A pro-life group presented the once-annual pet project of the Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform to a university campus today. The project itself is called “Genocide Awareness Project”, and directly equates abortion with the Nazi Holocaust, Cambodian killing fields, Black lynchings, the Wounded Knee Massacre, and Rwandan genocide. Graphic images of all of these events of mass murder, genocide, and ethnic cleansing stand immediately adjacent to doctored images of what is alleged to be aborted fetal remains. They reserved a clearly distinguished physical space and were given their very own little bubble zone (which they repeatedly violated all day) so that any counter-demonstration did not obstruct the path of foot traffic through the area.
Intent Vs. Impact
Their argument—if you can call it one—goes “abortion is genocide”, or alternatively, “abortion is genocide (in some unspecifiable “sense” of the word)”. But tell them that they are comparing the termination of a single pregnancy in an abortion clinic to chopping a child to death with a machete, and they’ll tell you that’s not what they mean. Call me skeptical, but I don’t remember ever being taught that Intent is an element on the periodic table. In fact, I’m pretty sure it’s not even commonly held in spiritual traditions as one of the basic elements of nature. Indigenous peoples all over North and South America, for example, didn’t have medicine wheels representing Earth, Air, Water, Fire, and Intent. There’s no Intent in the twelve houses of either the European or Chinese zodiac. This might indicate to a clever observer that Intent Isn’t Magical™.
Because no matter what their “intent” is, the impact of their utterly obscene display is the message that accessing abortion is exactly the same as the US military (at the time) completely surrounding the hundreds of women, children, and men at Wounded Knee, opening fire upon them from all directions so that they can try to escape but will be gunned down no matter which way they run, and then dumping their corpses into a mass grave before being awarded a special commendation for bravery. And believe me when I say that there are no medals awarded for bravery when a woman takes herself to a clinic for a therapeutic abortion. She is shamed even before walking into the clinic. Her needs are so heavily stigmatized that for her own protection, the clinic must make itself as unassuming and invisible as possible. She is given the best healthcare available to her, assuming she can get an appointment at a clinic, but even that involves a fairly difficult conversation about the risks she is assuming upon herself by providing her consent to the procedure or medication she is about to receive. She may be shamed or humiliated while she’s coming back out of the clinic — certainly, pro-lifers were so aggressive until local bylaws were reformed, that people from the community who volunteered to safely escort women through those doors were repeatedly and seriously assaulted, and so were abortion clinic staff and doctors. Some communities aren’t so lucky. Her decision is also so heavily stigmatized that she can’t just phone anyone up if she needs to talk to someone any time after it’s over. And other than dentists, who experience the highest professional suicide rate among doctors, I don’t think any doctor is more reviled than one who provides therapeutic abortions among many other reproductive healthcare services.
There are also no mass graves, no war crimes, nor crimes against humanity involved in a woman’s decision to access the safest abortion possible for an unwanted or non-viable pregnancy. In fact, the United Nations defined genocide in 1948, and it rather conspicuously neglected to mention abortion in the guidelines for defining genocide. More recently, the United Nations General Assembly of August 3, 2011 declared that it is a war crime to force women to remain pregnant, and that access to the safest possible abortion is a basic function of several human rights. You would think that if “abortion is genocide” is somehow a truth statement, then the global community that set out the very definition of genocide wouldn’t be defending access to the highest standard for reproductive and sexual healthcare (including abortion) as a fundamental component of the right to body integrity. And yet it does. How about that. Maybe that means that women aren’t Nazis after all, huh.
