How to Help in States Where Abortion Is Illegal (with Camille Bennett)

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Gloria takes a look at what it’s like on the ground in a state with some of the country’s most restrictive anti-abortion laws alongside Project Say Something founder Camille Bennett, whose organization confronts anti-Black racism in Alabama. They discuss how Camille is still able to help women in her state, what else conservative politicians want to enact to make life difficult for women in Alabama, and what made her hire security to accompany her at all Project Say Something events. Plus, Camille gives Gloria an update on a huge child care win she achieved in Alabama after her first appearance on the show.

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Gloria Riviera, Camille Bennett

Gloria Riviera  00:10

Hello guys, guess what? I don’t feel bereft and helpless. Normally, this would not be breaking news. But hey, these days, I’ll take it. How are you guys? Is anyone taking any time off? I should put that in quotes time off, because rarely do any of us ever take time off. Time off is when I don’t check my email. There are no small humans in my life for a 5 mile radius. And I live in a pro-choice utopia of well-run social safety nets with access to affordable, high quality childcare. And well the list goes on. This is No One is Coming To Save Us, a Lemonada Media original presented by and created with neighborhood villages. I’m your host Gloria Riviera. Okay, so why don’t I feel bereft and helpless? Because today’s guest is Camille Bennett, the founder and executive director of project say something an organization confronting anti-black racism in her home state of Alabama. Camille has been very deep in the child care crisis for many years. She is the owner of three childcare centers in Florence, Alabama. She is an activist. She is also a minister at living spirit church, and she basically ministered me through this episode, so I can attest she is good. You may remember her name because we spoke to her on this show in the before times, let’s just call them those. When ha, this podcast was focused solely on the childcare crisis. Now we have a veritable buffet of interrelated crises to choose from. So yes, Camille is from Alabama, a State ranked near the bottom of the pile when it comes to supporting mothers and children. Alabama is also a state in which a trigger law went into effect immediately when Roe v. Wade was overturned. You’ll hear Camille talk about aiding and abetting in the context of nonprofit organizations there. So say you are in Alabama and you become pregnant, you choose to seek an abortion and a nonprofit would like to fund your travel to another state to get that abortion. Sounds good, right? Well, guess what? That action is now a felony? Yeah, I told you it was bad. When you listen, you will hear in her voice, anger and upset and action. That’s enough from me. Here’s the unstoppable Camille Bennett. I am so happy to welcome Camille Bennett back to no one is coming to save us, Camille, it is so good to have you with us.

Camille Bennett  02:43

I’m glad to be back. Thank you for having me again.

Gloria Riviera  02:46

Of course, we’re delighted to have you. First I want to get caught up with how you’re doing because we spoke to you in April. And I have to say you were such a valuable guests because you taught me so much. And I’m going to just start with some good news here, which happened soon after we spoke to you, you won something for childcare, tell us about what it means to be paid based on enrollment, not attendance.

Camille Bennett  03:13

First of all, kudos to you for remembering, most people don’t find it to be a very interesting topic. But it feels amazing, not just for our centers. But to know and understand that that’s happening across our state. We are over the moon excited for providers. And that happened through our lobbying efforts. And we had to really just get out there to the Alabama State House and talk to legislators and help them understand how receiving our basic pay can impact the entire industry and can also impact businesses. So we found ourselves talking to legislators that we wouldn’t normally talk to get it done. But they were interested, they did care about the issue. And they did reach out to the Department of Human Resources. And within about a week we saw the change which was mind blowing. Because we never imagined that our efforts could make such a big wave.

Gloria Riviera  04:22

So let’s go now to goodness, I mean, we have so much to talk to you about we want to talk about not only childcare, but all the other work that you’ve been doing black maternal health, reproductive justice, and I still feel like I have to I mean, I’ll feel like this for a long time. The elephant in the room right? Where were you when you got the news that Roe vs. Wade was overturned? Because that shifted so much ground on all the other issues you work on.

