The seasons are changing, and so are my tactics. After getting sufficiently tired of being angry about the sexual harassment and slut-shaming taking place outside the abortion clinic where I’ve been picketing for the past five months, I’ve decided to take the fight to the front door of the people who started it. After doing a whole bunch of research, I’ve fairly definitively determined what appears to be the home of Vancouver’s chapter of Pro-Life Society and Knights of Columbus — two organizations that work to undermine the right to bodily autonomy (especially as pertaining to women and abortion) by setting up pickets at abortion clinics. Only they call them “prayer meetings”. Both of them are associated with the same Catholic parish, so that’s where I went. St. Patrick’s Parish of Vancouver. Here’s the parish’s webpage, on which they boast about all the things their parish has been doing to harass and shame women (only they call it “outreach”). They also briefly mention on that page, a figure whose image, name, and purpose they have appropriated from Mexican culture — the Virgin of Guadalupe, to whom pregnant women would pray for a safe pregnancy. And here’s the parish’s webpage, on which they brag about being the anti-abortion equivalent of the Freemasons.
Allow me to preface this by stating transparently that though I have wanted to start doing something of this nature for quite some time now, I have been concerned for my safety, and I have been concerned about being perceived as an antagonist (which can, in turn, threaten my safety). When I stepped out there today, I was grateful for the fact that I chose to cover my face, because my grief and trauma began boiling to the surface as anger, even as I was still walking to the parish. My face was quivering, and at times, I felt like I couldn’t breathe deep enough. I am, after all, a human being. And I am taking a powerful and visible stance, in a way that makes me very literally vulnerable, against what is looking more and more every day like a Catholic-church-funded hate movement of religious bigots. But I worked through it on my own within 15 minutes of arriving in front of the parish while their afternoon mass continued on inside. And I stood out there alone, looking like this:
I’m pleased to report that I received a surprising amount of support throughout that 90 minutes, as I stood across the street from the church, facing its front windows and rush-hour traffic. Some of the people driving by and giving me thumbs up, nods of appreciation, or honking at me as they passed, actually had rosaries hanging from their rear-view mirrors. A few people took pictures with their cell phones, and one person even took pictures with multiple cell phones. I received absolutely no trouble from passersby, though a police vehicle with two officers inside did pull up and remain stationary for approximately 15 minutes, and for that entire duration, I was actually concerned that they were going to hassle me. Ultimately, that concern (perhaps even a sense of paranoia) comes from watching videos of my friends being thrown to the cement, boot-fucked, handcuffed, and shoved up against cement waste bins by Vancouver Police, for assembling with cookware at the art gallery. It’s pretty hard to shake that off when you’re alone next to that police vehicle, but they eventually left without even getting out of the car.
When I finally decided it was time to fold my sign back up and leave, I felt much stronger than when I had first arrived. I felt that, despite my many concerns for my safety and for the way I will be perceived, I kept my message simple enough that this should not be a high-risk demonstration. In fact, it gave me time to really stop and think about the purpose of their pickets at abortion clinics as well. All they want is to be seen there. Their entire purpose is to be a visible pillar of shame. One which they certainly can’t expect “the unborn” to see, so they explicitly target women. I can empathize with the hospital staff whose clinic is currently being picketed 24 hours a day, who insist that they don’t want a counter-picket to show up, simply because more anti-choicers will show up to attract more attention to themselves. And that’s what they want, too. They want pro-choicers to show up to their pickets and attract attention to them. They want to be able to claim that pro-choicers are creating some sort of impediment to their right to free speech, or some other victim complex they hold closer to their hearts than the oppression they are inflicting upon women. And most of all, they want us to get angry.
I find myself reflecting back on the beginning of my involvement in pro-choice: I got angry, and I started writing about why. And by the time I got out to the demonstration for the first time, I was ready to take the piss out of them — not by engaging them in debate they want me to feel compelled to start with them, and not by creating the pro-choice counter-picket they want me to start, but by exposing their hatred towards all women. They disguise it with meaningless debate about the “right to life” of entirely hypothetical persons, but that’s all a red herring. The root of it all is misogyny, and I’m starting to consider new ways of depriving them of what they want from me, while still continuing to expose them.