Finally, there’s something to be said for “Genocide Awareness Project” achieving the magnificent feat of protesting “the genocide of abortion” in the very plaza onto which the Jewish student’s building looks out onto, on a campus that is very likely built directly on top of mass graves of indigenous peoples whose village used to be there prior to contact. I mean, if abortion is genocide, what the fuck do you call that? “Irony” just doesn’t seem to be even remotely adequate. The front of my sandwich board asked them whose ancestors they are standing on, and they didn’t even seem to understand the nature of the question, let alone the answer. The back of it featured the first page of The Indian Act between tall emboldened letters that read “attempted genocide” and “1867 to present”. When one of the pro-lifers returned from a break and started skulking around among pro-choicers, he finally asked me about it before trying to convince me that we agree on the scale and magnitude of what genocide actually means, by saying “You’re right. Indigenous rights are an issue. But abortion is genocide.” No. It’s fucking not. And no. We don’t agree if you’re actually willing to say that.
A man (let’s call him Major Problem) was amidst the protest all day today, moving from person to person and debating with each one for up to an hour at a time, accomplishing exactly nothing for all of his hard make-work. I suppose he did this because he believes himself to be genuinely more intelligent than the collective wisdom of several decades of feminists before him, or in some other way superior. I also believe he was doing this because he actually thinks he can come up with an argument that those several decades of feminists before him have not, that will instantly sway the political biases of the pro-lifers he directly engaged with. I say these things because he wasn’t the only man to do this today, as several men spent many hours standing around debating like this with the pro-lifers, and because I have seen many men before them do the exact same thing to produce the exact same effect. Whatever his motivations or self-appraisals, he wasn’t a problem until he started engaging in this circular debate while shoulder-to-shoulder with pro-choice activists.
A Muslim man approached our group and began passing out cards and trying to do outreach on anyone who would not politely decline to take the card from his outstretched hand. When he got to Maj. Problem, a debate started between the two of them. Whatever in the world that debate was about, once I heard Maj. Problem start talking about whether or not he believes in God, I turned away. A few minutes later, they were still going, and I heard little snippets of what he was saying, but not what the Muslim man was saying. Those little snippets contained terms like “Islamist” and “jihadist”, and I asked the two men if they could please just take their conversation somewhere else so that I didn’t have to hear it — I don’t take particularly kindly to hearing either what sounds like colonialist and racist rhetoric or what actually is colonialist and racist rhetoric, but this is especially true when I’m counter-picketing a hate group that equates the Plan B pill with the gas chambers at Auschwitz. The Muslim man literally darted off as soon as I finished making my request. But Maj. Problem started a fight with me. First he stated that what he said isn’t colonial or racist. Then he said he’s “free to be there just like anybody else” and intended to turn 180 degrees on the spot and continue the conversation I had just asked him to continue elsewhere (even though it clearly has nothing to do with what we were doing there). Then he said I’m “taking [his] choice away” before bringing out a generous helping of tone-policing and insincere distress over my curse words. If that wasn’t enough, a very young woman stepped up to defend his “choice” to pick a fight with me, more or less telling me that I’m Captain Buzzkill (as we stood there, not even ten feet from pornographied genocide). Why, hello, Internalized Sexism. I see you come here often!
Well, Maj. Problem, if you’re reading this (and I doubt you would, because you don’t seem particularly well-versed in the politics of today’s conflict), I have something to say to you:
You and I may be “on the same side”, but that doesn’t make us allies. You have to work to be an ally, and you’ve got a lot of fucking work to do before you can even come close to deserving that title. For starters, your “choice” to pick a fight with me over where you can have a conversation that has little-to-nothing to do with making your presence effective in the middle of a pro-choice protest took my choice away, of what I will and will not put up with while I’m protesting. But it also took away the choice of all those women who were all around you, protesting that disgusting display and its hostile attack on women’s rights. Then there’s that part about you demanding to know if “this is only about women” (of course it fucking is!) and referring to me as “that dude”. Well, little did you know that I’m not a dude. I just sound like one — kind of like how no matter what you were actually saying, you sounded like you were going on a colonialist and racist diatribe about Islam on the pro-choice, anti-racist, anti-colonial counter-protest of a public display of blatantly misappropriated histories of mass murder and ethnic cleansing. That makes you a complete asshole who makes that 15 square feet we were allotted feel unsafe to be around.
