Unleashing the Fury of Women at the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride Celebrations Nationwide

September 29, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


Week of Defiance, August 2014

August 25 – September 1 was a nationwide WEEK OF DEFIANCE: Abortion on Demand and Without Apology! Image: Special to revcom.us

In recent weeks in cities across the country (Los Angeles, Seattle, Berkeley, Chicago, and New York City), celebrations have been held to welcome back the courageous Abortion Rights Freedom Riders. These are over two dozen volunteers—ages 17 to 71—who put their lives on hold, traveled to Texas, and braved the blazing August heat, brutality and arrest, attack not only from anti-abortion forces but also from some very vicious "pro-choice" forces, to resist the greatest round of abortion clinic closures to hit a single state since Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in 1973.

In 2011, Texas had 46 abortion clinics. By the beginning of this summer it was down to just 19 and it was on track to close all but six of those clinics on September 1. Fortunately, this final round of clinic closures did not go forward; it was blocked at the very last minute by a federal judge. Even more positively, two of the previously closed clinics—in the Rio Grande Valley and in El Paso—were given legal permission to re-open. However, the Texas attorney general immediately appealed this decision—thus the danger is far from over. Further, this attack in Texas is but one front of a nationwide assault on women's abortion rights. Around the country, abortion rights are in a state of emergency.

Sunsara Taylor and four other members of the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride were arrested on Wednesday, August 27, in Austin, Texas in the middle of Guadalupe St., bordering the campus of the University of Texas where 50,000 or so students just started class this week. Credit: American Statesman

All this constituted the backdrop and reason for the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride 2014: Ground Zero Texas. Without this ride, there would have been no public protest in Texas as these clinic closures went forward. Because of the ride, not only did the bold and uncompromising message, "Abortion on Demand and Without Apology," reach millions through the English- and Spanish-language media that picked up on the riders' efforts, but many people throughout Texas stepped forward to join in speaking out and standing up to resist. A new path of uncompromising resistance was carved out in opposition to the conciliation and capitulation to the anti-abortion fascists who have characterized the Democratic Party and those pro-choice forces who have subordinated themselves to the Democrats. This is tremendously significant and a profound accomplishment to build from.

audio LISTEN
Project Censored discusses why even left-leaning media outlets censored coverage of the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride with guests Dennis Traynor and Sunsara Taylor. Credit: Project Censored

At a time when people are told to think only about how much stuff they can acquire, how much prestige they can build up for themselves, or perhaps how they can "give back" just a bit within the confines of their own self-pursuit, the Abortion Rights Freedom Riders set a whole different example. They put the lives and the future of women before their own comfort or convenience, and put their bodies on the line to change the course of history. This truly is something to celebrate, to popularize, and for many more to learn from and emulate.

The celebrations included presentations from the riders about why they went to Texas, what they did over the course of more than a month on the road, and how this impacted people on the ground, throughout the country, and the riders themselves. Videos were shown depicting the heroic protests and arrests of the Freedom Riders on two different occasions. Many volunteers spoke of how they had planned to attend only for a few days or a couple of weeks but then extended their stays once they experienced directly not only the profound impact the ride was having, but also the uplifting camaraderie of living and working together with folks who were fighting together for the liberation of women. More than a few—including some in their 70s—said that taking part in the ride was the most meaningful thing they had been part of in their entire lives.

A woman in her 70s spoke about how she found the courage to tell for the first time the story of having been raped when she was younger and traveling to Mexico for an illegal abortion, and how this telling made her feel "lighter" than she'd ever felt before, especially knowing that this was part of fighting for a world where no woman ever has to face that again. Several young people spoke movingly about their decision to risk arrest and go to jail, some having to defy the threats and pleading from their parents, but who determined that the future of women was worth risking jail time. Volunteers told stories of watching each other go from polite and timid young women (much in line with how society trains women to be demure and nonaggressive) to bold and firm, including in the face of men who were issuing threats or even trying to run them over during their protests. Together, they brought alive the stakes and the meaning of stepping out and putting oneself on the line for real liberation.

Sunsara Taylor, writer for Revolution/revcom.us and key initiator of StopPatriarchy.org, which led the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride, attended the celebrations in Chicago, New York City, Los Angeles, and Berkeley. She built off of and deepened the observations and stories shared by the other riders, drawing together a fuller picture as to why the ride was so viciously attacked—both because it was breaking with 40 years of the failed strategy that dominates the "pro-choice movement" and because of the participation of communists like herself and other supporters of the Revolutionary Communist Party in this effort.

"Of course the RCP and its supporters were involved in this fight," Taylor said, explaining that they refuse to see women beaten down and slammed backwards and that they see building up this fight as a key part of hastening and preparing for a revolution that finally puts an end to the oppression of women as well as the terror against Black and Latino youth, the destruction of the environment, and the other horrors of the system of capitalism-imperialism. She explained that the RCP and its supporters welcome and stand with everyone coming from other perspectives who see the need to stand up and fight back. She took on the attacks that were leveled with particular venom against Bob Avakian (BA), Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, explaining that BA has made leaps in forging a strategy to actually win a revolution in a country like this and the vision of how to take that forward to complete emancipation and challenging everyone to get into this. She highlighted and invited all to attend and help build for the upcoming historic Dialogue between Cornel West and Bob Avakian on Revolution and Religion on November 15 in New York City.

Taylor concluded by returning to the heightened stakes facing women's right to abortion and the battle for women's liberation more broadly and called on everyone present to get involved in taking this struggle higher, in particular through plans being developed to mobilize major outpourings under the banner "Abortion on Demand and Without Apology" on January 22, the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, in both San Francisco and Washington, DC. This will counter the annual "March for Life" that brings tens of thousands of anti-abortion fanatics out in both of those places.

In Los Angeles, Carol Downer, co-founder of the Feminist Women's Health Centers and Advisory Board member to the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride, spoke about how invigorating it was to be part of the ride for a week. She shared how struck she was at the impact the riders had, how much they were able to transform the thinking of those they encountered and how correct it was to "put women back in the picture" of this battle. In New York City, Merle Hoffman, CEO of Choices Women's Medical Center in Queens and Advisory Board member to the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride, gave a salute to all the riders present and spoke powerfully to the great import of people being willing to fight for the truth and take actions that were consistent with the stakes confronting women. Both of these women started providing abortions in 1971 and brought their decades of experience and wisdom to the ride, which was recognized and appreciated by the riders as well.

In all, deep lessons were summed up and shared for those who gathered—friends, family members, classmates, progressive congregations, revolutionaries, abortion providers, and folks from all walks of life. Before and after the formal presentations, folks hung out, shared food, and got involved in the efforts going forward. All this truly was something great to celebrate and the gatherings lasted late into the night.


See report from the LA celebration here.

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