The University of Missouri YDSA faces difficult organizing circumstances in a Republican-controlled state. They were still able to improve material conditions for students on campus by drastically reducing the cost of Plan B.
This article originally appeared in the Summer 2023 Print Issue, which can be found here.
In Missouri, the only YDSA chapter in the state is at the University of Missouri, better known as Mizzou. We are in a state dominated by Republicans and the university system leadership that is beholden to them. It’s an uphill battle, sometimes a state of misery. Despite these systemic obstacles, we’ve built YDSA’s reputation on campus and have made Mizzou a better place for it.
Missouri was the first state to criminalize abortion after the Supreme Court handed down the Dobbs decision in June of 2022. The state also came dangerously close to passing multiple anti-LGBTQ bills in the previous legislative session. Our chapter’s initial plan for the year focused on a campaign to raise the minimum wage for campus dining workers. The passage of Resolution 14 at YDSA’s 2022 Summer Convention, which called for a national day of action for bodily autonomy, was very important to our chapter so we wanted to take our day of action seriously and have real demands of our university attached.
We reached out to organizations on campus who might want to help put a protest together for a day of action and we drafted a list of demands for Mizzou’s administration. The group that came together became known as the Coalition for Bodily Autonomy (CBA). CBA’s main demand was for fully subsidized emergency contraceptives through the student health services.
As part of CBA, we waged a months-long series of escalatory actions to keep our membership and allies invested while turning up the heat for those in power at Mizzou. We started with a huge rally geared towards the student body, directing students’ frustrations with the current moment towards the fact that we can do something to help, at least on our own campus.
That rally was a success, drawing hundreds of students who marched, chanted, and shared their experiences about what bodily autonomy means to them. It connected the fight for reproductive and trans rights in peoples’ minds. We organized protest marshalls to keep logistics running smoothly and take attention away from counter-protesters.
We continued on after the university did not respond to our demands within the thirty days we gave by using a town hall as a platform to highlight university leadership’s disregard for the student body’s needs and holding a vigil to remind them of how many lives were at stake in this fight.
The culminating event of our campaign was disrupting the university’s Board of Curators meeting in February. We saw this as a huge pressure point: an event with press and faculty attention that was mainly focused on the board patting themselves on the back. A state representative released a letter in support of our protest and we occupied most of the event’s seating, while also holding a loud protest outside demanding free Plan B for students. Even with it being a dreary morning, our distracting presence led them to move their meeting to closed session hours earlier than planned.
This led to a quiet capitulation. While it was framed as a mere market change, generic emergency contraceptives were now offered at only $9, a massive price cut from the original price of over $40. We had won! However, no one from the university wanted to admit that the price reduction was in reaction to the pressure built by YDSA and CBA . As such, the press did not cover our victory as a victory. Students were still able to learn about the significantly cheaper Plan B and they were able to see the power of collective action leading to material gain.
After our victory, we were approached by a Missouri-based, non-profit called Right By You. They wanted to start a pilot program with us to use a text line to help in the distribution of free kits containing two doses of emergency contraceptives. We have helped to set up and maintain several kit pickup sites, making this crucial medication more accessible for both Mizzou students and other residents of Columbia, Missouri.
Our work with CBA was also connected with our YDSA chapter’s work of attending multiple trans rights rallies, showing up to testify against multiple anti-LGBTQ bills in the state legislature, and agitating around raising the campus minimum wage. Over the past three semesters, we gathered 2,400 petitions in favor of raising the minimum wage for campus dining workers to $15/hr. Once workers felt ready towards the end of the year, Mizzou YDSA played a supporting role in a walk on the boss to present these signatures and demand a raise. This represented a strong show of worker power on campus.
We learned a lot of lessons that we will incorporate into our future campaigns, whether that be labor organizing, protecting bodily autonomy or trans rights, or whatever else we find urgent in our community. Beyond the material gains we have secured on campus, we can be proud to be giving socialists in Missouri a good name.