If you have been following my recent posts, you know I am supporting the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride set to kick off on 23 July 2013 in New York City and San Francisco.  I discussed this summer’s action with a number of people I respect, and there is a divide in the abortion rights community on whether or not it is wise to embark on this action.  I did not reach the decision to support and join with the Riders without giving the decision due diligence; nor, did I neglect to consider the multiple outcomes of the action.

When facing a dichotomous debate among two sides of the community, two camps who should be working together toward common goals, I ask myself now as I did in the past, What Would Dad Do?  Would he shrink back into the shadows, rely solely on private action and influence, or would he advocate, and actually engage in, direct action and response to those who tormented, stalked, and eventually killed him?  Obviously, we know the answer:  he did not back down!  As I wrote a couple of posts ago, I also cannot and will not back down.

Upon the 20th year after my dad’s murder by a Christian terrorist, as we face continued threat of violence, and as state after state passes draconian anti abortion legislation, I reflect not only on what my dad would do but also consider the words of Yeats:

Things said or done long years ago,
Or things I did not do or say
But thought that I might say or do,
Weigh me down, and not a day
But something is recalled,
My conscience or my vanity appalled.

Knowing I will be appalled by remaining silent, I resolved the vacillation by opting to support what I believe is the right course of action.  To that end, I co-authored a piece on the merits and need of the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride with one of its primary organizers Sunsara Taylor.  I want to share with you our recent missive so perhaps more of us will come together on the need for direct, vocal, and mass support our clinics, our doctors, and our rights

Abortion Rights Are At a Crossroads:
This is NOT a Time to Lay Low – It is Time for Massive Uncompromising Struggle!

By Sunsara Taylor and David Gunn, Jr.
July 12, 2013

Across the country, people are waking up to the state of emergency facing the right to abortion. As legislators in Texas push hard to close down 37 of 42 abortion clinics statewide, new laws in North Carolina would close four of their five remaining clinics. Meanwhile, Ohio’s recently passed budget could close as many as three abortion clinics. North Dakota, on August 1st, may become the first state to effectively ban abortion. Already Mississippi’s last abortion clinic is merely an appellate ruling away from closure. We could go on.

If we do not reverse this trajectory now, we will condemn future generations of women and girls to forced motherhood, to lives of open enslavement, terror, and life-crushing shame. Women will be forced to have children they do not want, trapping them in abusive relationships, driving them into poverty, forcing them out of school, and extinguishing their dreams. Women will go to desperate and dangerous measures to terminate unwanted pregnancies, once again flooding emergency rooms and turning up dead women in cheap motels with blood caked between their legs.

We face two divergent roads: Either we seize control of the debate and reset the terms and whole trajectory of this fight; or we continue down the road of “established conventional wisdom,” only to awaken before long to an unrecognizable and untenable situation for women. What each of us does matters,and matters tremendously.

It is in this context that we initiated an Abortion Rights Freedom Ride. Our echo of the Civil Rights Freedom Rides is intentional and fitting. Women who cannot decide for themselves if and when they have children are not free. On the contrary, they are mere child-bearing chattel whose purpose is to serve and not actively chose their destinies.

Volunteers on this Freedom Ride will caravan from both coasts to North Dakota, traverse through the middle of the country into Wichita, and head due south to Jackson, Mississippi. Our aim is threefold: one, we must move beyond localized fights andlauncha national counter-offensive; two, we must radically reset the political, moral, and ideological terms of this fight so that millions understand that this fight is about women’s liberation or women’s enslavement; lastly, and of paramount importance, we must call forth the mass independent political resistance that is necessary to defeat this war on women.

As the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride evolved from conception to genesis, many have responded by with enthusiastic and unequivocal support. Regular people from across the country as well as those who have been on the front lines of the abortion rights struggle are joining with us in demanding abortion rights without compromise and thanking us for daring to travel to where women’s rights face harshest threat.

However, some who share our passion for the cause have raised concerns and even opposition to this action. They fear the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride will be too confrontational, too vociferous for abortion, and may turn off avenues of support.
Some have argued that it is wrong for people to come into local areas from the outside. Others argue that mass political protest will endanger the chances of winning important court cases and that it is better to rely on official channels of politics.