Camille Bennett  04:53

I was, I believe I was at home. One of my best friends reached out, because she cares about the work as well. And we weren’t expecting it to happen. We have been anticipating it for the past, I know six months. And it happened. And I kind of was numb for a while. And then I spoke with my mother. And that’s when the sadness and panic crept in. Because my mom can remember when back alley abortions were the only option for women. And she was deeply upset, and she was grieving. And she was a mess and very scared. And I think having that intergenerational lens is really important, because my mom is a woman who remembers walking to the back of the bus, she remembers gaining these rights and to have them take it away. That’s when it hit home for me like this is real. And then of course, like I went through all the stages of grief. And then then I went through like the afraid phase where I was like, okay, what else are they going to do to us? And then, probably within 24 hours, I created a listening circle for our community so that women could come together and just be, because we just needed a space to cry, to express how we felt and to feel safe.

Gloria Riviera  06:41

Yeah, I mean, that’s part of the ethos of this show that all parents, all caregivers, we need to create a space, what did you see happening in that space?

Camille Bennett  06:53

Lots of tears. Women mostly are afraid for their daughters. And we feel we failed our girls. And boys, too, I have sons. So there was lots of conversation about what we’re going to tell our children, because they’re going to have to navigate the world in a completely different way. And then also, what came of that was an action items. So we’re starting a program called our bodies, our business. And what it is, it’s just dinner for single moms, single black moms in our community. And what we’ll do there is offer free dinner, offer free childcare as well. And then also hopefully have emergency contraceptives available to moms, talk about reproductive health, talk about birth control, and hopefully incorporate self-care in there as well. So that’s something that we can do on a consistent basis. Other than that, our hands are pretty tight right now.

Gloria Riviera  08:04

Well, let’s talk about that. Because as I listened to that sounds like a significant list of to do items, especially considering you’re doing them from Alabama, because once roe fell, immediately a statewide abortion ban went into effect, which makes performing an abortion a felony. I mean, I keep saying these sentences, and they keep you’re just breaking my heart over and over and over again. What is your experience been on the political side, knowing that abortion is now a felony in the state of Alabama? What have you seen? What does that look like?

Camille Bennett  08:39

So session is over. So I haven’t been to the state capitol to hear much of the buzz that’s happening. But I know enough about Alabama’s political climate to understand that this was a conservative dream like this is what Alabama has been fighting for, for a very long time, the majority when you think about the political climate. So when you think about what’s happened to our nation with our former president, who will not be named, right. So much of what gave fuel to his fire was Alabama was Alabama politicians. When you think about the insurrection, Alabama played a huge part in that. So for natives here who disagree with the Roe v Wade decision, we feel like we’re screaming into a void of nothingness, because the powers that be wanted this so badly, does that make sense? It

Gloria Riviera  09:46

does make sense and you make a really good point because you say, in Alabama, it was the majority like this is the conservative dream that has now been realized. This is the conservative dream that has now been realized in the state of our Alabama, but in the rest of the country, I think one of the issues we need to figure out is that many people feel like this is the minority, quote, unquote, winning, right that like most and I know the data shows most Americans support body autonomy choice. But there’s this sense in the rest of the country that there’s, there’s a little bit of shock, like, how did this happen? And speaking to people like you? I mean, my sense is that you’re, you’re nodding your head going, I can tell you how it happened.

Camille Bennett  10:33

Exactly, we can tell you exactly how it happened. And it’s such a polarizing political issue that conservatives use to gain moral ground, right? We’re morally superior because we love unborn children, and no one thinks about the fact that they also don’t want to take care of the children that are born. So I mean, at the end of the day, when you ask about it politically, yes, the majority of our state politically agrees with this decision. But that’s on the political side. These are politicians, when you talk about the people, well, I haven’t done a survey, but I’m sure that there are many people in Alabama that are very upset. And I’m sure that it’s not the majority that feels one way or the other. We have no idea. Is it a group of evangelical Christians that care is you know what I mean, we have no idea of what the people of Alabama actually feel in this moment. It’s difficult to quantify.

Gloria Riviera  11:41

Right, right. So well, let’s talk about Alabama, because you have been deep in that space for so long. According to The New York Times, there was an analysis of states showing that places like Alabama, with abortion bans are also the least supportive for mothers and children. And that just, I don’t I don’t know how to feel about that. It makes me crazy. So talk us through what these women, people who are now going to be in many cases forced to give birth. What does their landscape look like?

