We Try It: Protesting in Support Of Women’s Rights

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.

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CherriSpryte

CherriSpryte wants you to know that The Great Pumpkin loves you.

32 thoughts on “We Try It: Protesting in Support Of Women’s Rights”

  1. This was a fantastic article.  Thank you for sharing.

    I find it absurd–as I am sure you did–that the antichoicers–who almost always believe that they are acting on behalf of Christ–are the least Christ-like, while you and your group of counterprotestors did nothing to insult or demonize them.  I think people’s behavior says a lot–don’t you?

  2. I’ve never been to a protest, but I do work as a clinic escort (talk to your local women’s hospital or Planned Parenthood if you want to, too!)  It’s not changing laws or opening minds, it’s just being there for one woman at a time. I’ve heard so many stories that broke my heart, and I’ve been so moved by these women facing down a crowd of screaming, hateful protesters with their heads up.  Our local bullshit laws make it as complicated and time-consuming as possible to obtain an abortion, I feel like the least I can do is be a friendly face for the clinic patients and a glaring brick shithouse to the people who are trying to stand in their way.

    1. 1) It’s fantastic and admirable that you’re a clinic escort,

      It’s something I’ve looking into doing, but

      2) I really don’t think I have the self-control to avoid getting legitimately violent with the anti-women anti-choicers who try to physically block people from getting an abortion.

      How do you deal with the urge to, you know, punch people in the face?

      NOTE TO THE INTERNET AT LARGE AND FUTURE EMPLOYERS OF MINE: i AM NOT ADVOCATING VIOLENCE. AT ALL. I am just saying I don’t engage in this activity because I don’t believe I would be able to resist from violence.

      1. It’s pretty tempting to get all CHANGESOCK PUNCHFACE BLOODFEUD, but I figure I’m not there to fight off the protesters, I’m just there to give the women trying to exercise their rights something else to concentrate on. I do glare a lot. I release the stress by coming home and starting fights on the internet.

  3. Yay! Go CherriSpryte! I adore protests, and have been doing them since I was 11 years old, and they never lose their appeal for me. I love the idea of counter protests as well. I never mind the people shouting my group down- I like to think of it as inspiration and a reminder of why I’m there.

  4. I am an older Persephoner (over 45, gulp) I like hanging out with intelligent women, regardless of age. I think that each feminist has that moment when we hit the road and become an activist. If you flip through the history of feminism, its called a consciousness raising moment,,  the personal becomes the political. Abortion rights got me off the couch because screaming at the TV wasn’t enough for me. The internet wasn’t an activist tool yet, so email campaigns didn’t land in my inbox. I became a proud card carrying member of NOW and I have been to many marches, defended clinics, and spoken out. I work on issues that are important to feminists at home, in the work place, and in the world. I suppose what saddens me most is that despite herstory, (the first, second and current wave of feminism) this battle for safe accessible healthcare is still ongoing. If you are passionate about women’s rights, follow your passion and get involved.

  5. I’ve never been to a protest, but a lot of that has to do with being part of small towns for a while where people just didn’t protest. It was cost-prohibitive for me to drive to the closest one. Now that I am in a larger city (a state capital, at that!), I am sure there will be more opportunities for me to go to protests.

  6. I went to a pro-choice counterprotest towards anti-choicers at Parliament Hill in May. I wrote a post about it here. There were thousands of anti-choicers, and they recruited teenagers as well, except many teens didn’t want to be there and were forced into going by their teachers. Old men threw salt at us and threatened a woman who came with her toddler daughter (who she CHOSE to have). It was sickening to learn that there are still people in Canada who want to take away my bodily autonomy. I’m glad you stood up for choice!

  7. As someone who had an abortion at 14, I would like to personally thank you for your actions. I live in the South, surrounded by those who not only disagree with me but also feel entitled to and are encouraged to loudly voice their opposition to abortion access. Just take a look at the actions of the TN General Assembly for fuck’s sake. I went to two Walks for Choice last year while Congress was trying to defund Planned Parenthood and was an organizer of the second one. It feels wonderful to surround myself with allies on this issue and know that there are so many women who will work tirelessly to preserve this choice for our daughters.

    Have you ever heard of the story The Prodigal Guest by Zona Gale? Reading it gives me chills thinking about what it must have been like for women protesting for the right to vote, and I think that she accurately portrays the emotion one can derive from engaging in protests. It’s short. I highly recommend it.

