Countering the anti-choice voices

April 7, 2011

ON MARCH 31, I participated in a counterprotest against an anti-abortion march in my neighborhood of Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

Organizing the counterprotest began only two days earlier, when I saw a "March for Life" flyer while taking my dog out in the morning. The march was organized by a local Catholic church and scheduled to go straight past my apartment.

I'd seen anti-abortion propaganda in my neighborhood before--a billboard and some random flyers--but this was something else. I immediately went to work, taking a cell phone picture of the flyer and sending it to other members of the International Socialist Organization (ISO) in New York City. These members then forwarded on the information about the march to the people they knew at pro-abortion and reproductive rights groups across the city.

The night of the protest, we hosted some comrades in our apartment and made signs. We then went to the site of the end of the rally, which happened to be just around the corner. There, despite the cold and rain, the six of us waited for about an hour for the anti-abortion marchers.

What our counter-demonstration lacked in size we made up with amplitude. Being veterans of clinic defense protests, we came armed with chants like, "Pro-life? That's a lie, you don't care if women die," "Abortion is health care, health care is a right," "Keep your rosaries off my/their ovaries," and "Not the church, not the state--women must decide their fate!"

A resident of the neighborhood who was passing our protest joined us, pausing on her way home from work. She thanked us and expressed dismay that there wasn't an activist community in our neighborhood. We noticed a woman who, walking past our protest, raised her fist in the air and kept it there until she was out of sight. We heard expressions of surprise, too--one woman walking her baby in a stroller stopped and said, "Is there really an anti-abortion rally over there?" She thought the neighborhood was more progressive than that, and was angry when we informed her about the march.

And I couldn't help but think, "Yes, even in this neighborhood." In neighborhoods all across the United States, in fact, the anti-abortion forces are feeling confident. After more than two decades of terrorism and well-financed political and propaganda machines, there are 351 anti-abortion bills in front of legislatures this year. To me, this is an attempt at a final coup de grâce on abortion rights in the United States.

In the last week, highlighted these issues and others that face the women's and reproductive rights movements, in two excellent articles, "The anti-abortion onslaught" and "Misogyny as 'entertainment'."

Was our protest smaller than theirs? Yes, there were six of us, 30 of them. But I don't think that makes our protest less significant.

We were as loud as 50 people and were noticed first. Instead of the local newspaper reporting on a "pro-life" march through our neighborhood, they will be reporting on a march that was opposed by the residents. Instead of being isolated and walking past their fear- and hate-filled signs alone, passersby heard our chants ringing through the streets. Instead of their organizers congratulating each other after parading their bigotry through our streets, they are forced to consider the opposition they faced.

It is vitally important to oppose anti-abortion forces wherever they show their faces--as loudly and as proudly as possible. If no one shows up to oppose their march, the message sent is that anti-abortion and anti-women views are unopposed. Ultimately, however, street protests are important in the battle of ideas--but if our goal is to win back the gains taken from us, we're going to need to build more than just street protests.
Alexander Super, New York City

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