On Monday, January 23rd, between 15,000 and 20,000 people descended upon my fair city of Washington, DC. They weren’t here to see the museums and monuments, though I wouldn’t be surprised if a fair few of them turned this trip into a mini-vacation.
They were here to protest the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. I knew that this was happening–it does every year, after all–and I’ve worked in downtown DC for five years now.
But this year, something inside me snapped.
Ignoring my friends’ advice to pack my lunch and not leave the building (so as to avoid the protestors), I walked a few blocks on my lunch break over to Chinatown to get some food.
Outside of the National Portrait Gallery, of all places, there was a collection of protestors. Standing on the steps of the art museum, most of them were young teenagers who looked virtually indistinguishable from the hoards of junior high students who come here on school trips. Except they were all carrying signs, many of which said “Defend Life” and a few of which said “Defund Planned Parenthood,” with a picture of a near-term embryo on the back. As I waited in front of a food truck parked a few yards away, they started chanting.
“We love babies, yes we do! We love babies, how about you?”
I live in my own little corner of the internet, filled with liberals, progressives, feminists, and social justice activists. I know, obviously, that there are millions of people who disagree with my friends and me, who think we’re babykillers going straight to hell. I just wasn’t expecting to see a few hundred of them standing in front of an art gallery using a profoundly idiotic statement to make their point. I had just wanted to get some lunch.
I had to walk by this group to get back to my office, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel violently angry and glared at every single person I saw, silently begging for one of them to talk to me so I could give them a piece of my mind. No one did.
When I got back to my desk, I was still fuming. It blew my mind that so many people were so devoted to denying people bodily autonomy–a constitutionally-protected right. If we want to take the “Defund Planned Parenthood” signs into the bargain, they are devoted to denying people access to preventative medical care, birth control, and a host of other life-saving things, only one of which is abortion. Thinking of all of these people, who took time off from work, travelled to my city, spent money on a hotel room and whatever else, just to tell me that my body should not be my own, made me feel helpless. Thinking of all the children and young teenagers who were there, the majority of whom were simply too young to form an opinion on this topic in a fully informed, mature manner, made me angry.
Note: I’m not going to justify here why abortion needs to be not only legal, but easily accessible and affordable, and that making abortion illegal will only kill women, not prevent abortion. There are literally thousands of other websites that can do that for you, if you are in doubt.
So I wanted to counter-protest. There had to be something, right? Google led me to a Facebook page for a “Roe v. Wade Commemorative Supreme Court Vigil” hosted by NOW, the National Organization for Women, which was taking place in a few hours on the sidewalk in front of the Supreme Court. Done. In. I roped in a like-minded friend, gave my very religious boss a vague reason as to why I had to leave early, and headed over.
When we got there, we were handed NOW poster rounds and battery operated candles (no actual candles allowed!) and we formed a circle on the sidewalk. There were, I’d estimate, between 80 and 100 of us.
There were counter-protestors, less than a dozen of them, the majority of whom seemed to be a family, complete with several children. They had two things we did not. The first one, a giant tapestry of the Virgin Mary, with a sticker of a fetus stuck somewhere near her abdomen, was not a problem. The megaphone was. The megaphone was in the hands of a woman who repeated the Hail Mary prayer, over and over again. The woman who organized our vigil stepped into the middle of the circle, started to speak, and we could barely hear her. So when she invited people to come forward and share their stories, we started doing the human mic technique made popular by the Occupy protest. For about 40 minutes, people stepped up and told their stories–they’d had abortions, people they loved had had abortions, they didn’t want to see this right taken away. The woman with the megaphone ratcheted up her game.
“Holocaust!” she screamed. “Abortion is a holocaust!”
We chanted louder, repeating the stories we were hearing–I had an abortion. Abortion saved my life. Abortion on demand and without apology. We drowned her out.
It was moving. It felt powerful. Surrounded by ignorance and hate, as I had been during the day, I needed to yell at the top of my lungs for an hour. I needed to be one more body, helping to create this circle, and if you compared our vigil with that day’s “protest,” I wanted to stand up for the group outnumbered 200 to 1.
So if you’re ever on the fence about going to a protest for a cause you feel strongly about, go. I realize that’s probably harder for people who live in cities other than mine, but if you’re absolutely overwhelmed by ignorance and misogyny, stand up for the opposition if you can.