Because the future of women is at stake, we feel it is critical to address these concerns head on. In fact, it is exactly the faulty logic at the root of these concerns that has contributed to all of us finding ourselves in such a dire situation.

First, while local ground conditions are different and unique in some ways, the fact that every clinic and every state is facing heightened assault is not unique nor is it local. We all face a national assault on abortion rights which requires a national counter-offensive. Not only is it utterly immoral for us to abandon the women living in the states most under direct duress, it is delusional to think that what happens in states like Arkansas, Mississippi, North Dakota and Kansas will not come soon to a theater near you. Our futures are bound together and we all share the responsibility to take this on and turn the tide where the attacks are the most severe.

Second, while it is true that a great many people – including many who support abortion rights – are defensive about abortion, they should not be ashamed and this defensiveness and shame is precisely something we must eradicate.

Among the reasons many are defensive about abortion are decades of propaganda by those who oppose women’s equality but posture as defenders of “babies”; meanwhile, supporters of abortion rights have too often been conciliatory, muted, and compromising. This must stop. This fight has never been about babies. It has always been about controlling women. This is why there is not a single major anti-abortion organization that supports birth control.

If we want to turn the tide, we have to tell the truth: there is absolutely nothing wrong with abortion. Fetuses are NOT babies. Abortion is NOT murder. Women are NOT incubators.

A great many people are hungry for this message. They are furious and searching for a meaningful vehicle to make their outrage felt. It is only by asserting the positive morality of abortion rights that we can call forth and mobilize the tens of thousands who already share our resolve. Only through direct action and a polemical shift can all of us stand together and change how millions of others are thinking. Shouldn’t this emergency situation awaken us to the need to change public opinion, not accommodate it?

History has proven that directly confronting oppressive social norms can be disruptive and scary; yet, it is a necessary and uplifting part of making any significant positive change. Many argued that it was wiser for LGBT people to stay closeted until society was more accepting; others counseled against the Civil Rights Freedom Rides out of fear that it would only rile up the opposition, but it was only when people took that risk and got “in your face” that broader public opinion and actions began to change.

We must create a situation where being anti-abortion is seen to be as socially unacceptable as it is to advocate lynchings, anti-LGBT violence, or rape (although, if you listen to some on the Right, rape advocacy is not necessarily off their table).When we reach that summit, we will be on our way to turning the tide.

Third, while court cases are important – even essential – it is only through truly massive independent political struggle that we stand a chance at defeating the truly unyielding and powerful foe we face. Every setback the anti-abortion movement experiences only makes them more determined and every victory only makes them more aggressive. They will not be appeased if we lie low. No court case or election or new law will stop them. Not only has the existing power structure proven unwilling or unable to do so, people who believe they are on a “mission from God” are not bound by human laws and do not yield to public opinion.

But they can be defeated. Forced motherhood is deeply opposed to the interests of humanity. If we get out there and tell the truth, if we resist, if we clarify the stakes of this battle, and if we mobilize wave upon wave of the masses to get off the sidelines and into the streets with us, we can win. There is a tremendous reservoir of people who can and must be called forth to join in this struggle. We have seen this vividly in Texas. Let us not underestimate the potential that exists in every state across this country.

We stand at a crossroads. For the future of women everywhere, let us refuse the worn pathways that have allowed us to lose so much ground. We must not lay low, hope these attacks will blow over, and allow women in some parts of the country to be forced into mandatory motherhood while hoping to preserve the rights of a shrinking few. We cannot continue to foster the attitude that abortion is the 21st Century’s Scarlet Letter while allowing abortion providers to be further stigmatized and demonized. We cannot recoil from the massive fight that urgently needs fighting at this moment in this time.

