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Whew! Just recovering from an unexpectedly exhausting and emotional afternoon of counter-protesting some pretty egregious anti-abortionists associated with AbortionNO.org and probably other such hate groups.

I work on the main campus of Johns Hopkins University, where starting today and through the weekend the annual spring fair is being held. It's a time when a larger than normal percentage of the student body is on campus all at once, not to mention their relatives and friends, and other members of the community. So what better time for anti-abortionists to ruin a beautiful day of music, games, food vendors, and beer (and it really was perfect weather) with huge signs with pictures of aborted fetuses and of the Nazi death camps to which these sociopaths so callously compare women's rights to bodily autonomy?

For the TL;DR version: I made some pro-abortion rights signs, stood there with them, and helped attract several more students to do the same, eventually overwhelming the anti-choicers.

I was just out walking through campus on my way to get lunch when I saw them--a somewhat shocking disruption from my normal routine. I've seen these guys before, or at least people like them. So their provocative imagery was nothing new to me, though still just as offensive as always. They had put up 8 large banners forming two squares of banners that they stood around, harassing walkers by and trying to hand out pamphlets. Two more stood across the street outside the campus market with their typical grotesque signs of aborted fetuses. One thing I immediately noticed was that they were all white, and that out of about 8 of them all but 2 were men.

As I walked by a young man, probably about my age if not a little younger (I'm 28) tried to hand me one of their pamphlets. I refused it and told him "Please just go away" as I walked past. He yelled after me, "We can talk about it!" I felt a bit sheepish, but kept walking on. I didn't want to talk about it. Been there, done that. I really can't talk with these people anymore--I've been around that block plenty of times before, and I know I'm not going to change their minds, and they're certainly not going to change mine (our fundamental disagreement on the existence of a God or souls makes that almost impossible in my opinion). Not that I would discourage other people who have the stomach for it from engaging with them--it's still constructive and I know it's not impossible to change minds or even influence people subtly. But I don't have the patience for it anymore, and am almost immediately just overcome by emotion, as I was this afternoon. Where's Social Justice Batman when you need him??

Once I got past them and around the corner I had to sit down and take a breather. I felt ill from the whole thing, and kind of hopeless. I felt like I needed to something, but there was only so much I could do. I kind of wanted to tear down their signs and scream at them....but it was their right to be there, and it wouldn't have helped anything. Though it hit me that I was right outside a school book store that would surely sell posterboards and markers. And after a brief consultation with my girlfriend about just what I should do she confirmed what I had already sort of been thinking: Make a sign and go stand there in opposition to them. Let the students know that they're not the only ones disgusted and appalled by the forced-birthers, and that it's okay to say so.

So I bought a sign, some markers, and wrote messages on both sides. Probably not the best things one could come up with, but they worked for now: "ILLEGAL ABORTION STOPS TWO BEATING ♥ ♥" (I ran out of space for actual words), and on the other side a drawing of coat hanger dripping with blood and the words "NEVER AGAIN" and "KEEP ABORTION SAFE + ACCESSIBLE".

And then I took my sign, and just stood there holding it over my head. I held that sign up over my head for a good three hours until they packed up and left, and got a sunburn in the process (I wasn't prepared for sun...). I'm lucky to have a plaid-collar job in science/engineering with a lot of flexibility, so I told work I'd be out the rest of the afternoon and just stayed there.

For the first hour or so I stood right next to this crotchety old white man crowed "Abortion stops a beating heart" to damn near every person who passed by--making me especially pleased with my own slogan choice. It got really obnoxious though. I started to wonder if that little nugget was the only thing he actually knew about abortion.

I was determined to stick with it, but it was pretty interminable. My arms hurt and the sun was getting more brutal than I'd expected. But finally, after I could barely take it anymore, something amazing happened! I saw a girl come walking up carrying a poster board of her own--as she approached me she unfurled it. It read something like "ANTI-CHOICE IS NOT PRO-LIFE". I had actually half-expected that eventually someone else would join me. There are plenty of activist students on campus, and I have good faith in the student body here.

But I couldn't have been more overjoyed to see her. And better yet: She told me that there were more on their way! At that point I looked over to the lawn at the entrance to the campus and saw a bunch of other people sitting on the grass drawing on poster boards from the book store. To make a long story a bit shorter, by the time the anti-choicers left we had completely overwhelemed them. Futhermore, some kids brought a ton of condoms from the campus clinic and we handed them out for free--ironically, probably stopping more abortions in the process than those jokers ever will.