Camille Bennett  12:17

Another statistic before I get started answering that question it last I checked, they’re saying that the majority 62% of the women receiving abortions in Alabama are black women. So you know, the maternal death rate is what it is, and you as an organizer, as an organization, you understand, that is quite an ask to expect us to fix that. But one thing that we know could help that is to have Black doulas in the state of Alabama, particularly in the black belt. Maternal death happens because people don’t have access to proper care, right. And women don’t feel that they have choices or don’t understand how to care for themselves when they’re pregnant. So one of the things that projects say something did years ago, was one of our childcare teachers was interested in becoming a doula. And she became a doula. And we paid for those services. And we pay for the services of women who are pregnant. So if they need a doula, we pay her and she takes care of the mother. And that is one solution. But we’d like to see that expand and what that takes is funding.

Gloria Riviera  13:52

Tell me what the landscape looks like. I think the doula program, the funding, what is the rest of the landscape look like for families for mothers who are now going to bring these children into the world?

Camille Bennett  14:04

Oh, my goodness. Well, it doesn’t look good. Or yeah, I mean, for example, one of the bills that did not pass last session and I’m praying, it doesn’t come back, but it very well may is the Republicans wanted to create conditions for SNAP, that’s food stamps. So they created a bill that said mothers will have to find the father of their child and put them on child support before they can receive food stamps, which is a nightmare for black mothers specifically, especially when you look at Alabama prisons right there disproportionately Black men. It could be a safety issue. It could be that baby’s father is struggling as is and mother does not want to put that burden in there working it out between the two of them. There’s so many reasons why a black mother would not want to put their child on child support. But again, this is this is to create stipulations around paying food stamp benefits, it didn’t pass. But the fact that the bill was in session last time, what we’re seeing is a lot of times these bad bills come back and back and back until they pass, if that makes sense.

Gloria Riviera  15:27

I mean, nothing about it makes. I mean, that makes sense. But nothing about the actual bill makes sense. So you’re saying like a mother brings a child into the world that mother needs help with food with, with food security, that there are food stamps out there. But now let’s put a big roadblock in your way of getting those food stamps. That’s what it sounds like to me.

Camille Bennett  15:49

Yes, that’s exactly what it is. Another concern is childcare in general. I know in my community; we have more children that are on subsidy than we have childcare centers. So I have mothers calling every single week with infants who cannot find care, they are literally waiting six months to a year just to find a center that will take their child, and not to mention is that quality care can centers afford to be quality care centers. So I think in two years we’re going to be in a world of hurt is going to be difficult. And it could be sooner than that. But I think that in a year or two, we’ll be able to feel the effects of what’s happened with Roe v. Wade, not to mention that there are these punitive portions of the decision, right? So in Alabama, if you ate in a bed, or mother, so if a mother comes to project, say something and says hey, I don’t want to have this baby and the project, say something decides to help mom with the costs of traveling across the country, you are liable. And you are you know, it’s a crime. It’s a felony. And that’s for anyone so in this is the law so strange something what if the child’s you know, 16, 17, 18, and the parent pays, did they ate in a bed but it’s not a crime for the mother herself to take her own money and travel to another state and have an abortion is only a crime for the people who helped the mother. And I think that portion of the law was created so that organizations like mine, and don’t help mothers,

Gloria Riviera  17:45

I find when you tell me what you are doing the doula program, you know, these actionable steps, making you feel a little bit better? How do you get your head around and your heart around? I guess it’s two questions, an actionable response to this reality that […] an abortion is now a felony in the state of Alabama? I know that’s a hard question.

Camille Bennett  18:14

It is a hard question. What I’ve made peace with. And this is deeply personal, is I can do what I can. One big part of what I do is I care for children. And I’ve been doing it for years. And I gotta keep caring for children. So for a while you said your head in your heart, my heart wants to be like, You know what, Rage Against the Machine, it doesn’t matter. You know, we’re gonna do it no matter what we’re gonna help women. But the truth of the matter is, it’s a felony. And so you accept the things you cannot change, and you find the courage to change the things you can change. And you just figure out ways to help women that you do which you do your best. And that’s doula care. That’s emergency contraception, that is reproductive health education, and that is self-care education as well. And that’s your best for now.

Gloria Riviera  19:27

Where did you learn that in that lesson?

Camille Bennett  19:31

Being an activist in Alabama, there’s so much that I’ve wanted to change and you feel like you’re constantly playing defense. So you get creative, you have to and then the question becomes, well, are you just going to accept it? Are you going to stop or are you going to figure out what you can do? And the answer is always the latter.