Now is the time for courage, for truth telling, for stepping out and launching an uncompromising counter-offensive. We have right on our side. We call on everyone who cares about the future of women to join with us in strengthening the national impact and influence of this Abortion Rights Freedom Ride. Join with us at our kick-off rallies in New York City and San Francisco in July 23. Caravan to meet us in North Dakota, Wichita, Kansas, and Jackson, Mississippi. Send a donation or a message of support. Reach out to individuals and religious communities that can provide safe passage to the courageous individuals who are giving up their summers and putting everything they have into winning a different and far better future for women. Most importantly, let us together take the rough road to victory. It may be less traveled, but only through struggle can we reap the benefits of love’s labor won.

To learn more about and get involved with the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride, go to: http://www.stoppatriarchy.org/

Sunsara Taylor writes for Revolution Newspaper (revcom.us) and is an initiator of the movement to End Pornography and Patriarchy: The Enslavement and Degradation of Women (StopPatriarchy.org)

David Gunn, Jr. is the son of David Gunn, Sr., the first abortion doctor to be assassinated by an anti-abortion gunman, and blogs for Abortion.ws

David Gunn, Jr.

David Gunn, Jr.

Sitting in Mrs. Croom’s third grade classroom during recess, copiously copying text from a random text book as punishment for some nine year old transgression I cannot recall or name, a girl sitting next to me on one of those round white tables with a black plastic border looked up from her science book, regarded me seriously and full of unmitigated and undeserved hate, and told me I was going to hell. Here I was nine years old and condemned to hell wondering just what I did to deserve soul annihilation at the hands of an angry Satan and even angrier third grade girl.

It was quite an odd statement from a fellow classmate, and one that felt irrationally unjustified since my sin to innocence ratio at age nine, though I had smoked a cigarette, drank some beer, and had the beginnings of what would eventually become carnal thoughts (not hard to develop when you’re the son of a gynecologist and overly hormonal even for a nine year old), were nonetheless relatively new and certainly not worthy of eternal damnation in my estimation. Being a damnation virgn so to speak, I asked her what justified my condemnation to everlasting suffering, and I recall she pointed to my T-shirt.

You have to realize, I discovered rock music at an early age and developed what we might now call a man crush on Kiss at age six or seven. I had most of their records by third grade, even the shitty solo efforts each member released of which Ace’s was my favorite. In fact, I was a proud card carrying member of the Kiss Army, and my room was adorned with all sorts of Kissmobelia. Of course, in 1979, Kiss was widely known as Knights in Satan’s Service in certain circles in America especially those in the Bible Belt where I now found myself firmly planted. Even at nine I realized the proposition that four New York pop rockers who wore clown make up and sang incessantly about sex were not Pied Pipers to Hell’s gate; yet, my first taste of damnation stung and troubled me for longer than I wanted to admit. In fact, though I’m loathe and embarrassed to admit, they served as an introduction to fundamentalism to which I later succumbed as a result of relentless pressure and more eternal damnations.

Of course, this was not the first time I contemplated my immortal soul’s fate or experienced fundamental Christianity. It was, though, the first time I was damned to hell–and by a nine year old ne’er-do-well sitting in detention with me at that! My dad’s parents were about as fundamental as fundamental could be in the late 1970s, belonged to the Church of Christ, and were absolutely committed to their perceived duty to God. Fortunately or not, during my early years up until I was around 11, I, like many others of my generation I suppose, was shipped off to my grandparents’ house each summer for at least a two week tour of duty. Looking back on it now, it is odd how I relished going to visit my paternal Kentucky grandparents yet was oftentimes dismayed at the prospect of reciprocal time with my mom’s more progressive parents.

GodJudgeGaysAB

I believe my Kentucky preference was highly influenced by the fact I had other cousins who stayed at my grandparents’ home who were the same age as me, served the same sentence as me, and ultimately made the stay enjoyable. While we spent much of our time exploring the woods surrounding my grandparents’ house, a standing expectation was we attend any and all church function at the local Church of Christ. If there was a teeming casserole potluck, we were at church. If it was Wednesday afternoon, we were at church, and if it was Sunday—morning and night—we were at church.