As if the pro-lifers weren’t doing enough? Skulking around among us, taking our pictures without our consent, and perpetually trying to bait anyone who seemed willing into an incredibly demoralising debate that creates the exact same impact as your bickering with me did! Or did you fail to notice that was going on while literally every ounce of your attention was focused on the pro-lifers you were debating all morning? I asked you to take your conversation elsewhere because it wasn’t the time or the place for that conversation. I asked you if you know how long I’ve been at this because it was abundantly obvious to me that you didn’t have a sodding clue what you were doing there. That you started a fight with me over it just emphasized my point even further! Check your privileges and leave your motivation to Be Right at the dorm next time you show up to a protest in defence of women’s rights. Fucking please. You know what I was talking about while your back was turned in an endless debate going nowhere? My direct fucking experiences as a fairly well-seasoned activist (especially in relation to abortion rights), my insights into the people we were counter-picketing today, and the tactics they use.
I just want to close this blog entry by talking a little more about obscenity. When I counter-picketed the misappropriated “abortion caravan” of the same organization responsible for today’s display, I ran around topless for about 10 minutes before a cop slut-shamed me at their request. And while I was doing that, photographers from the Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform were taking my picture. They put that picture into a propaganda video, labelling my topless body “obscene”, and then crying victim about a passing cyclist smashing one of the driver’s side rear-view mirrors on one of their dead fetus porn trucks (for which they blamed us non-violent pro-choicers even though none of us were riding around in traffic on bicycles). I don’t use the term obscenity as selectively, hypocritically, or willy-nilly as the CCBR does. It really is an abhorrent violation of the prevalent morality to publicly display photos of lynched Black people, mass graves from a concentration camp or the Wounded Knee Massacre, chopped up children’s corpses in Cambodia or Rwanda, and deliberately dismembered (alleged) fetuses, several feet tall, and without any way to avoid seeing it if you happen to be of the misfortune to pass by it. For fuck’s sake, it even offends people of the same fucking religious faith. It is simply not a violation of any kind for a person of any gender to walk or run about in bright yellow boxer briefs and a raggedy Andy clown wig without a shirt on, let alone an obscenity. What’s even more obscene about today’s display — beyond the pornographication of abortion — is the astounding denial of and inaction against what has been heaped onto and hurled at indigenous peoples, and how it continues to be perpetuated, since European contact.
There are more indigenous children in the custody of child services today than there were in residential schools during the ’60s “scoop” (note: furthered by Canada’s conspicuously narrower definition of genocide when compared to the United Nations declaration on the definition of genocide from 1948). Aboriginal youth are eight times more likely to go to jail than graduate from high school. By 2020, in Alberta and Saskatchewan, a third of the population will be Aboriginal. And though currently, indigenous peoples represent a mere 3% of the country’s population, a whopping 70% of their population is incarcerated at any given time in this country. I am absolutely outraged that this is being ignored, minimized, and blamed on the people who are suffering the products of these statistics in their day-to-day lives.
I can’t even contain my anger when someone like Camera Guy tells me that “abortion is genocide”. Or when he tried to avoid answering the question of why the CCBR doesn’t redirect any of their funding or resources at all to combat the ongoing genocide against indigenous peoples in this country, by asking me why the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals isn’t doing the same. I thought you were furious about genocide, but here you are doing nothing to address it when it concerns indigenous peoples? And are you just completely ignorant of how sacred all animals are to indigenous peoples? You’re seriously asking me why an organization that actively works to prevent cruelty towards animals doesn’t just drop that project and funnel all of its money towards furthering indigenous rights, while you’re working for an organization that actively works to take women’s rights away? Do you have absolutely no conception of how important women are in indigenous communities? I think I’ve finally found the word I was looking for, for the sheer magnitude of the offence today’s display has registered in its particular geographic and social location: it’s obscene.