Gloria Riviera  19:54

Are there moments when you are in that space of action? You that you feel filled that you feel motivated. I mean, I know this big win on enrollment, not attendance is huge. But what do you anticipate happening that fills you up and fuels your fight?

Camille Bennett  20:15

I anticipate more advocacy around child care policy. We’ve seen some success. We think that people are listening. We think that that’s an area where we can make some headway. We look forward to lobbying during the next session and doing everything we can to strike down anti-black bills. Gosh, we find fulfilment in our everyday work with women and children. There’s so much to look forward to. And there are winds, but they’re incremental. It doesn’t happen all at once. And we didn’t get here overnight. Honestly, as a country. I think that one of our biggest missions right now organizers in Alabama activist and Alabama nonprofits in Alabama, is helping the rest of the nation understand that overlooking the deep south is really ineffective, because what happens to us impacts the entire nation. I spoke of the insurrection before I’ll say it again, Alabama played a big role in that. And I think that it’s important that philanthropists, and people who are donating donate to southern nonprofits.

Gloria Riviera  21:42

I get it. Okay. So when you say and you said it earlier, Alabama played a big role in the insurrection all of these issues we’re talking about. They’re all interrelated. But what do you mean specifically for our listeners? What kind of role What did that look like? Is that a numbers thing? In my head? I’m thinking a lot of the people at the capitol that day were from Alabama, but how do you see it?

Camille Bennett  22:05

I have a story. It’s an awful story. Our Secretary of State two months before the insurrection made a tweet and it said it’s a war on white people. And the Patriots need to start fighting back project say something organized about 20 to 30 Black organizations, and we wrote a response letter to that tweet. John Merrill is his name. He ended up in Newsweek, and he came after project say something specifically, he named me. And it was it was awful. Our Attorney General Steve Marshall created a video that was targeting projects say something like so much happened during that time. And the insurrection from what we understand the Attorney General sent a bus load of people to the Capitol, we played a role. Our politicians played a role in the insurrection.

Gloria Riviera  23:11

The fact that someone of that level in the government of Alabama, the state government, is naming you naming your organization and coming after you really that’s how I’m hearing it.

Camille Bennett  23:23

He held a rally in Florence, Alabama, like a real rally. And it was it was so odd because it was such it were such a small community. Like you would think if he was going to do a rally he would go to Birmingham are or even Huntsville, which is one of the which is the largest city in Alabama. And it’s just an hour away. But he came to Florence. And all of that was because we were screaming, saying, you know, this is not normal Secretaries of State should not be saying there’s a war on White people. And calling for patriots to fight back, this means something and it did.

Gloria Riviera  24:00

And what happened in your own home. I mean, what happens when you come home that day after that tweet went out? I know your husband is politically aware and active and very much part of your work. Your sons, what are the conversations that take place when something is horrific as that happens?

Camille Bennett  24:20

It was an awful time for our family. And our biggest conversation, our biggest tech takeaway was that a higher security Oh my god. So now whenever projects say something has a public event, security’s always there, even if I’m asked to speak at a rally, that’s not a project, say something event, but I know it’s large. I always have security with me. It was a very difficult time for my family. I have sons, two sons and a husband. And you know, he tries not to lean too heavily into hyper masculine tropes, but he cares about his wife. He cares about me, and my sons care about me and it was a very scary time. Not to mention during that time, we were receiving a lot of death threats because of our protests. So it was surreal, but we survived.

Gloria Riviera  25:35

I’m so sorry. I just, like it chokes me up. Because, you know, it doesn’t have to be this way.

Camille Bennett  25:42

Yeah. One of the things that gives me peace and, and joy is the fact that, you know, I do this work, I’m not forced to do this work. There have been people who came before me who experienced so much worse. And yes, it comes with pain, but it also comes with joy. And there’s that dichotomy that exists within everything. And I have full acceptance of what is there was a time where I didn’t but I do now, that part of this work is hiring security, part of this work is being a target. And it is what it is.

