by Sunsara Taylor | July 14, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
It would be hard to overstate the dangers hurtling towards women in every part of the world today. I’m talking about everything from the rising epidemic of gang-rape from India to Steubenville to the sexual enslavement of millions, from the saturation of the culture with ever-more violent and humiliating pornography to the all-out assault on women’s right to access abortion and even birth control. Everywhere, the oppression of women is being violently and aggressively reasserted.
Here in this country, one major spearhead of this global war on women is shaping up in Texas. Just a couple years ago, Texas—the country’s second most populous state with approximately 26 million—had 46 abortion clinics. By September 1, there are likely to be only six left! This will leave women in the impoverished regions of the Rio Grande Valley (down by the Mexican border) and other rural parts of this vast state hundreds of miles from the nearest clinic. Most poor women won’t make the trip. Instead, they will be forced to have a child against their will—or to risk their lives to self-induce an abortion. Already, growing numbers of women are self-inducing and growing numbers are being arrested for things perceived as a threat to their fetuses.
None of this is completely unique to Texas. Six states in this country have only one abortion clinic left. Hundreds of laws have been passed that restrict abortion access and have closed down dozens and dozens of clinics nationwide in recent years. Across the country women face shame, stigma, and humiliating and vicious protesters at clinic doors. Still, Texas represents a certain concentration point and bellwether for the rest of the country.
A trial is set for August 4 in Austin to determine whether the next round of clinic closures will go forward in Texas (whether on September 1 they will be down to just six clinics). What happens in that trial, but even more importantly what happens among the people, this summer will determine a great deal for the direction of the whole country on this major faultline. If this law goes forward without sharp opposition, it will mean a great leap backward; but if, on the contrary, people come forward to forcefully oppose this and expose the real terms of things, we could begin to turn what has been and is an ugly and relentless tide.
The Abortion Rights Freedom Ride 2014: Ground Zero Texas
It is for this reason that the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride 2014: Ground Zero Texas has been undertaken.
Coming from different perspectives, people from around the country are mobilizing to join with people in Texas to stand up against this assault from July 30 through early September as a critical part of fighting to turn the tide nationwide. The goals of this effort are simple: to get beyond fighting each new assault one by one on ever-shrinking ground and forge a national strategic counter-offensive; to change the way that millions think so that they understand the fight over abortion is a fight over women’s enslavement or women’s liberation; and to call forth mass, independent political resistance instead of relying on courts and politicians.
Through mass, nationally webcast People’s Hearings each Wednesday from July 30 to August 20 in Houston, Austin, San Antonio and the Rio Grande Valley, we will mobilize the outrage of people against these attacks and include testimony of abortions before legalization as well as today. They will include community and religious leaders as well as prominent individuals. Together, they will bring alive the true stakes and urgency of this fight for the future of women everywhere. Across the country, people can send in their testimony to be part of these Hearings and should tune in live to watch.
Each Thursday, the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride will mobilize powerful and dramatic protests outside the offices of key individuals or institutions behind this assault. Brandishing the findings of the People’s Hearings, along with striking images of the women who have died from illegal abortions, wearing shackles which represent female enslavement and holding bloody coat-hangers,* we will expose the utter illegitimacy of these laws and institutions. We will revoke their ability to hide behind claims of “concern for women” or for the “unborn.” We will bring alive the reality that when it comes to abortion there is really only one moral question: Will women be forced to have children against their will or will they be treated as full human beings which means being able to decide for themselves when and whether to be a mother.
Beyond that, Abortion Rights Freedom Riders will get out to the communities, talking with and involving people in standing up to take on and defeat this entire war on women. And during the final week of August, in the lead-up to the September 1 scheduled clinic closure date, the Freedom Ride is mobilizing a nationwide WEEK OF DEFIANCE; a time for people across the country and all around Texas who have been tuning in throughout the month to step out together into the streets.
Who Should Be Part of This? And How?
Every single person who is outraged by this assault on women—and every single person who, as they learn about this, can be won to be outraged—should be part of this effort!
This includes older folks—men as well as women—who remember when girls were “sent away” to have babies and give them up in shame and when women bled to death in motel rooms and parking lots after botched abortions, afraid to call for help. This includes young folks—from the suburbs and campuses to the inner cities and projects—who are shocked at first to hear someone speak positively and unapologetically about abortion. This includes people in the arts and academia, public figures and beloved poets, scientists and health care workers—folks whose voices have disproportionate impact and reach have a responsibility to be heard at this time. And while this definitely includes people who have been active in the struggle to provide and defend abortion rights, this potential reservoir stretches way beyond this and the so-called “usual suspects.”
