers who have long been without access — like the women and folks in Texas. If you're new to this, I'm glad you're here. We need you and we need your talents. We need your time and we need your treasure. We need donations, especially to abortion funds. I urge everyone to get educated on abortion pills, and look to them as the future and become a resource for your own community. If you have extra funds I urge you to donate to abortion funds, and look into getting involved in your local community. Vote, volunteer for candidates that prioritize comprehensive sex education, attend your local school board meetings, and keep fighting the fight.
I would get arrested again and again and again until something changes — although none of us should have to.

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