Gloria Riviera  26:26

It makes me think when we first made this pivot to including talking to me about row I on a podcast that was created out of the child care crisis and what to do about it. We spoke to an author Lauren Rankin, who wrote bodies on the line at the frontlines of the fight to protect abortion in America. And she was an escorted abortion clinics. And we were talking about this idea that White cisgender women, which is how I identify have been coasting on Roe versus Wade that we have not been involved in. And I was really at a new sort of flailing it felt like internally about, you know, who to take cues from and Lauren is the one that said, I look at Black women in this country who have experienced far worse for far longer, and I’m taking my cues from them. And Camille, that’s what I’m saying to you right now. Like for you to be able to speak about joy, in where we are right now and finding the joy in that this is reality. You choose to do this work and hiring security as part of the job that that makes my heart rate come down a little bit because you’re doing the work. You’re doing what’s needed to keep going.

Camille Bennett  27:39

Yes, yes. And I’m not alone. There’s the yellow hammer fun of Alabama. That was one of the only abortion clinics and reproductive justice funds in the state. I serve on the board there. And they have a black woman who’s an IDI her name’s Denise. And you’re not alone. So you find joy there too, like there are other women doing this work. And there’s so much opportunity for us to pull together as women. Bell Hooks, one of her biggest visions were was for black women and white women to really band together and experience true feminism, true equity, and stop competing with the inner workings of racism and work through those things together and come together as one because we need each other to fight the legislation that’s coming. And I see that happen in small ways every day. But we’re still not where we need to be obviously.

Gloria Riviera  28:45

Yeah. When you talk to your sons, it what are your concerns? For them? I have two sons as well. I know. Sorry. I’m just hitting you with all the hard questions.

Camille Bennett  28:58

Yeah, I’m concerned that they don’t understand the gravity of what’s happening. My sons are 16 and 20. So they’re at the wanting to have sex age, I guess, for young people, and I talked to them about the fact that if, you know, there are no do overs or helping them understand what this legislation means. And if there is a mistake and someone does get pregnant, then that’s that, you may have to become a father. And if you’re not ready for that, which is fine, understandably so then you need to think about sex in a different

Camille Bennett  29:42

way. You need to think about sex in a different way.

Camille Bennett  29:43

You need to take responsibility. Don’t put it only on a woman you need to have your own toolkit of what you’re going to bring to the table when it comes to sex, right? Condoms break, what other apps shins, do you have sex should be a planned event, we talked about that. It shouldn’t be.  may be pipe dreaming as a mom, but I just want them to understand that things have changed.

Gloria Riviera  30:14

Right that things have changed. I mean, my son and I have conversations about consent. Like if you want to hold her hand, you say, I’d like to hold your hand. Is that okay? But when we’re talking about planned sex, I’m right there with you. Right, like I am in that sort of, you know, idealistic, but still serious mom mode. Although I know, like, planned sex was not always a part of my own sexual history. Right. How? I guess it’s always the question like, How realistic is what we say? And how are they hearing it? Right? How are they taking it in? And what do we say? I think a lot of mothers now are asking themselves, what do I say to my son? In addition to obviously, what do I say to my daughter, you know, what, how does that conversation go? So it’s, it’s, I appreciate hearing that you’re looking at straight in the eye. Condoms break. what’s your what’s your plan after the condom breaks? You know?

Camille Bennett  31:13

Yes. with my sons, I’m brutally honest. Right? So the Roe v. Wade ban came in and I was like, Okay, guys, listen up. And of course, they’re saying, they have to listen to me. And all my girlfriend’s on the phone crying, I’m acting a fool all over the house. Their life is bad. So already, already, they’re like, processing like something bad is happening. And Mom is about to go gangbusters on us, which I am. So I, you know, I sit them down. I’m like, listen, things are changing. You have got to take this very seriously. Now, thankfully, my husband, a big a big part of his philosophy is that hypermasculinity is forced on black boys way too early. And there’s a multitude of reasons why that happens. But he was very purposeful about making sure that our sons don’t feel that pressure, the pressure to have sex before they’re ready to have sex. If the you know, if they’re ready, they’re ready. But they shouldn’t feel pressured. So that conversation was already there. But thankfully, they seem to take it very seriously, Gloria and that, and I was surprised. But I mean, it wasn’t a lot of like, Mom Get away from me with this. They really listened. And I talked to them about not only condoms, but talking to young women about you know, what are they doing to stay safe? We talked about concept trawl that’s a spermicide that women can insert into their bodies as well. Just anything I could do to help them understand that they have a responsibility. I don’t want to hear that. It’s the girl’s responsibility. And consent is extremely important. Especially now.

