Dispatch 2 from Jackson, MS

At the Clinic on Saturday: Small Numbers of Anti-Abortion Protesters, Even More Dangerous Legal Threats Mounting, Need to Open Up Deeper Debate Over the Way Forward

By Sunsara Taylor| November 8, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


November 3, 2013. The last time Operation Save America (OSA) called for a week-long siege on the last abortion clinic in Mississippi back in 2006, I watched up close—and counter-protested—as they ran amok throughout the entire city. They targeted and terrorized women and staff at the Jackson Women's Health Organization. They held major press-garnering protests throughout the city. They hooked up a high-decibel sound-system and had women wail and weep about how deeply they regretted their abortions and how desperately they sought forgiveness for “murdering their babies.” Then Christian fascist men who love patriarchy and hate women would call forth vengeance and incite an atmosphere of dangerous violence against abortion providers. They terrorized not only the clinic, but also the Unitarian Church which had opened itself up to out-of-town protesters and they even burned a Koran!

Rally in front Jackson Women's Health Organization November 2, 2013

November 2, the first day of the anti-abortion activists' seige of the Jackson Women's Health Organization in Jackson, Mississippi, about 30 supporters of the clinic stood proudly in front of the clinic to defend women's right to abortion. Photo: StopPatriarchy

So, as we got ready for yesterday (Saturday, November 2), the first day OSA would be at the Jackson Women's Health Organization during their present siege, we were prepared for all of this and more. What we found instead was about fifteen anti-abortion religious fanatics who set up lawn chairs and held a prayer circle across the street from the clinic. Meanwhile, about 40 supporters of the Jackson Women's Health Organization and abortion rights stood proudly in front of the “Pink House” (the informal and affectionate name given to the clinic after its owner painted it bright, vagina pink earlier this year).

We spent the morning chanting, holding signs up and cheering as people in cars honked in support. A few local media showed up and took statements from “both sides” (to then proceed to show biased reports on the evening news—there is this common myth that when they show “both sides” of the truth and a lie, or of oppression and liberation, they are being “even-handed”).

At Jackson Women's Health Organization November 2, 2013. Photos: StopPatriarchy

After a couple of hours Diane Derzis, the owner of the Pink House, arrived and everyone gathered to honor her. Local activists with Hell No Mississippi (a group that formed several years ago to fight a law that would have granted personhood rights to fetuses, thereby criminalizing all abortions, and against voter ID laws that targeted Black and Latino voters), gave a moving introduction to Ms. Derzis. Derzis began running abortion facilities in 1974, just the year after abortion became legal nationwide. Back in 1998, her clinic in Birmingham, Alabama was bombed, causing the death of one security guard and the life-long maiming of Emily Lyons, a nurse. With deep courage, Emily Lyons has spent years speaking uncompromisingly on behalf of women's right to abortion. Immediately after her clinic had been bombed, Diane Derzis fought with incredible determination and heroism to open that clinic back up and she refused to be intimidated or to back down. She also did it with style and attitude (like years earlier, at a clinic under siege in Florida, when Derzis stood in front of a crowd of anti-abortion fanatics with a banana in one hand and a condom in the other and conducted a scientifically based and thoroughly comprehensive sex-education demonstration for the whole Dark Ages crowd)!

Derzis was presented with a beautiful original painting by a local artist of the Pink House. She spoke a few words about how determined she is to keep the clinic open and how much she appreciates the staff and local support for the clinic. Then, we all headed down to protest at the Governor's Mansion. Governor Phil Bryant has said of the Jackson Women's Health Organization, “My goal of course is to shut it down.” Back in 2011, a woman who had been kidnapped, raped and shot twice challenged him that the “Personhood Amendment” that he was pushing would force women to bear the children of their rapists. “Why can’t you men have any sympathy for women like me?” she asked him. But, he demonstrated no sympathy at all, and insisted that the fight to grant personhood rights to fertilized eggs was “a battle of good and evil of Biblical proportions,” and that if the amendment was defeated it meant that “Satan wins.”

Defending right to abortion in front of the governors' mansion, Jackson MS

In front of the governor's mansion, Jackson, Mississippi.

The fact that such a man is holding major public office and is treated as legitimate by this system speaks volumes about how fundamentally illegitimate this whole system is and of how badly we need a real revolution. He has openly declared his total disdain for women's lives and his determination to see women slammed back to the back-alleys and under the harsh authority of men. It was righteous and uplifting to stand with Diane Derzis and others in front of his mansion to voice our determination to fight against everything he represents.

