I needed to fight for reproductive justice

September 28, 2018

On September 23, Seattle Clinic Defense hosted a panel titled “Clinic Defense Works: How to Build an Abortion Rights Movement,” featuring speakers from the Seattle organization, as well as Jane’s Sidewalk Supporters for Choice, which defends Planned Parenthood in Everett, and Tacoma Clinic Defense, which defends the Planned Parenthood and Cedar River Clinics in Tacoma. The speakers discussed how and why they began organizing clinic defenses, what tactics they utilize, and how their defenses have created a more safe and supportive atmosphere at their local clinics.

Here, we reprint the speech from Seattle Clinic Defense activist Ariel Hard.

I HAVE always been politically aware, but not politically active. I’ve had my opinions, I’ve kept up with the news, I’ve attended local hearings, I’ve always voted.

When Donald Trump was elected, I was, like many others, surprised and disgusted. I was in disbelief that it could even be possible. It was possible, it did happen, and I knew something needed to change.

I was presented with an amazing opportunity to fly out to Washington, D.C., and join the Women’s March. As a volunteer, I arrived bright and early at 6 a.m. to help set up, which also afforded me an amazing location at the rally, three blocks up from the main stage. I was able to hear every speaker, see every tear, feel every bit of rage, optimism and drive.

There were some things I saw and experienced that left a bitter taste in my mouth as well, but the experience of being with so many people marching in the streets irrevocably changed the direction of my life. I needed to be an active participant for change.

Pro-choice activists defend the Family Reproductive Health clinic in Charlotte, North Carolina
Pro-choice activists defend the Family Reproductive Health clinic in Charlotte, North Carolina (Wisconsin Bail Out The People Movement | Facebook)

The first couple months, I was involved in everything. I was lost. I tried so hard to keep up with all the opportunities to participate locally, but with no guidance, no real connecting theme from one activity to another, and no voice. I was told what to do, where to show up, and I did it. I also quickly burned out. I stopped doing anything and apathy set in.

The task before me, to make a difference in my world, was too large. Luckily, this didn’t last for long. I decided that I needed to make a choice. I needed to find a single purpose to dedicate my time and energy to. I needed to dedicate myself to something I was truly passionate about, something that affected me, and something that could sustain me. Reproductive justice was what I needed.

I googled around a bit, found Seattle Clinic Defense on Facebook, saw that they had regular events and were active, that a couple friends of mine “liked” their page, and thought I would give it a shot.

My first time in front of the Madison Clinic was amazing. It was a beautiful early summer day. My mom had agreed to meet me there, and when we arrived, they already had signs waiting for us. There were about 25 people there.

On that day, not a single anti-choicer showed their face. We stood on the sidewalk, held signs of support, waved at supportive honkers, participated in conversations with strangers. Smiles were everywhere.

We wrapped up, did a victory lap and immediately afterwards, there was an organizing meeting at a cafe a block down from the clinic. I went. I couldn’t tell you exactly what was discussed. There was an agenda, things were said, I gave the organizers my information and went home.

I came out the next month, and the next and the next. I found my voice with Seattle Clinic Defense and the organizers there. I was asked to be on the Event Coordinating Committee, which was voted on and approved. I believe that was the first time in my life I was actually elected to do anything.

WHAT WAS it about clinic defense that engaged me so? Why did I keep coming back, rain or shine, with friends or arriving on my own, at the ungodly hour of 8:30 a.m. on a Saturday? Because I saw the wins.

I would come out, join fellow defenders, routinely outnumber the anti-choicers, take the space in front of the clinic, deflect harassment from patients, and we would win the day. There were inconsistencies. Some defenses would have 50 people, some would have five. Some days, the antis would get there first, with the biggest signs they could muster, and we would have to cede a side of the parking lot. But the wins largely outnumbered the losses. It would sustain me to continue the fight.

Planned Parenthood does amazing work. They provide shame-free, medically accurate health care for millions of people. We are out front of Planned Parenthood clinics because we support Planned Parenthood, we support their employees and medical providers, and we support their patients.

But when you go to Planned Parenthood website and look at their “Take Action” page, what do you see? They are asking you to write postcards and share your story. They provide form letters so you can e-mail your representative. They ask you to change your profile picture. They ask you to donate.

None of these actions are bad suggestions. They should all be done! But where is the empowerment? Where is community building? Where is the education and mobilization? Where is the opportunity to be an active participant in the struggle?

There are only so many postcards you can write. There are only so many phone calls you can make. And ultimately, if and when they fail — that legislation does pass, or that nominee does get appointed, or that candidate does not get elected — what is there that a person can tap into, and that can encourage them to fight another day?

If all you experience is loss, how can you envision winning? Surely, without ever having a voice in helping determine what actions to take, a person will have a hard time making the leap of thinking what they can do, and instead will just wait for someone to tell them what they should do. If you can’t imagine it, you can’t do it.

There is also the added burden of the increased disillusionment with electoral politics, and for good reason.

According to the U.S. House of Representatives’ “History, Arts and Archives” division, since Roe was decided in 1973, the Democratic Party — which is supposed to be the party we rely on to protect and strengthen our right to abortion — was in control of the House for 27 years, including a full 23 years directly after Roe was decided.

They had 23 years to create the protections needed to ensure that everyone had access to safe, affordable and shame-free abortions. Instead, they let abortion rights steadily degrade.

The Hyde Amendment, which barred federal dollars from being used to pay for abortions, was passed while Democrats were the majority. The global “gag rule,” while not fully implemented, was approved while Democrats were the in the majority.

They never really fought against the Supreme Court decision that states had the right to restrict abortion access and, because of this, Roe already doesn’t exist for large swaths of our country where abortion can’t be accessed due to affordability, accessibility, wait times and mandatory counseling — which low-income pregnant people cannot access nor afford.

It’s hard to put your faith in something that has demonstrated time and again that it is incapable or maybe doesn’t even care, about restoring and protecting our right to abortion.

CLINIC DEFENSE provides an out and an in. It’s a way out of apathy. It’s a way out of hopelessness. It’s a way in for engagement. It’s a way in for success. It’s a way in for sustained activism.

Defenders see direct, immediate and sustained changes, as the experience of all three defenses here demonstrate. Defenders meet other like-minded individuals to coordinate and grow with.

Participating in clinic defense, a truly grassroots organization, allows defenders to make their voices heard, to participate and be involved in the direction of movements; to build the skills needed to work with multi-faceted and conflicting groups to meet an end goal. It builds confidence in the defender to be more active, more bold, and more participatory in direct action.

I’ve been exposed to so many more opportunities to participate and organize since joining Seattle Clinic Defense less than two years ago.

I’ve gone directly from clinic defense to other actions, such as marching in support of the corporate head tax, and brought other defenders with me. Defenders left straight from a defense to go to the University of Washington, en masse, to counterprotest Patriot Prayer, which was speaking there.

I’ve been involved with organizing coalitions to counterprotest Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys when they held a “Defund Planned Parenthood” rally in Kent. And the recent experience of Patriot Prayer showing up at our clinic defense, outnumbering us and intimidating us, and then being able to reach out to fellow defenders and other activist groups to respond with an over 100-person defense the following month, was empowering.

We can mobilize — we can mass mobilize. We can coordinate. We can develop the skills necessary, both in ourselves and others, to use the tactic of direct action to achieve the aims of reproductive justice for all. We can build the directions of the movement from the bottom up.

The experience of clinic defense, defying Planned Parenthood’s instructions to stay home, will give confidence, knowledge and networks to defy other organizations and government officials who just tell us to stay home.

Staying home doesn’t work. Clinic defense does.

Further Reading

From the archives