Gloria Riviera  33:10

This is a good place to end our conversation. I know we’ll want to speak to you again. But that in and of itself, what is happening in your home is another action item. How do you speak about this your children. So thank you for that, in addition to thank you for, you know, God, all of your work, all of your strength, all of your determination for what you’re doing in a state that needs you, State of Alabama and the country, you know, the country needs you. So thank you, Camille, so much for speaking to us again, you’ve enlightened us, and we appreciate it.

Camille Bennett  33:44

Thank you for everything that you’re doing as well to keep women connected. Thank you.

Gloria Riviera  33:58

Wow, I love that. She said, there is so much that I have wanted to change, you feel like you are constantly playing defense. So you get creative. Are you just going to accept it? And Camille said the answer is always no. Well, thank goodness for that. Keep going Camille, I want to say thank you, your work is seen. It is appreciated. You are a living legacy of the change this country needs. And it’s always an honor to speak with you. All right, you guys. I’m so excited. As you know, my absolute favorite part of hosting this podcast is getting to hear from all of you. From the beginning of season two, you have been sharing your childcare moments with me, the good times the bad times, those heart wrenching parenting moments we all have, and I have loved hearing it all. But in light of the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v Wade, I felt like we needed to change it up. That’s why last week I asked you for something new. I asked you to tell me in light of the decision to overturn Roe v Wade and the high cost and inaccessibility of childcare in this country would you want? Or would you want someone you care about to become pregnant in the next year? Why or why not? And I am so happy to say people send us voice memos. That is always so exciting for me. Here is the first one I want to share with all of you.

Speaker 3  35:19

Hi, Gloria, mom of two here calling you from Idaho. My partner and I have been thinking about growing our family. Here. I My youngest just turned one. And we make wonderful, beautiful children. But it really just feels too hard and scary for me right now. I live in Idaho, and in a few weeks, there’s a few laws that are gonna go into effect that’s going to make Idaho probably one of the hardest states to get an abortion. And you know, you don’t ever get pregnant and plan to have an abortion. But God forbid something would happen and you’d need medical care might not be able to be done here pretty soon. So yeah, for me right now it feels really just too scary and too risky to even take that chance, and help that the daycare that our kids go to because we both work full time, they are still on reduced hours, even though we’re paying full price for daycare, so they can’t get enough teachers to be open full time. And that’s just been really hard to so. So yeah, things are hard and scary right now. So thank you for all you do. Appreciate you. And we’re in this together.

Gloria Riviera  36:34

Well, okay, first, I am recording this in Idaho right now, this episode will be released when I am still in Idaho, where we have always come to spend time because my mom’s family is from here. So this hits hard, because we all have a disconnect at times. But knowing she is from this state, I want to find this mama and put my arms around her and tell her I appreciate you too. This decision is really changing the way people are building their families. Simply put, people don’t feel safe having children in this country anymore. And that is a real shame. This is no way to live. I want to hear more from all of you. More on how you feel that in light of this decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, and the high cost and inaccessibility of child care in this country would you want or would you want someone you care about to become pregnant in the next year? Why or why not? Record a quick voice memo and send it to me at I can’t wait to hear what you send in. Okay, that’s it for me. I’m thinking of all of you and I’m glad we are in this together.

Gloria Riviera  37:53

NO ONE IS COMING TO SAVE US is a Lemonada Media original presented by and created with Neighborhood Villages. The show is produced by Kryssy Pease and Alex McOwen. Veronica Rodriguez is our engineer. Music is by Hannis Brown. Our executive producers are Stephanie Wittels Wachs, Jessica Cordova Kramer, and me Gloria Riviera. If you like the show, and you believe what we’re doing is important. Please help others find us by leaving us a rating and writing us a review. Do you have your own experiences and frustrations with the childcare system? Do you have ideas for what we could do to make it better? Join the No One Is Coming To Save Us Facebook group where we can continue the conversation together. You can also follow us and other Lemonada podcasts at @LemonadaMedia across all social platforms. Thank you so much for listening. We will be back next week. Until then hang in there. You can do it.

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