S.F./Bay Area Conference and Demonstration: Speaking Out for Choice

Revolutionary Worker #942, February 1, 1998

The 25th Anniversary of Roe V. Wade was celebrated in the San Francisco Bay Area with unapologetic consciousness-raising and protest.

On the weekend of January 17-18, an important Reproductive Freedom Conference was held with sessions in the East Bay and San Francisco. Over two full days, 200 people, mostly young women, made presentations, tackled tough questions and talked strategy. Panels included "The State of Reproductive Rights," a "Fight the Right" workshop that exposed the Promise Keepers and the strategies of the Christian Right, a discussion of violence against women, and presentations on women's health issues and fighting economic oppression.

Participating and endorsing organizations included Refuse & Resist!, the Bay Area Coalition for Reproductive Rights, Fireworx, abortion providers, medical professionals, sex education teachers and other activists. Young activists, older veterans of the pro-choice battle, and students for whom this was their first political event spoke out. Several women talked angrily about experiences with fake abortion clinics. One abortion provider talked about how she has to wear a bulletproof vest whenever she appears in public, as do many people who do abortions.

A stark picture was painted of the attacks that have shut down hundreds of clinics. Teachers exposed how reactionary "family values" are being forced onto school curriculums. Others spoke out against different forms of forced sterilization and unsafe birth control. At the workshop on economic oppression, and throughout the weekend, many connections were made between the war on women's reproductive rights and welfare cuts and the growing impoverishment of women. One highlight of the weekend was when a woman in Refuse & Resist! related her experiences in Dayton last summer when she joined with others to go up against a major mobilization by the anti-abortion movement. She brought out through her experience both the role of the police in escorting and facilitating vicious clinic blockades, and also the impact that a small number of people can have when they start to take a strong, determined stand against the antis.

What emerged from the weekend conference was both a stark picture of what several participants called a "war on women" and a determination to, as more than one woman put it, "stop being defensive" and hit back at the whole anti-woman agenda.

On the evening of January 22, 250 people rallied at the corner of 24th and Mission in San Francisco. An 84-year-old woman told the crowd about the dark days when abortion was illegal. A huge puppet of a woman in chains was erected by a group of young artists. The 20-foot-tall woman, wrapped in chains, held a dozen coat hangers, symbolizing the lives of women ruined or ended by illegal abortions. A young woman called on people in the crowd to step forward, throw off the chains, burn the coat hangers, and throw them in the "ashbin of history." One by one, people burned the hangers with labels on them like "Anti-Abortion Violence," "Welfare Cuts," "Fake Clinics," "Rape and Sexual Assault," "Promise Keepers," "Racism," and "Anti-abortion Hate Mongering."

Many of the people at the rally then joined a torchlight march through the heart of the Mission district to Mission High School, where a speak-out was held. With emotional support from the crowd, young women stepped forward on the high school steps to talk about the right to abortion. One student introduced herself as being in the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade and told about her own experience with having an abortion. She said, "I don't have any shame, no nightmares" and posed the question, how is a "young generation of revolutionary women going to come behind us" if they are stuck with no choice about having babies. After the speakout, a couple women told the RW that when they had started to organize the week's activities, it was just the two of them. But they got a very enthusiastic reception when they reached out to others to get involved. One of them, a member of Refuse & Resist!, said this was the first time she had ever done anything like this. The other initiator of the events told the RW that the whole experience gave her "a lot of energy to go kick ass" and that she had been inspired by "new connections, ways of thinking about things that are really fresh."

Other Bay Area events on the 22nd to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Roe v. Wade included a vigil by the National Organization for Women. San Francisco NOW also endorsed and promoted the rally and march in the Mission. In San Jose, the Pro Choice Coalition of Santa Clara County held a rally in front of the Federal Courthouse. And at UC Berkeley, the California Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League and Berkeley Democrats sponsored a pro-choice rally.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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