The so-called "Summer of Justice" protest week was...hot.
Wichita, Kansas, site of the original 1991 so-called "Summer of Mercy" protests, for which these protests were intended to be an anniversary celebration and renewal, has been experiencing a heat wave. Not exactly unusual for the third week in July. But that's the week chosen by Rusty Thomas, director of Operation Save America, who went on to say "I pray what God began in 1991, he's going to complete in 2016."
Not being God, I can only offer my own view: I hope the "completed" part is true.
Wouldn't that be nice? Last Thursday, during the protest week, David S. Cohen, co-author of the new book Living in the Crosshairs: The Untold Stories of Anti-Abortion Terrorism, gave a talk at a local bookstore. He told the stories of abortion providers who have been harassed, threatened, and in some cases outright attacked in the decades since Roe v. Wade was decided.
He told us of doctors, medical assistants, clinic owners, and volunteers who have been forced to wear disguises and take alternate routes to work because of threats, whose children have been stalked at school, and in one case had her personal information including home address published in a "newsletter" that was distributed to pro-life prisoners currently serving time. Yes, pro-life violent criminals were informed, during their prison sentence, that the only way to stop abortionists is with a bullet and by the way, here's one of their home addresses.
At this point, I had already contacted Trust Women to express a desire to do something to help during the upcoming anniversary protest. Operation Save America had been kind enough to publish an anticipated schedule for the week, including speakers (note the gender of all involved), and I wanted to be useful in some way during what would surely be a stressful time for both South Wind Women's Center (Dr. George Tiller's former clinic: see this post and this post) and the Planned Parenthood central Wichita location.
I've gone to this Planned Parenthood location several times, with a positive experience each time. But security is something of a concern. At the Repro Rally on July 9, Planned Parenthood was accepting volunteers to act as escorts from the parking lot to the door of the clinic. South Wind, by contrast, has a secure private parking lot, which is something of a luxury in that it doesn't seem to be very common for clinics that provide abortion services (though it should, in my humble view, be ubiquitous and government-funded).
So my initial question for Trust Women/South Wind was whether they'd like support in the form of counter-protest, and was told no-- actually, engaging the protesters would be counter productive. But maybe I could be a legal observer? A legal observer's job is to observe, obviously, via your eyes and ears and video recording device and camera and notepad and however else you can notice, record, and document what's going on. Not being a confrontational person (to put it lightly), this seemed to me an ideal way to help out. What, you mean I don't have to shout at people who hate me? I can just be present, and pay attention? Sign me up!
So I was signed up. I got trained. I met some really cool people in the process, whose identities I won't give here for privacy's sake, but I can say this: Everybody cared. Everybody wanted to do something to defend the right to an abortion on the ground, against an onslaught of people who want to attack it on that level.
But we weren't fighting-- we were explicitly not fighting. That, of course, didn't stop protesters from approaching us, once they figured out that we weren't part of their group. We didn't make it blatantly obvious, of course-- no pro-choice t-shirts or signs. Just some people wandering around, watching, who were distinguished somewhat by the fact that we weren't wearing t-shirts with big crosses on them or waving signs.
I trained on one day, and observed on two days following that. The protesters who approached me, on both days, were always men. Men over the age of 35, of varying degrees of politeness ranging from "Have a nice day" to "What you're doing is evil, and I hope you know that."
The number of signs and slogans that co-opted Black Lives Matter, and the wider movement against police racism and brutality, was astonishing.
No one, to my knowledge, was arrested. There was ample police presence, and the police officers were friendly to everyone. From what I observed they didn't interact much with either the protesters or the legal observers. I was profoundly grateful for their presence-- for obvious reasons, but also because it made my job decidedly easier.
So let's talk about that now. Let's talk about how last Saturday, the final day of the protest, I was observing until the official end, and I observed several protesters walk up to police officers and thank them for not arresting them. The "Thank you" part is great-- no issue with that. The "...for not arresting us" part is slightly different.
Pro-life protesters: They weren't not arresting you because they're nice, or because they respect or agree with you. They weren't arresting you because, for the most part, you weren't breaking the law.
The police are not on a crusade to arrest the virtuous pro-lifer at the behest of the evil abortion provider-- they're there to enforce the law, and the abortion providers and volunteers are happy to see them do it. Due to the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, or FACE Act, protesters may not physically prevent doctors or other clinic personnel from entering the clinic, and you did not do that. You just shouted at them, with microphones and amplifiers. For the most part, you stayed where it was legal to stay. That is why you didn't get arrested.
Freedom of speech protects your right to gather in groups and tell lies on the sidewalk. For better or for worse.
And boy, were there a lot of lies.
I often wonder about how the pro-life movement would look if everyone, nationwide, actually understood what abortion is.
When I see a pro-life lie about abortion, I have long since stopped thinking in terms of "liars for Jesus," because there's one critical problem with admonishing people for their supposed hypocrisy in violating one of the Ten Commandments in the name of their faith: You cannot lie if you don't know what you're saying is untrue. And I honestly don't think they know. They haven't ever been taught the truth, so they don't know that what they're proclaiming is a lie.
Ignorance is the greatest enemy of human rights.
These people think there is such a thing as "post abortive syndrome," where women who get abortions find themselves in a state of long-lasting regret and even self-destructive behavior afterward.
These people think that women get abortions because they are promiscuous, lazy, and/or selfish.
These people think that abortion harms/risks your body in ways that pregnancy and giving birth do not.
These people think that providing abortion services for minorities, who, due to poverty, are in greater need of abortion services, is racist.
These people preach against homosexuality and birth control at the same time as abortion, because they think "be fruitful and multiply" is a God-given mandate.
These people think that "viable" means a fetus is a healthy baby.
These people think banning abortion would end the killing of babies, rather than resume the killing and imprisonment of women.
These people think that abortion providers, people receiving abortions, and people defending the right to abortion don't know what they're doing. They think we don't know what abortion is.
Ignorance really is the greatest enemy of human rights.