Reporter's Notebook from Terri Schiavo Hospice

Strange Encounters

Revolutionary Worker #1274, April 10, 2005, posted at

As the RW has pointed out, the hysteria around Terri Schiavo was not a groundswell from below, but a power-grab from the top. But who were the people who were mobilized on the ground? And how did they respond when revolutionary communists entered the fray? Our first hand report comes from RW correspondent Sunsara Taylor who spent two days outside the hospice where Terry Schiavo was the center of a storm of controversy.

Edited Blog Entries from a Reporter's Notebook

Dedicated to Michael Schiavo who stood up for truth in the face of a raving inquisition of ignorance, cruelty, and terror.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Flying to Florida to Terri Schiavo's Hospice

Speaking about abortion providers in 1995, Randall Terry said, "When I, or people like me, are running the country, you'd better flee, because we will find you, we will try you, and we will execute you."

Today, Randall Terry—and people like him—are flexing their muscles, riding over the will of the people, tearing up the "rule of law," sanctifying the most brutal, small-minded, vindictive and cold-hearted social norms— by twisting the tragedy of Terri Schiavo. The conspiracy runs all the way up to the highest offices in the land—to President Bush—and the whole Congress that was called back into an unprecedented midnight session.

I am so over hearing the Bush brothers claim they are on the side of "life." These disgusting brothers whose hands drip with the blood of so many prisoners they executed as governors, the blood of the Iraqi people, and U.S. dead in an unjust war.

I'm also over seeing the word "life" scrawled on red tape stuck to the mouths of the unthinking, self- righteous protesters who turned the life of Terri Schiavo into a circus of ignorance.

On a flight to Florida my friend, Debra, and I plan to put tape on our foreheads and write: "Critical Thought." It is what Terry Schiavo sadly lost the ability to do when her brain was irreparably damaged years ago, and it is what the theocrats want to obliterate today.

Randall Terry, and people like him, are serious about their expectations to be running things. "Our goal is a Christian Nation. ...We have a biblical duty, we are called by God to conquer this country. We don't want equal time. We don't want pluralism. ...Theocracy means God rules. I've got a hot flash. God rules." That this man can be on national television whining that Jeb Bush quit taking his calls?!?! This man expects, and has been granted, a direct line to and input into how the country is run. To the corridors of power. Today, the U.S.A. Today quotes him saying that if Terri dies, "There will be hell to pay."

Ten years ago, almost exactly, I got my first taste of political activism in a serious way at the doors of the last remaining abortion clinic in Fargo, North Dakota. Operation Rescue (an anti-abortion clinic assault organization founded by Randall Terry) had targeted this clinic—and a handful of us defended it, and its patients and its doctors, night and day.

Randall was there. I spoke to him. Flip Benham was there. I spoke to him, too. I was only just beginning to understand that there is no common ground—that these people have absolutely nothing to contribute to the forward development of humanity.that they do not entertain reason.that they do not care about the quality of people's lives.and they aggressively and gleefully uphold the most brutal and vengeful dictates of a literal interpretation of the Bible.

Today, Terri's life is being used and manipulated in the same way they used and manipulated the "sanctity of fetal life" to dominate women. These are the same forces —only now they, and people like them, are swaggering through the halls of power. They are increasingly running our country.

This time I know what to call them: Christian fascists. I know that the will of the people is not on their side. I know that there is no one in the halls of power who is standing up to them. But I also know that their future is not the only future.

Today, I am both an atheist and a conscious communist. As the Christian fascists continue their juggernaut for absolute state power, and as the rest of the government increasingly cedes ground to them, I know there is a force in society and a leader and the leadership generally that can wrench out a future that humanity would actually want to live in..

So, I am on my way to Florida. We are going to draw a line many others can get on the same side of. Going to join a battle for the future we cannot afford to sit out. We are putting communism back on the map.

March 28, Saturday

The Horror Outside the Hospice

The scene at Terri Schiavo's hospice includes a chilling combination of murderous lunatics who openly advocate a vengence-filled theocracy and well-intentioned, unthinking fanatical true believers.

We realized we were getting close to the hospice when we sighted a truck covered with bloody and graphic fetal pornography and hateful ravings about "fags and sodomites" parked along a nearby busy street. On the other side of the road, two women held signs: "Send in the National Guard" and "Jeb & George Bush, Mice or Men?"

As we sat on a far end of the protest area off to ourselves and began to make our signs, a two-year-old boy kept coming over to play. We obliged him, of course, and he laughed and his mother looked over approvingly. But when she read what our signs said ("Leave the Dark Ages in History, No Christian Fascist Theocracy, check out the Revolutionary Communist Party," and "'We Need Morality, But Not Traditional Morality' -, Chairman, Revolutionary Communist Party"), she flipped out and started shrieking at her kid to get away from us.

