As David Gunn, Jr. wrote in a recent award-winning blog, the “Abortion Rights Freedom Ride” is on the road. They started inNew York City and San Francisco on July 23 and are headed to Fargo, North Dakota. They will then venture south through Wichita, culminating in a rally at the Jackson Women’s Health Organization in Mississippi.
I wish this group of pro-choice activists much luck in their efforts. Our movement definitely needs an injection of energy because, as everyone knows, we’ve been getting beat up pretty bad in the last few years. It’s time we got off our collective asses, stop whining and start fighting back.
Unfortunately, over the years I’ve found that most hard core activists are not organizers. They love getting out there, giving speeches, holding up signs and getting into people’s faces. But I’ve also seen how efforts like this often just wither away and die. Let me play this out for you.
As I said, this group is now on it is way to Fargo, North Dakota, a state that has only one abortion clinic. When they get there, they will talk (and maybe scream a little) about the pernicious legislation that was passed months ago that would ban abortion as early as six weeks. They will hold a rally, come up with some clever chants and maybe get some press coverage. No doubt some pro-choice folks who have never really participated in any public events will come out of the woodwork. They may even sign a petition.
The question is what happens next?
The same goes for the excursion to Jackson, Mississippi. Like in North Dakota, there is only one clinic left in the state. The Jackson Women’ Health Organization is owned by a fire cracker of a woman named Diane Derzis. Diane has always been an “in your face” kind of advocate. And she owned the clinic in Birmingham, Alabama that was bombed by Eric Rudolph on January 29, 1998.
A short while ago, Mississippi passed a law requiring that all physicians who perform abortions must be OB-GYNs with privileges to admit patients in a local hospital. Diane has vowed to fight it. And in a short while, the Freedom Rider will arrive in Jackson and set up camp for a while. They’ll go through the same drill. Hell, a fight or two might even break out between folks on opposing sides of the issue (and those are the pictures that will make the papers the next day).
But after a day of rallies, what happens next? The fact is that the state legislature has done just about everything it can to try to close down that one clinic but that law is now being delayed by the courts. And it could be there for a while. So, what can pro-choice advocates do in Mississippi at this point?
My suggestion to future groups that have the energy to travel across the country is to focus all of their tremendous energy on those states where laws have not been passed yet but may be considered in the very near future. Why go to states and stand in front of clinics that are likely to close in the future or, if they are not going to close, where activists have absolutely no say in the matter anymore because it’s in the hands of some insulated court? The way I would approach this issue is to think about what will happen if you get 100 people in Jackson to sign a petition saying they support “Abortion on Demand?” What do you do with those names? What do the signers do after the rallies are over?
In Mississippi and North Dakota, there ain’t much you can do at this point with a petition. In other states, the petitions might actually accomplish something.