People who can need to get on the bus, in their car, or on an airplane down to Texas. Be on the ground as a part of this historic political battle. Folks in Texas have begun to and many more need to open up their homes to the volunteers and join in the efforts on the ground. People everywhere need to send money to support and enable those on the front lines. People should send in their testimony to be featured at the hearings. People should spread the word among their friends, families, religious or atheist networks, community groups, local media, and in other ways about the ride. Throughout the country people need to start scheduling viewing parties every Wednesday and get ready to take it to the streets during the Week of Defiance.
Vicious Attacks in Defense of a Failed and Deadly Program
Many have stepped forward from a great many different perspectives to support and take part in this Ride. This is very important. At the same time, it is still just a fraction of who can and must be won to take part.
Others have come out in vicious and unprincipled attack. Individuals grouped around some pro-choice organizations in Texas, as well as some individuals from other parts of the country, have taken it upon themselves to spend inordinate amounts of time and energy spreading tabloid-style rumors, making emotionally charged accusations, and even threatening the organizers of the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride for daring to mobilize people to stand up on the front lines.
The Advisory Board of the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride 2014: Ground Zero Texas has issued a response to these attacks, which everyone should read. As this response points out, there is a huge difference between principled and substantive debate over the way forward, and attacks and slanders which foster distrust, demoralization, division, and even danger to people’s lives.
Here I will add: the fact that these attackers resort to impugning to us things that we would never advocate, as well as the fact that they have consistently steered clear of responding to the substance of our analysis and actual plans that we have repeatedly and forthrightly set forward are just a reflection of how desperate they are to obscure the real differences of approach being advocated.
Beneath their ludicrous claims to somehow speak for all 26 million people of Texas when they tell us to “stay out,” beneath their delusion that somehow what is happening in Texas is just a “local” issue the outcome of which will not affect women everywhere, beneath their McCarthyite anti-communism, and beneath their distortions of the Ride’s plans and views towards other pro-choice forces, is the well-worn and definitively failed political program of laying low, denying the true scope of the emergency, relying on the courts and chasing after the left end of the electoral political spectrum as the whole spectrum continues to hurtle further and further to the right.
Theirs is not a “new program.” For decades, “leading pro-choice voices” have urged people to pour their energies into elections, to “reframe” abortion as “just another form of healthcare,” and to “stay away from confrontation” with anti-abortion forces. This has done nothing to stave off anti-abortion assaults and only served to disorient and demobilize the millions who could be won to stand up and fight back.
This same essential approach led the women’s movement to capitulate to, rather than fight, the Hyde Amendment that revoked federal funds from abortion and caused women— in particular, poor women—to start dying once again. This approach led the “pro-choice movement” to support Bill Clinton, even as he insisted abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare” as if there were something morally wrong with it and signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act which is the foundation for the Supreme Court’s recent Dark Ages Hobby Lobby ruling against birth control. This approach worked to redirect the righteous anger that poured out in the Texas capitol a year ago against these anti-abortion restrictions away from the concrete goal of preventing clinic closures into the goal of getting Wendy Davis elected, proclaiming that “reproductive justice in Texas is stronger than ever” as clinics are shuttered and women’s lives are foreclosed.
Can we get real? This approach has been and is abetting the death and enslavement of women.
We must embark on a different road and we must do it now. Again, we ask EVERYONE who is outraged by these assaults to come together and direct our political fire against the REAL enemy.
It is urgent that people step out boldly and unapologetically—in the streets and in many other ways. That we surge to the front lines of the most sharply joined battle and wake others up to the emergency that we face. We must stop aiming all our efforts at what seems “realistic” within the currently existing political landscape and embark on the road of fighting to change the terms on this question throughout society. We must tell people the truth and we must act accordingly.
This is what the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride 2014: Ground Zero Texas is aiming to do, and everyone who does not want to see women forced to have children against their will has a responsibility and a role to play in making this real.
* The coat hanger is a symbol of terror and enslavement of women. Before abortion was made legal, many women sought illegal abortions or tried aborting the fetus themselves, often using coat hangers to induce bleeding, and often these women died. The coat hanger became a symbol in the battle to win the right to abortion, and is still iconic of what the lack of this right means for women.