I was casual and said, "We're not contagious."

But she differed. "Oh yes you are! Evil is about you!"

The whole experience is like walking through a time-warp, or into a different dimension. Our "critical thought" stickers begin to mean even more to me. In our universe, the world really exists and using science and critical thought we can learn about it. And with concern for humanity we can understand how to change the real world to solve real problems, even tricky ethical problems.

But we were talking to people who believed that the truth comes from the Bible, the "divinely revealed word of God." To them, science and thoughts that challenge the Bible were the temptations of Satan. To them, evil really is "about us."

The crowd turns suddenly vicious while Randall Terry is giving a press conference. The only Black man I saw there all day was also a Christian but came holding a sign that read, "Let Terri Rest" and another that said, "Let Terri Have Peace." During the press conference he holds these signs up behind Randall, but in the middle some women start grabbing him. Soon the whole crowd is hollering at him, calling in the police and mindlessly surrounding him and condemning him and shoving him.

It really has the feel of a lynch later reports:

"After remarks by Randall Terry — an anti-abortion activist who has been acting as a spokesman for Terri Schiavo's family, the Schindlers—members of a group calling itself the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade seized control of the microphones and blasted [Randall] Terry as a 'Christian fascist thug' trying to interfere in 'the most intimate affairs of life and death.'

'[Terri Schiavo's] brain is not functional. It's not going to recover. Let her die in peace,' pleaded Sunsara Taylor, a member of the group."

An Agnostic from Pinellas Park

A middle-aged man from the neighborhood tells me that Pinellas Park, where Terri Schiavo's hospice is located, is known as "Penniless Park." He is from the area and comes over to us immediately, very glad to see some people he agrees with.

He doesn't believe that the government should intrude into people's lives the way it has done with Terri. He says he quit believing in God in college when he saw a sign that said, "Agnostics Wanted." He didn't know what the word meant, but when he looked it up, he thought, "Hey, I am one!"

I ask him if he knew much about Randall Terry and his types. He answers, "He's the guy who blows up clinics, right?"

He looks at the bottoms of our signs to see who we are with. He reads the reference to the Revolutionary Communist Party and says, "Maybe I'll be with you guys." He says he is checking out everyone's websites, really trying to understand what is going on in this country and what can be done about it.

Over the two days we are there, we meet several people from "Penniless" Park. Almost all of them come right over to us. One woman is excited to see the words "Revolutionary Communist Party" written on our signs, saying she had met the RCP at a protest against Bush in D.C.

A Crowd of Contradictions

At one point when Debra and I are holding our signs, a crowd surrounds us, yelling at us and trying to cover our signs with theirs. Debra and I challenge some of what is being yelled at us and joke around with the kids (the parents get really upset that the kids are laughing and talking to us). We just keep our signs moving so they stay visible.

Suddenly, the yelling voice of a young male with an Alabama drawl rises above the flurry of screaming. At first all I can decipher is that he is proclaiming his personal relationship with Jesus Christ, yelling about true Christianity, how great this country is, and something about the signs that are being fought over. I assume he is just another voice yelling at me and Debra.

Then I realize that he is yelling at the women who are covering our signs. He is calling them hypocrites, talking about Jesus and demanding to know if this is a free country, or what?

Then a new woman with a shrill piercing holler right into my ear starts in, "Name one place communism has ever worked! Name one!"

As she hammers away and the noise accumulates, I could hardly think, let alone get my voice heard. Then, in my other ear, a very quiet voice blurts out, "It worked alright in Cuba."

I turn, thinking to myself that Cuba is not really a socialist country but anxious to see someone else who is at least thinking about revolution, and the first thing I notice is a huge afro—totally out of place! There is a young Black high school kid standing behind me, next to a young white female friend of his.

They, too, are from the neighborhood and the young woman marvels at our bravery for being there. The guy asks what kind of communist I am and who I voted for. He says, "Wow, that's interesting," when I tell him that I didn't support any candidate, but I did unite with the efforts to defeat Bush. He is with the Green Party and supported Dean who he considers "the most radical candidate there was."

Both kids know a great deal about Terri Schiavo. They know that she can't feel or think anything and that parts of her brain have been turned to liquid. The majority of their school thinks that she should be allowed to die, although they complain that there is still too much apathy.

The young woman whispers, "The scary thing is that three years ago I would have been out here with them, because of the influence of the church." When asked what changed her thinking, she takes a slow look around and answers, "Stuff like this. There is so much judgement and so much hate. It is just so hypocritical."

