When I arrived at the FMF office last Friday, I had no idea that I was going to spend my afternoon participating in a counter protest for the annual anti-choice March for Life. If I had known, I might have prepared for the January weather better and made a protest sign of my own. Even without this notice, I was more than excited for this opportunity to “stand up, fight back!” (part of one of the many chants I would learn from fellow counter-protesters).
We arrived in front of the Supreme Court before the anti-choice marchers and were greeted by a group of counter protesters stockpiled with “Abortion on demand and without apology” stickers, signs, banners, and even hot cocoa. Though the anti-choicers had a loudspeaker blasting some awful music, our side had a mic system and different pro-choice supporters came up and spoke about their views and experiences. The most touching story I heard was from an AU student who began by sharing how her family fled the genocide in Bosnia and her offense at the co-option of the term genocide by the anti-choice movement. She explained her mother’s decision to get an abortion in order to better provide for her family. As the marchers began approaching the Supreme Court, our side was severely outnumbered. But, there was such a strong sense of community among those counter-protesting for reproductive rights, I felt galvanized to stand my ground.
As we stood along the curb holding our protest signs, empowered by chants that combated their propaganda (“Pro-life? That’s a lie. You don’t care if women die!”), we were confronted by onslaught after onslaught of anti-choicers. The masses of anti-choice marchers were overwhelming. Some screamed at us. Some tried to hold my hand and convince me that when I was thirty and had kids of my own I would see choice differently (who knew anti-choicers could see the future!?). One man decided to stand literally right behind me, less than a foot from me, repeating for a solid thirty minutes, “Stop killing the babies,” ignoring my calm requests that he stop standing so close to me. Many, however, were groups of kids and teenagers. The Burlington Free Press anticipated that eighty percent of participants would be under the age of twenty. Most appeared to me to be much younger than twenty. At one point, a group of high school boys took up station in front of our line of protest screaming “We love babies!” while moshing. Truly, no other word better describes the aggressive movements of these young men.
Both sides clearly hold impassioned views, so most of this behavior I had anticipated. However, I ended up leaving the protest rather stunned. While chanting and scanning the crowd, I made eye contact with a man my age that pointed at me and yelled “Slut!” Soon after, a grown man called me a “whore.” I’ll admit I was a bit in shock that these men who didn’t know a single thing about me would call me what they clearly feel to be pejorative words. I was further shocked when anti-choice marchers began to push some of the counter protesters. I became fearful when I saw a pro-choice protester hit in the eye with an ice chunk, which was directly followed by an FMF employee being hit in the head with a rock, though it was impossible to tell where the assaults came from within the mass of people.
Fearing for our safety, we decided to leave, wading through the march to find an unblocked road where we could get a cab. We were yelled at on our walk away, called “murderers” and followed by an angry anti-choice marcher for a city block. I was not disheartened, however, for while on unblocked streets, we began receiving encouraging honks and cheers from DC drivers!
While it was a relief to be safe and warm back at the FMF DC headquarters, there was no doubt in my mind that attending the counter-protest in defense of reproductive justice was the best choice I could have made. Our small presence in a sea of ignorance that day at the March for Life may have been the beacon of hope for some of the young attendees who are still making up their mind, or uninvolved DC residents who may have been triggered by the anti-choice presence, and for making it clear to the media and anyone paying attention that Roe v. Wade is worth defending. Plus I made it in the paper!