That Look: The Final Day of the Week of Defiance

September 6, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper |


from a reader and Abortion Rights Freedom Rider

Abortion Rights Freedom Ride Week of Defiance

from a reader and Abortion Rights Freedom Rider

When the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride heard that Judge Yeakel had ruled in favor of abortion providers in Texas, and that the 19 abortion clinics in Texas would remain in operation at least for now, I felt a combination of cautious relief and determination. Relief because what had been at stake was 13 of those clinics, the lives of thousands of women in Texas, and national implications of allowing these closures on top of that. Determination because I know that none of these laws, hundreds in recent years, are legitimate. Determination because patriarchy and the enslavement and degradation of women everywhere is rampant and totally unnecessary, and the fact that these clinics across Texas were ever in such peril, the fact that women's right to abortion is controversial at all, speaks to deeply embedded structures and traditions that I aim to see buried in the dusty pages of history, and that can't come a moment too soon.

I got the call outside of Governor Rick Perry's mansion on Friday, August 29. It was nearly 5pm. The clock had ticked incredibly slowly that day, and there we were, for the seventh time, at the culmination of weeks of struggle, protest, and exposure. The person on the other end of the phone said, "The judge ruled. He blocked the law. The clinics won't close on Monday, but the Attorney General is going to appeal it." So you understand my mixed feelings. These clinic closures would have been a disaster, and yet even with this ruling, it's clear that the anti-abortion movement is not going to stop until they see women everywhere barefoot and pregnant in a life of domestic servitude, or locked up for stepping out of line.

Some college students we had met earlier that week came marching up to the mansion. This was where people in Austin could find Stop Patriarchy that week, and this was where anybody and everybody could come and voice their outrage at the governor who signed into law the four-part anti-abortion bill that had already closed half the clinics in Texas. This was the governor who said, "My goal is to make abortion, at any stage, a thing of the past," condemning every woman in his state with those words to a subhuman status, without any justified sexual existence outside of motherhood, and without the right to decide the direction of her life.

We reconvened after a short march, and several journalists and news networks had arrived to hear our take on the ruling. Some had been covering the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride from Houston, to Austin, to San Antonio, to the Rio Grande Valley, back to Austin, and others had heard of or seen the two acts of civil disobedience that ended in the arrests of 14 Abortion Rights Freedom Riders. Some of them felt like friends: they had at different times designed powerful videos or braved lines of police officers or border patrol to project the perspective of this group that in this crucial moment was sounding the alarm, telling the true and compelling stories of women and abortion, and urging the whole damn country from "Ground Zero Texas" to stand for women's liberation, to fight the power and defy the attacks on abortion rights.

The plantation-style white mansion loomed behind us, surrounded by an iron gate, and guarded by men with big guns who watched our every move, surveilled at times by flying drones, and swathed in the reactionary flags of Texas and the U.S. The recent indictment of Rick Perry for "abuse of power" does not begin to tell the story of his crimes against humanity: he has gone to great lengths to throw the brutal power of the state at immigrants, dehumanizing them relentlessly and repeatedly in his words and actions, and he has the blood of women on his hands. Everything about this place is violent, and drips with the smug pride of a slave-master that is protected by a military that itself has no right to rule. There on the steps, we announced: "This is not over! These restrictions on abortion are illegitimate, and we don't have to accept any of it. Not here, not anywhere. Governor Rick Perry's power is illegitimate. And we won't stop until we make people like him, and his institutions and his whole system, a thing of the past!"

As I stood facing that disgusting and decadent castle of hateful oppression and power-that-should-not-be, and seeing the faces of the Abortion Rights Freedom Riders that had been arrested, those that had left their homes and their jobs to come to Texas in the face of threats, slander, and cynicism, and those students who had just joined us that day, I was reminded of an interview with Sunsara Taylor in July, before the ride launched. Dennis Trainor of Acronym TV always asks his guests, "What will be the headline, and what will be the picture in the newspaper, on the day you win?" Sunsara's answer was that we will not win for real until we make a revolution. She said the headline would be, "Thousands of Years of Tradition's Chains Thrown Off" and the picture would be faces with expressions you just don't see in today's world. The kind of pride that is not personal, uplifting and uplifted expressions across the faces of women and men alike, in stark contrast to all the shame and degradation people carry today.

While we shouted out one last time outside that horrible mansion, I knew we were not free. All the people I was standing with knew it, too. A victory today, in one state, from an imperialist court, while the gubernatorial hopeful scrambles to appeal, in the dust of the avalanche of clinic closures Texas has already seen, while the same restrictions are pinning women down across the country, and a hundred other forms of cruelty and aggression crush lives and stamp out dreams before they are even dreamed, all around the world... it's hard to even use the word "victory" at all. But it was a victory. And in that moment, I thought, I know something about the expressions on people's faces in the newspaper the day we really win, and I want to see much more of it before that day.

Sunsara Taylor was right—there will be a new expression of having thrown off thousands of years of tradition's chains, that we have yet to see. But there is a shadow of that look that we can definitely see today, in the course of fighting the power and transforming the people for revolution: a kind of shared pride that beams brighter than being proud just of oneself, and also a determination to go further. That's the expression I got to see on the faces of men and women, young and old, who had been fighting tirelessly against this whole fascist program that is threatening women's right to abortion, for a month, for two years, for forty years, or who just stepped that day into this moment—a pride not personal, and a deep determination to uproot all the systemic oppression that is concentrated in that imperialist flag, and in the mansions of the dictators that rule over us. That is a look that radiates, "We will not stop until we see them fall. We will not stop until society is transformed into a place that is fit for humans to live and thrive. We are right, and we have a world to win."


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