Thoughts On Blocking The March For Life, Getting Arrested, and Becoming A Better Advocate
Late last Wednesday I arrived in front of the HQ office for Stop Patriarchy, a women’s rights organization with whom I’d be traveling to Washington D.C. the following morning to cover the combative efforts on the March for Life. Wielding camera and sleeping bag, the plan was to spend the night in the office with other activist members and set the tone for what would be a long and inspiring day in the nation’s capital. I encountered two women preparing some materials for the following day, white hospital pants stained with fake blood on the crotch as a symbol of one of their many mottos, “When abortion is illegal, women die.” Stop Patriarchy has organized a series of different ways to rally support for women’s rights including staging “Die Ins” where actors lay on the ground in various public domains to represent the women who have fallen at the hands of unsafe illegal abortions. It was just about freezing and hunched over on the sidewalk we stained what contributed to over 40 pairs total, which would travel with us to the Supreme Court on the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade. The rest of the night consisted of assembling several picket signs that read “Abortion On Demand Without Apology” unapologetically across orange squares, the most widely recognized emblem of the organizations movement for women’s abortion rights. It was this sentiment that drew my interest to the group’s efforts and inspired me to join and cover the protest. For a few hours we slept huddled on the office floor, with just a few hours before our bus would depart to D.C..
The following morning we boarded the bus before the sun rose and departed for the capital in order to assemble with what I understood to be a few other groups from around the country that were chapters of Stop Patriarchy. When I put on my socks that morning, my hands shook, in anticipation but also with anxiety. I had never been in this size of a political disagreement before, not to mention I admit I have an irrational fear of the people who wait outside of abortion clinics and music festivals holding posters of mutated sculptures and misinformation brochures on mythological dangers of a medical procedure that is actually very safe and common. I won’t call my parents liberal because I grew up only thinking they were rational. I’m absolutely horrified of uneducated people and I can truly only see people who don’t believe in scientific sexual education as just that.
As we approached the city we rallied in the bus and I was instantly filled with inspiration from the passion of these brave women, some who were veterans of the cause since the 70s. Arriving was much like witnessing the tailgate for the Super Bowl, tons of religious organizations were arriving by the busload; including youth groups and elementary Parochial school students. This would be my first time in Washington D.C. and I found it poetic to see it in the true nature of what our country was founded on, the right to assembly and peaceful protest and freedom of speech.
We parked, unloaded our signs, which included 5 larger than life portraits of women who have become the faces of unsafe abortions. They would be a focal point of many of my shots from that day, a bold reminder of why we assembled. We donned our shirts and pants and set off to the Supreme Court where 3 Pro-Life men were assembled, all averaging around the age of 80. They carried a faded portrait of Jesus and some wooden rosary beads; one man sang hymns as we began our chants. Eventually, the March was congregating to begin and we too took our positions at the starting line. Passion erupted as both men and women, young and old held the banner demanding abortion on demand, without apology; which was a very inspirational sight; a true picturesque representation of the diversity of this country and the solidarity on the importance of a woman’s right to access a safe abortion. I wasn’t alone as I snapped away. It seemed as though by the time we had arranged ourselves, several photographers had assembled as well. Police motorcycles met our banner, followed by what seemed to be an endless sea of religious groups, toting crosses and chanting, “We are the Pro-Life Generation”. I wasn’t alone as I snapped away. From behind the police it seemed as if the March had been confronted by these five larger than life women in black and white; so strikingly visible over the masses of people. Tensions rose and soon the motorcycles pressed against the vinyl banner, a sedan pushed through one side and suddenly we were flooded by tons of Pro-Life marchers chanting ‘Jesus’ and ‘USA’. Though anxious, I continued photographing, some of the brave women I had ridden the bus with linked arms and several minutes had passed as the March for Life was delayed. I felt hands on my shoulders and was shoved out of the way numerous times, which will make this day all the more memorable. This would be the first time I was ever aggressively handled by a police officer. One by one, eight of us were grabbed by officers, who seemed very motivated by the chants ‘USA’ around us, as if we were being labeled as Anti-American. Most ironic, the last time I heard any such patriotic chant was while bartending the USA vs. Germany World Cup game, clad in American flag paraphernalia. We were cuffed and escorted into a police van, my wrists around my backpack and camera swinging from my neck. My only fear was that my precious equipment wouldn’t survive. I seemed to be the only person with a camera who had been reprimanded and arrested despite dozens of photographers and videographers that were in the thick of the conflict. As we were shoved in the back of a van we chanted, “Every generation has an obligation to women’s liberation.” We could see a hefty police escort followed us to the jail. As I looked to my left and right and across from me, three generations were among us.
Coming away from this experience has really given me a new perspective on many things. It took me a long time to be able to put what I was feeling into words because I wasn’t sure how I could identify something that I have to believe a lot of us feel all the time. When I was standing behind the banner I didn’t feel that I was standing against religion but misinformation and a failure to educate, something I found much more dangerous and lethal than any religious indoctrination. Yet, in recent affiliation with Stop Patriarchy, I was given a platform to stand on with many other people who are acting in solidarity for women’s rights. However, I can only say that I would like to represent the people who aren’t so sure if they belong out there. I picked up my camera and left my house on that cold Wednesday night because I was tired of the influx of internet activism, tired of feeling disenfranchised by the recent treatment of women in the media, most importantly the victims of sexual violence who are almost always misrepresented as the instigators and sexual objects that in some areas of this country culture has trained people to believe they are. I felt pride being taken into that van knowing that we were ambassadors of women. I can only hope that I can inspire the beginner’s circuit to stand up and start feeling capable of creating the change that you click the share button for. I may not be a veteran of this cause, and probably not the textbook image for activism but I challenge you to take any action that you’re able to do be it writing, speaking out, photographing, making videos, donating to a local organization that fights for the changes you want to see or protects the rights that you want to hold on to and just do something beyond sitting and scrolling for a better future. Don’t sit and think that every issue joins one side or the other. I think too many people feel that if they sit on one side of one issue that it decides how they should feel about everything else. The media wants you to believe that every pro abortion rights individual is a cop hater and every person who is pro gun rights doesn’t believe in LGBTQ rights. There is a great, untapped power in the moderates of this country and the most dangerous thing I think an individual can do is not show up on election day. I promise you, everyone, including you, will be happy you decided to show up.
To get involved check out www.stoppatriarchy.org or go to their indiegogo campaign to help us reach beyond our goal and help cover our legal fees when we return to D.C. for our hearing.