Revolution #166, May 31, 2009
Staging an intervention at Notre Dame:
Women are not incubators! Fetuses are not babies! Abortion is not Murder!
We received the following correspondence from a reader:
On Sunday, May 17, a group of supporters of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, including Revolution correspondent Sunsara Taylor, entered the scene at Notre Dame University—aiming to bring a new voice into the fray that had been all-too-absent in the weeks leading up to Obama's speech at the school's graduation. For many weeks, various anti-abortion activists had descended on the Catholic campus in protest of the President's upcoming appearance (due to his support of the legal right to abortion) as well as his receipt of an honorary degree from the school. This campus had become a national concentration point in the battle over abortion (and secondarily, stem cell research) to the point where dozens of Catholic bishops had petitioned or protested, including Cardinal Francis George, Archbishop of Chicago who announced publicly that he would not attend the ceremony and called the President's appearance an "extreme embarrassment." Going into graduation, the coverage around this and the "two sides" that were being aired were basically people who were "pro-life" but celebrated Obama's appearance despite his position on abortion (one student against abortion said, "if you have the opportunity to see the sitting President talk in your lifetime, that's an opportunity you should take") and on the other side people who were also against abortion and against his appearance. Nowhere was there a voice that was taking on abortion and actually defending it.
Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue, was one of the leading forces behind the anti-abortionists. At his website, stopobamanotredame.com, Terry described the mission of these protests as aiming to stop Obama from speaking and to gain the resignation of Father John Jenkins, the President of Notre Dame. He also talked about aiming to have "politically tarred Obama with the blood of babies," to "create such peaceful havoc that no other Catholic University commits this treachery" and to "recruit and train new warriors to defend Life and Truth in 'on the job' training." Terry was arrested on campus in the weeks leading into graduation, pushing a stroller with fake bloodied baby in it. People brought signs onto the campus that equated abortion with rape, said that abortion is worse than torture or slavery, and compared the period of legalized abortion to the Nazi Holocaust. A number of other people, including the former Republican Presidential candidate Alan Keyes, had also been arrested for demonstrating on college grounds. An airplane had been flying overhead for weeks, with various banners attached to the back with supposed pictures of aborted fetuses, and slogans including "Abortion is terror." Another sign asked, "What about the REAL war, 3600 American babies die every year from abortion..."
It is a stunning indictment of the state of the women's movement that these forces had basically gone uncontested for many weeks. A handful of students and others had set up outside the campus gates at various points, holding up signs in support of the graduating seniors and basically challenging the various brands of hardcore Catholics and biblical literalists to leave the campus alone. Some of them were pro-choice, but this is not what they were expressing, and when we arrived we found them very defensive about this, not wanting to talk about abortion and putting their overwhelming emphasis on supporting Obama.
On the morning of graduation, relative to the hundreds of anti-abortion protestors at the main gate to the school, we were a small minority, but grounded in the fact that we were speaking for millions of women, we raised our colorful banner, "Abortion on Demand and Without Apology!" and marched onto the scene chanting about how without this basic right, women could never be free. We took nearly everyone by complete surprise especially with the boldness of our message. We took a spot near the entrance and continued our chants; our main goal was not to get into any kind of political stunts but to make our message known, and to bring a pole of opposition and emancipation into that mix. Another of our chants was "Today we make a declaration/Women need emancipation/Not the Bible's subjugation/Yes abortion, for liberation!"
In that situation, with that message, as well as the confidence and clarity we brought to that, we most definitely could not be missed. There was something new that had to be reckoned with, and much of the media (both local and national, and even international) responded to that. Cameras were clicking away and Sunsara Taylor gave a number of interviews which became a notable part of the media coverage. She was quoted in USA Today and elsewhere, and there were images on CNN, the NBC Nightly News, MSNBC, and the New York Times website of our signs and tee-shirts reading "Abortion on demand and without apology," "Women are not incubators!" and "Abortion is not murder!" The fact that another voice was in much of the major media coverage was an important accomplishment, helping to bring much-needed oxygen to what had been a suffocating debate.
The anti-abortion people sometimes lost it (or lost whatever they had left of "it"), shouting at us that yes in fact, women are incubators and made to breed for men. When one of the women with us was agitating about how without the freedom to make basic decisions about their own lives, women are no more than slaves, a religious lunatic on a bullhorn alluded to the Genesis story about the Garden of Eden and how that was a time when women had free will--women's choices caused the downfall of mankind, he told us, and he demanded to know if she again wanted to be personally responsible for the downfall of humanity?
This polarization, it must be said, brought out some of the best from the pro-choice (and mostly pro-Obama) students who had shown up. It gave rise to a process where they took some time, and were looking around at and interacting with the anti-abortion forces, and then they were also checking us out, and through the course of that, people got more clear and more bold and some became willing to join in abortion rights chants which they might not have when they arrived. There was an air of liberation in the middle of this dark-ages swamp, and as we took a break, some of the students got up and were chanting in peoples' faces "Keep it legal, Keep it safe!" One older Black woman who had shown up after her visit to the airport to welcome Obama, said she was against abortion. And then she looked around and said, these people say they're pro-life but I'm sure they don't care about capital punishment. Aren't the people on death row human beings? We talked with her about how this has never been about being "pro-life," it's about a view on women and wanting to take women back to "their rightful place". She brought a lot of energy to our contingent, and even took her bra off and started waving it as she chanted about women's emancipation.
It's unquestionable that our presence made a significant impact on the character of the day—at a time when most pro-choice people are being sold on Obama's "common ground," we planted another pole, one of firm and essential opposition, and began to draw people forward around this. The question now is carrying forward that pole, rallying more to it, and fighting even more determinedly against this dark-ages movement, as well as re-opening the debate on, and forging further ground toward, women's full emancipation.
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