They didn't talk with us or engage with us at all. Though somebody did bring the police in, though they just left us alone too. One officer talked to me briefly, but he was genial and seemed almost happy to see us there. Ultimately a waste of taxpayer dollars if you ask me--nobody was going to hurt anyone here. One of the anti-choicers, who seemed to be one of their ringleaders also took a bunch of pictures of us. A little creepy, but I'm not new to this sort of thing--I won't let them intimidate me. Sadly I did not get any photos--I only had my phone with me and I was trying to preserve its battery life. With luck a few will surface on the net...

A couple other incidents that stood out:

One person, a man, did try to engage with me. He was wearing a t-shirt for horrid 180 Movie. I don't know if he was associated with the production of the movie, but from the way he talked he was clearly a veteran of this, and tried to hit me with just a barrage of slime. Lots of ancient lies and B.S. He actually complained that abortion clinics don't have proper facilities like wide enough hallways or whatnot (or the right sized janitorial closets? Honestly, I was amazed that someone was really trying to use that as a real argument). Even if it weren't silly, it's even more silly to complain about abortion clinics not having proper facilities when you keep trying to DEFUND them. I just kept looking away from him and trying to ignore him. As a general rule I don't talk to or even acknowledge fascists. But one thing he said came very close to making me lose my cool with him. This is almost verbatim: "Women aren't stupid you know. They know what they're doing when they make their choices. They know what they're doing when they get pregnant and they get abortions anyways. They have a choice to put a stop to this and they choose not to."

He also mocked my coat hanger imagery, claiming that that's a myth and almost nobody actually ever did that, much less died from it. Even if that were true, which it isn't, the coat hanger is a well-recognized symbol for all of the myriad horrible things women have had to do over the millennia to induce abortions. It's not just about coat hangers. That's what the "SAFE + ACCESSIBLE" part is about. Through his whole rant he kept apologizing for coming across as "condescending" and that he was just hoping that maybe, just maybe, my mind could be changed--he'd seen it before, he said. Yeah, well, too late for that asshole. You're a condescending asshat just for existing in the first place.

Finally, he gave up and left me with a parting shot of "May the Lord have mercy on your soul". No, not condescending AT ALL. I think there was one other thing he said that particularly grated on me, but I'm drawing a blank now.

Also at some point the younger guy, who had tried to hand me a pamphlet earlier in the day, struck up a conversation with an older black man who was walking through. The man seemed somewhat sympathetic at first, though turned off by their comparisons to the Rwanda genocide. I was only half-listening, but it sounded like the man was ultimately against their message, and pro-choice. But then an unexpected twist happened: While they debated the finer points of the definition of "murder", the older man brought up Trayvon Martin. Holy shit did things turn sour then. The young man went on to lie about how George Zimmerman had been attacked "practically unprovoked, and certainly inexcusably" and had had "been beaten up". He conceded that it was wrong for Zimmerman to follow Trayvon in the first place, but then acted like his actions were totally excusable. The older man asked him, "You're not from around here are you? Where are you from?" "Delaware," the boy answered. The older man then proceeded to absolutely SCHOOL him on what it's like to walk down the street and fear for your own life. And also to explain to him how no judge in Baltimore would ever take Zimmerman seriously. The discussion went on for close to 20 minutes--it was fantastic. I wish I had recorded it.

So anyways, tl;dr: What an unexpectedly productive and good way to spend an afternoon. Something I never would have expected when I woke up this morning. As I wrote earlier, by the time the forced-birthers left we had double their numbers and had completely overwhelmed them--and we were about equally male and female too; straight and gay. We also got vastly more support from passers by than they did. Even the guy driving the Miller Lite truck cheered us on: a clear sign that we were socially victorious. Almost everyone thanked me for being the first one out there, though I don't want to take credit. Apparently there were anti-abortionists at the last spring festival, and some people protested them too. So I have faith that if I hadn't done it, somebody else would have. But by taking a stand and being the first one out there, and standing by myself, I think it shows that there's nothing to be afraid of, and that you don't have to be ashamed to speak up when it's clearly the right thing to do--even if you're the only one doing it and you're mad as hell that you even have to be there in the first place.

Cross-posted here: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/04/20/1085123/-Impromptu-Social-Justice-How-one-person-really-can-make-a-small-difference


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 21st, 2012 04:15 pm (UTC)
good on you! I am so glad you did this.
Apr. 28th, 2012 06:35 am (UTC)
You rock!!!! :D

-- And so does that older black gentleman. He rocks too. :D
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )



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