    I’d also like to touch on bringing children to protests. I brought by twins (now 3 1/2) to the Walk for Choice that I helped to organize and our local SlutWalk last year. I embrace parenting as an explicitly political act, and as such, I take every opportunity to teach my children about my values. Because they differ so much from the community in which I’m raising them, I find it to be imperative that I counter the norm as much as possible. It’s not just about the political issue being advocated; it’s also about teaching them to be active in a democracy. I’ll post a link to my article on this from SlutWalk if anyone is interested.

  8. I had to look up the “human mic” thing, and it actually made me teary. I love that image, of someone telling their story and everyone affirming them in that by repeating their words. So powerful!
    Earlier this year there was the “40 Days For Life” or something like that protest outside the hospital I would drive by on my way to work. for a month I saw them sitting out there and kept thinking “I really want to go chat to them/ask some questions/make a sign too/something” but I was too nervous. I’ve always been pro-choice but it’s only in the last year that I’ve become vocal about it. but you’ve inspired me! the March For Life is happening in May in Ottawa on Parliament Hill and I’m going to go to the counter-protest events. it’s time.

  9. Convenient forgetfulness: Even Mary, the Mother of Christ, voiced her assent. That’s what the annunciation is all about. If the gospel writers felt it paramount, in their extreme brevity of descriptive passages, to tell the story of a young woman’s doubt and ultimate decision to bear a child, her agreement with this plan of God’s, if they felt it powerful enough to include the voice of an adolescent girl and her perspective in this use of her body as a vessel for the incarnation of God, how dare anyone who cites that religion as the source of their morality try to rob other women of their agency and their say in the function of their body as carriers (or not!) of, arguably, less-important babies. Saying the Hail Mary as though it is some kind of argument against abortion is ludicrous. Citing one of the earliest accounts of a woman’s voice MATTERING in her pregnancy is one more subtle vote for women’s rights that Conservatives love to ignore in the Bible.

    I was one of those kids, with the sign. I was 8 years old and my ultra-conservative, religious parents, had my brother and I, elementary students both, out at our county courthouse to protest abortion. I’m so disappointed that they did that with us, looking back. Of course I had no idea what was going on. I’m pretty sure someone explained to me that we were going to protest “them” “killing babies.” Having grown up in that, having come to a better understanding of the issues at hand as an adult, I feel a lot of sadness and compassion for those kids. They don’t know that they don’t know. Their parents do, though. Their adult mentors know. Those people make me angry.

    1. You know, I had something in there about “While my views on religion are nebulous and unconventional, I can’t believe for a second that Mary is/was anti-choice” but I didn’t want to start a religious shitstorm. So I’m thrilled you brought this up, and with biblical references to back it up to boot!

      One of the girls who spoke in our circle has a similar story – her parents made her go to protests when she was little. And yeah, I think it reflects incredibly poorly on the adults who bring children to these things.

      1. Who the hell knows if Mary would have been anti-choice; but her STORY and the way it’s presented by the biblical authors is NOT anti-choice. That’s the pivotal thing. If biblical scripture is so fucking all-encompassing and relevant to today’s world and the issues we face, then stop fucking picking and choosing which passages you will use to support this (obscure shit about “you knew me in my mother’s womb” is somehow anti-choice, but every relevant story about a woman growing a baby in her body gets glossed over?)

        There are certain benefits to having an extremely religious education.

        1. Thanks so much for bringing up Mary’s ASSENT, her CHOICE–which I have tried to do with my ultra-crazy-religious brothers and parents.  Also raised super-Catholic, and also was roped into anti-choice prayer circles as a kid.  Thankfully (although with difficult consequences) I found it all suspect by the time I was a teenager and rebelled accordingly.  Still can’t really talk with my brothers who see everything as black-and-white, according to their moral code. Have a feeling that some of their daughters will be staying with Auntie Claire when they become teenagers and discover their bodies and their own autonomies…

          But, I always wonder how many girls didn’t make it into the bible, didn’t get written into, let’s admit it, a very male dominated history, because they chose not to bear the son of god.  I mean, really. Seriously, folks. I often picture the dialogue between Gabriel and god in my head: “Well, Almighty Father, that’s another one who says she can’t do it.  Who else do you have in mind?”  “GABRIEL, TRY ETHEL OVER THERE.”  “She won’t do it either, says she’ll be stoned as an unwed mother.”  And so on….

          1. I always wonder how many girls didn’t make it into the bible, didn’t get written into, let’s admit it, a very male dominated history, because they chose not to bear the son of god

            Ha! That reminds me of a cartoon (?maybe) that goes something like:

            Human: Why did you send us your only son?

            God: Well, I already sent my daughters, and nobody listened.

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