A Reflection on Rally Protesters
By Priya Hay-Chatterjee
A couple of weeks ago in Downtown Silver Spring, I attended a rally for both Jamie Raskin, my Maryland representative, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, New York’s iconic progressive congresswoman. I was born and raised in Silver Spring, so it was extra special to see politicians who reflect my liberal views in my liberal hometown. Congressman Raskin and Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez both discussed their progressive stances on environmental policy, prison reform, and other contentious issues, but stayed surprisingly silent about sexual and reproductive health issues such as abortion care. Both representatives are staunchly pro-choice, so I was disappointed that they did not make clear during the rally that abortion care is health care and should not be attacked in Maryland. It was especially disappointing that they didn’t acknowledge recent threats to our health care considering who showed up outside the rally.
Upon arriving in Downtown Silver Spring, I noticed a half a dozen people walking towards the Civic Center at Veterans Plaza with large black signs saying something about abortion. I instantly realized they were anti-choice protesters and were coming to guilt the rally guests about their pro-choice values. I was disappointed but not surprised — the DC metropolitan area (including nearby Maryland counties and Northern Virginia) is a hub for liberal thought and ideology, so where better to find shame pro-choice rally-goers than this lively progressive suburb?
I walked towards the Civic Center, where two other young women sitting on a bench started asking me about my NARAL shirt and about my work with NARAL. I told them about the work I’ve been doing this summer on the emergency contraception (EC) campaign and advancing school-based health centers, and one of the women was so excited about the work we’re doing that she followed our Instagram page. While we were talking, an older woman came up to me, noting my pro-choice shirt and the anti-choice protesters and suggesting, “If you’re pro-choice and they’re pro-life, why don’t you go talk to them?”
I shook my head, saying, “No, there’s no point. Their beliefs aren’t based on scientific fact, so I’m not going to change their minds. I don’t want to argue with people who don’t believe in science.”
The woman then proceeded to detail stories of infanticidal doctors, asserting that abortion providers are murdering babies after birth, at which point I said goodbye to the two young women I’d met and walked away from the negativity, joining the line for the rally.
While I was in line with another intern, Jo, and her friend Madee, the anti-choice protesters moved and stood along the line with their signs facing us, depicting dismembered babies covered in fake blood — clearly, the images were cut-up plastic baby dolls. It wasn’t until they moved closer to us that I noticed who was holding these signs: six children, no older than twelve, standing outside in oppressive heat and humidity, were arguing with the rallygoers in line, egged on by their guardians. I saw one young girl holding an anti-choice sign, arguing with a woman four or five times her age. Her hands shook as she tried to explain her indoctrinated stance to a woman who stood steadfast with her values.
One woman holding an anti-choice sign tried to provoke Jo, Madee, and myself, pestering us to know what we thought about the images on the signs and attempting to convince us that abortion is murder. We ignored her — why would we think that arguing with this woman for five minutes would make her change her stance on abortion care? Two women behind us in line continued to argue with the protesters, and everyone was clearly getting angry. This left me wondering, why would the pro-choice constituents in line give the anti-choice protesters the satisfaction of acknowledging their extremist, unfounded beliefs?
This Monday, we had a meeting with Caitlin Blunnie from ReproAction where we learned how to discuss abortion care with anti-choice people. Extremist anti-choice thought is expressed through violence and disgust toward abortion care and abortion providers, while activist pro-choice thought is generated through the lens of feminism and reproductive rights and justice. One of the first points Caitlin made about these conversations is that if a person’s feelings about abortion are centered in violence and disgust, talking to them about their views on abortion is not going to change their opinion. People with extremist views have most likely formed their views on abortion care around warped, out-of-context religious passages and around misogyny, so attempting to change their thought is not a productive use of our time and mental energy. Instead, we need to focus our precious resources on educating those who are more ambivalent towards abortion by planting seeds of our thoughts on bodily autonomy and other necessarily feminist and pro-choice values.