While talking to the different media there we notice that many of the media people are themselves struggling to understand why Terri Schiavo's situation has become such a flashpoint in society. Often while we are being interviewed by one person, others nearby are listening in, sometimes nodding along. They seem especially interested when we connect the struggles over evolution and science generally to this case.

Even while many of the press people dismiss our communist convictions, they find themselves holding a surprising amount of unity with us — we are all from the "reality-based community." Many of them are from New York as well, and we joke with them about being from "Sodom City."

Whose Youth Are These?

At one point, while we are talking to some particularly interesting young Democrats who work for the Fox News Channel, the kid from Alabama who had intervened in the struggle over our signs came over with his friend saying, "Hey communist chicks! Don't you have any literature for us?"

We give them copies of the Revolutionary Worker and listen as the kid who had been more vocal earlier told us that he hates capitalism but thinks that communism is just as bad. "All human systems are doomed," he explains, adding that this is why only God should rule. He describes capitalism as a system based on greed that gives poverty to those who work the hardest. He thinks that communism is absolute control by the government, including thought control.

He smiles when I tell him that if that really was what communism was about, I wouldn't be one either. Then, we get into what communism and socialism actually are, and what is new that RCP Chairman Bob Avakian has been developing. He has so many questions, including how we would treat Christians if the revolution comes to power. He is not what we expected and we are obviously not what he expected communists to be. Cognitive dissonance all around.

He and his friend really make an impression on me. They are proletarian youth with no sense of a future. The one kid had so many troubles by the time he graduated from high school that he planned to kill himself. Revealing his confusion about what atheism actually is, he said, "I used to be an atheist too, I hated God."

When he met a nice girl, he decided not to kill himself for at least a couple of weeks. She was the first person he'd ever met who didn't judge him, so he decided to go to church with her.

He says he found a feeling of love and acceptance when he accepted Jesus into his heart that he had never known before, and he guarded this feeling, never wanting to experience the same alienation and confusion he used to feel.

Then he tells me he is trying to get down with the Christian militia movement. When I ask what attracted him to the militia movement, his friend (dressed in a skully cap pulled way down and baggy clothes, with teeth that show signs of maternal alcohol syndrome) answers loudly, "I got arrested a thousand times and then I decided, fuck the law ."

These two kids brought to mind the kids in the Middle East who are rebellious but get caught up in Islamic fundamentalism because it is the strongest pole of "opposition" around them. These Florida kids hated the government, they hated capitalism, they even hated most of the Christian church. But they were getting sucked into being foot-soldiers for the most oppressive force in this country.

We talk to them both a lot about science, what it is and what it is not. By the time we are done, the kid with the skully looks at Debra and says, "Man, you should tell that to some of the other people here. I don't think they know that."

Back In New York, Entering The Spin-Zone

Back in New York we start getting calls from Fox News Channel. We appear on Hannity & Colmes and later on Fox & Friends .

Mind you, these shows have previously been touting the testimony of a nurse who was so discredited that the judge said that in order for her testimony to be true, even Terri's parents would have had to have been lying for 15 months. One show also brought on a psychic to tell the viewers that "Terri was definitely aware."

While we represented for science and reason, the rule of law, and the fact that the world does not have to be this way, many viewers were struck by the fact that we were communists. Web debates kicked up immediately about whether Fox had "handpicked" some communists in order to discredit the majority opinion.

In reality, far too few voices were speaking against the moves of the Christian fascists. Many Democrats were criminally passive and silent. Jesse Jackson put in a criminal performance demanding that Terri Schiavo be kept alive. Michael Schiavo bravely held his ground. A few doctors bravely spoke out, but no organized forces were mobilized. It had fallen to the communists and, like one viewer said, "What does it say something that a 'handful of communists' are more in touch with the American people than the president?"

From the New York Times, March 28, 2005, report on Terri Schiavo from outside the hospice:

Two women from New York City arrived late in the afternoon with blank sheets of poster board that they intended to emblazon with the messages "Leave the Dark Ages in History" and "We Need Morality, But Not 'Traditional' Morality." One of the women, Sunsara Taylor, a spokeswoman for the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade, said she and her colleague, Debra Sweet, an abortion rights activist, intended to spend two days at the site to make sure "the other side" is heard.

"What we intend to say is that we don't want to live in a theocracy," Ms. Taylor said. "We don't want to creep towards Christian fascism in this country."

Ms. Sweet said she recognized several people from protests outside abortion clinics around the country. "This is their whole life," she said.