When word got out that Operation Rescue’s Summer of Mercy 2.0 was targeting Dr. LeRoy Carhart in Germantown, Maryland, we felt nothing but dread. Although I expected to see a lot of hate and woman-shaming this week, I was not expecting to leave this week feeling refreshed and empowered. Despite the anti-choice presence, the pro-choice community kept me sane, and helped me and the rest of the Campus Team remember that pro-choice Americans ARE the majority. The wonderful volunteers who came from across the United States and Canada, as well as the people who drove by saying thank you and offering help reminded us of something important: we are not radical in our thinking that women should have safe and peaceful access to abortion.
We knew from past national anti-choice events that they could get ugly, especially when directly outside of a clinic. It was a relief to see feminist individuals and groups coming together to plan a pro-choice peaceful presence and associated events under Summer of Choice/Summer of Trust in the hopes of showing community support for Dr. Carhart, his staff, and the work they do. Feminist Majority Foundation, National Organization for Women, Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, World Can’t Wait, the Socialist Worker’s Party, and many dedicated individuals came together to coordinate all-day peaceful presence outside of the clinic from Sunday, July 31st through Monday, August 8th. As we stood in solidarity for women’s rights, we built relationships with each other and with a community that is truly dedicated to maintaining abortion access for women.
On some humid afternoons, we could be seen laughing, clapping, and cheering as we kept tallies of the supportive honks, waves, and peace signs that came by on the busy road surrounding the clinic’s office park. On rainy mornings we could be seen helping each other find umbrellas and signs to shield ourselves from the downpours that came and went. Every day, there was food and water shared, whether it was graciously donated sandwiches, snacks, or pizza from across the street, everyone had food and water when they needed it. Sometimes, defenders would be mending a “Trust Women” or “We Love Dr. Carhart” sign or sharing their respective experiences and stories with allies they had just met. Individuals from organizations shared pro-choice stickers, buttons, and literature with the crowd. If an anti-choice individual decided to antagonize a pro-choicer, others would step in to stand together silently in support and solidarity. One thing was clear – the space in which we spent nine 14-hour days standing/sitting/laughing/silently holding signs was shared.
Not only was this alliance supportive and dedicated, individuals from the community often came by to talk or show their support. People gave donations, food, and water to us, as well as share their words of gratitude for our presence. Even people in the business park that the clinic resides came out in support, telling us that they hated the graphic signs from the other side, and felt angry about the hate they represented. People who were walking by often joined in and held signs showing their support, making the protest at the other end seem less intimidating.
The clinic being closed for the week made things less tense for everyone too, and by the time the volunteers had to defend the clinic and its patients when it reopened on Sunday, we were ready and organized. Defenders stood together around the driveway with supportive pro-choice and welcome signs, and made sure they could keep as many anti-choice signs out of view as possible. We were told that the patients and staff got in safe, and that our supportive signs were visible and comforting. It made for a really great week for us, despite the numbers of anti-choice people and their harassment.
Overall, I believe Summer of Choice was a huge success. Not only did we meet great people and help maintain a pro-choice activist community, everyone dedicated themselves to non-engagement and peaceful protest. The Kick-off Walk on the first day raised $10, 689 for the Abortion Access Fund, Inc., a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization whose primary mission is to help ensure that no woman is refused the health care she needs due to lack of money. Despite Operation Rescue’s goal of protest and intimidation, it did nothing but fuel our fiery passion for abortion access, and helped develop and sustain a network of activists who will continue to defend clinics that provide imperative reproductive health services for women.