We Remain Tense for Anti-Abortion Protests, But Recognize Even Greater Legal Dangers Looming, and Take Advantage Of Our Time Here to Build this Fight

It is hard to tell exactly what to make of the very small turnout of anti-abortion protesters yesterday. It is impossible to tell if this is a pattern that will continue throughout the week or if there will be greater turnout and anti-abortion protests and terror tactics in the days to come. The fact that there is even the potential for such protests and tactics underscores how important it is that we are down here. It is necessary for many more people and organizations to take this approach of responding and politically countering the anti-abortion forces everywhere they mobilize, especially when they target abortion doctors, providers, clinics and staff.

At the same time, the fact that their turnout thus far has been low is no cause for celebration. As I wrote about recently, there was a horrific legal decision from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans this past Thursday that has the immediate effect of shutting down abortion services at as many as thirteen clinics throughout the state of Texas. The media has reported about patients showing up across the state to find that their abortion procedures had been cancelled. Especially in the southern and western portions of the state, patients were xwere sobbing, x, freaking out and breaking down and clinic staff were weeping andsearching desperately for the means to get these women hundreds of miles to a clinic where they could get the care they need.

It is important to note that Obama has said nothing about this outrageous court ruling and the horror going down right now in Texas. Neither has Hillary Clinton.

At the very moments that we stood gathered in front of the Jackson Women's Health Organization, women across Texas were going through this same experience again and again. Clinic owners were making tough decisions about whether to close their doors and lay off their staff because they have no legal means to run their regular practice and take in income. Not only is this denying women the services they need right now, not only will this concretely mean that many women this week will end up being forced to have children they had already decided they did not want to have, this will make it very difficult for these clinics to re-open even if the legal decision is later reversed (something that there is no guarantee of!). Just think about what actually happens if you are forced to close down your medical facility, lay off your doctors and staff but continue to pay rent and taxes on your property and other expenses. How many clinics will be able to do that? And how many will be able to reassemble staff and doctors many months, or years, down the road even if the decision is reversed?

But even all that is not bad enough. The Fifth Circuit Court in New Orleans is the same court that will hear any appeal from the state of Mississippi over a similar law that currently threatens to close the Jackson Women's Health Organization. This only intensifies the very immediate danger facing this last abortion clinic in Mississippi.

Indeed, the emergency down here in Mississippi is even more intense than when we first got here.

As such, we are—as I stated before—very glad that we mobilized to be down here, and we are determined to take advantage of every minute here on the ground to both build support for the last clinic here and to build involvement in the ongoing nationwide movement to turn the tide in the vicious and murderous war on women. So, after our time at the clinic, then the governor's mansion, and then at a great picnic hosted by two local activists who escort regularly at the clinic and made up the core of Mississippi Occupy, we split our forces up in different directions to get to work on this in various ways.

I don't have time to report right now on the afternoon some of us spent out in the neighborhoods of Jackson, beyond saying that we found a good number of folks (both older and younger) in a low-income African-American that is dotted with foreclosed and boarded up houses. About half the men we spoke to told us of having spent serious time in prison (one had only recently gotten out after 14 years which began when he was only 15 years old!). Most know well the Jackson Women's Health Organization and spoke movingly about the women and young girls who rely on that clinic. They told the kinds of stories we have been hearing a lot down here, of young women and girls who have been either afraid to tell their families or unable to afford the services who have tried to take pills or stick sharp objects up inside them to self-induce an abortion and how this will happen even more if the clinic is forced to close. While there exists a lot of moral condemnation about the act of abortion among some (something we deeply explored and struggled over), many at the same time held great sympathy for the struggles of women with kids they cannot afford and spoke with conviction about the importance, the life-saving importance, of abortion access. We also heard harrowing stories of police brutality especially against Black boys and young men, routine humiliation, lack of jobs, torture in the prisons, and an overall situation of brutal oppression against Black people. I promise to write more about all this soon.

The Urgent Need for Massive Resistance and for Political Clarity; Abortion On Demand and Without Apology!

Everything I have said thus far only underscores the extremely urgent need for people who care about women's right to abortion to get off the side lines right now and begin fighting to change the whole direction that this society is going in. The three goals that were identified by Stop Patriarchy when we launched the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride are more urgent than ever. These goals were: 1. to wage a national counter-offensive against this national war on women, 2. to radically reset the political, ideological and moral terms so that people recognize that this is a fight over women's liberation or women's enslavement and that abortion must be available on demand and without apology, 3. to forge a movement that relies on ourselves, not politicians or the courts, to wage massive society-wide resistance of millions of people to defeat this whole war on women.

Jackson, MS Capitol steps

November 4—On the Capitol steps in Jackson, MS. Photo: Stop Patriarchy

It is imperative that we fight to change the way people in their millions understand the battle over abortion. Most people still think that this fight has something to do with babies. It does not. Fetuses are NOT babies. What the fight over abortion is and has always been about is control over women. Women who cannot decide for themselves when and whether to have a child, women who are denied the right to abortion, cannot be free. And if women are not free then no one is free.

When I first got involved in defending abortion clinics almost twenty years ago, I thought that there was just a big misunderstanding about abortion between the pro-choice side and the “pro-life” side. I thought maybe the anti-abortion folks didn't realize that even if they made abortion illegal women would still get them but they would just die in their attempts to do so. I thought that we could seek “common ground” on the basis of trying to promote birth control and real sex education to reduce the number of abortions. This is the program that was being promoted at the time by Bill Clinton and it had its influence on a great many of us.

However, what I came to learn—both through my personal experience at the clinics interacting with anti-abortion fanatics, in examining legislation pushed mainly by Republicans but also by Democrats, and even more through my study and in particular the analysis on this that had been brought forward by Bob Avakian, the Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party—was that there is no misunderstanding. The anti-abortion leaders are completely aware of the fact that denying abortion will put women's lives at risk. They have never been motivated by concern to reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies. All of them are against birth control! Their real motivation is to take women back to the days when they were openly the property of their husbands and reduced to breeders of children. Bob Avakian points out in his book, Preaching from a Pulpit of Bones; We Need Morality But Not Traditional Morality, and I have directly witnessed this, that the anti-abortionists raise prayers like, “Lord, break this curse of independence that has afflicted women.” They rail against abortion and against birth control because they are dead-set opposed to the idea that women should have full equality together with men, which requires that women be able to control for themselves their own reproduction.

Many abortion providers who have been stalked and terrorized for years know this deeply. However, very few in the “pro-choice” movement will say this publicly. Very few in the pro-choice movement will say the word “abortion” and few think it's okay to set out to actually change people's thinking. Largely, they are still trapped in the deadly and losing strategy promoted by the Democratic Party leadership to seek “common ground,” to conciliate, and to defend abortion mainly by appealing to the needs of women in the most extreme circumstances (women who have been raped, might die from their pregnancies, or are as young as 11 years old and victims of incest). While of course it is an incredible and outrageous exposure of the misogyny of the anti-abortion movement that they would deny abortions even to women in those most extreme circumstances, it is just as unacceptable to deny abortions to other women for whatever reason they might choose them. And reducing the “pro-choice” argument to only (or mainly) those extreme cases ends up conceding to the idea that abortion is somehow wrong (and should be restricted) for other women.

The same holds true for the common insistence (offered repeatedly by Hillary Clinton, a war criminal who is now being promoted and championed by “pro-choice” organizations and websites as the “great feminist choice” for next president), that abortion be “safe, legal and rare.” Why the hell should abortion be “rare”? People who raise this slogan should be asked, “Which women do YOU force to have a child against her will, who would YOU deny an abortion to?” At a time when abortion is already unavailable to so many women, when women and young girls across this country already face incredible hardship seeking abortions and at least one in four who are low-income and seek abortions cannot afford it and are forced to have a child against their will, and when young women are TODAY already doing great self-harm in their attempts to self-abortion in ghettos and barrios and rural areas throughout this country, what are the real world implications of making abortion more “rare”? The implications are enslavement, humiliation, possible death and great harm for women, straight up. We need more abortions, more abortion access, more abortion providers, and a much greater and more vibrant movement of resistance to fight for these things—not less! Besides, saying that abortion should be rare implies that there is something wrong with it, adding to the stigma and shame that already heavily presses down on women. There is nothing immoral about abortion, what is immoral is forcing women to have children against their will!

All this needs to be fought out, and it must be fought out now. It is on the basis of changing people's minds, really waging major political battle with people's thinking that we will be able to unleash the kind of massive and determined resistance among literally millions of people throughout this country necessary to turn the tide. And this resistance must be more than just fighting each battle one by one, constantly losing ground to the whole onslaught. This must be a national counter-offensive and it must be one that relies on ourselves. The courts cannot be relied on to protect these fundamental rights of women, as is being shown in devastating living color right now. And the politicians—not only the very large fascist wing of them that glorifies pregnancy through rape as a “blessing from god” but also the Democratic Party that conciliates and seeks “common ground” with this Dark Ages lunacy—cannot be relied on to do anything but continue the dynamic we've been on for decades where yesterday's outrage becomes today's “compromise position” and tomorrow's limit of what can be imagined.

We have to break out of this dynamic. That is what Stop Patriarchy is determined to lead and everyone who recognizes the true state of emergency facing women must join with us in fighting for this.

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