Now a fundamentalist Church of Christ, for those uninitiated in their machinations was a fairly terrifying prospect for a young person, and I was there each summer from post toddler age up to prepubescence. They landed somewhere on the continuum of Cotton Mather/Jonathan Edwards on one hand and Pat Roberts/Jim Jones on the other: apocalyptic, hyper suffocating, and always damning us to hell for half thoughts, half deeds, and potential eventualities which never came to pass. In fact, if you recall, the late 70s and early 80s was a boon year for what became the moral majority and I was there to soak it up in all its majestic and twisted intimidation. My uncle was the church choir director which was an interesting proposition as music in our church was strictly verboten aside from the unadorned human voice. I guess a piano, organ (it referenced a sexual organ as everyone knows), or God forgive, a band was simply too indulgent for the fundamental faithful. Moreover, my grandfather was a guest sermonizer who could pound his fist and speak of the approaching fall of man with the best of them. As I grew up in this community each summer, not only did it become somewhat normal, but it exposed me to adults I found influential as well as cousins and peers in the community who were as want to list off mortal sins as the third grader who damned me to hell for a wardrobe choice. As a result of warm embrasure in this close knit and insular community, I continued to wonder what I was doing to contribute to my soul’s eternal torment in a hell of rendered human fat while simultaneously wanting to please those around me.

By the winter or spring of 1980, I took to wearing three piece suits, carrying a Bible with me everywhere I went, and essentially succumbed to numbing fundamentalism: one which is inclined toward judgment and condemnation as opposed to unconditional love and forgiveness. I also questioned my every action and motivation and wondered how they would contribute to my eventual residence in Satan’s abode. Coming home to deep southern Alabama certainly reinforced my newfound rebirth as Southern Baptists are kissing cousins of the Church of Christ, and I eventually tried to purge myself of sin by burning the symbol of my selfish and sinful indulgence, my Kiss record collection. Though it was one of my most shameful acts, the neighborhood Christjihadists urged me on to destroy the symbol of my eternal ruin. Once the offending records of my sin were burned in their own hellfire of my creation, I felt a sense of what I can only describe as orgasmic bliss though I had no referent for orgasm at 10 or 11. What I did have was an enduring fear that nothing I did would save my soul and even my pithy attempt at a burnt offering would fall on God’s deaf ear.

Oddly enough, in the summer of 1981 I returned to my paternal grandparents’ house for my yearly pilgrimage full of religious zeal and commitment. Where I had been a rock-n-roll hellion on the proverbial Highway to Hell to some, I now accompanied the church on an out of state missionary trip to Illinois where we were housed with strangers, impressed with the worthiness of our cause for the eight hour or so bus trip, and spent the next few days going door to door attempting to sell Bible sets for our lord and savior to the unsuspecting public in the non-descript Illinois town in which we found ourselves. I found the missionary trip stifling and intimidating, and, in retrospect, I wonder what the fuck the church was thinking when they sent tweens out unsupervised in a strange neighborhood to sell Bibles without the slightest concern of abduction, assault, or worse.

On the way back to Kentucky, as I thought over the experience, an older girl who accompanied us on the trip introduced me to what I can only affectionately call a dry hump but was probably closer to pedophilia. I was certainly taken by her interest in me—and mine in her—while also absolutely terrified that her Eveish actions were ruining the yearlong soul searching salvation I so desperately sought to save me from the Lord’s rage. As we pulled in to Benton, then separated into individual cars, and headed back to my grandparents, I was filled with awe and shame: awed that a teenager would find an 11 year old the least bit interesting and attractive but shamed I let down God by acquiescing to bodily sin. My misgivings were only reinforced when I heard my cousins talking about a girl they knew—or knew from a friend who knew—about a teenager who allegedly had sex. I was rapt as they described how she would certainly go to hell for her sexual misconduct, and I thought about my brief bus arousal and was confronted again with damnation even in the face of blind devotion.

Later that summer, before heading back to Brewton, Alabama from Benton, Kentucky, how was I to know that a somewhat trivial accident involving a broken lamp would shake my youthful faith to its foundation? You see, there were six of us staying at Mae and Pete’s that summer: my six year old sister Wendy, our six year old cousin Kristen, my 11 year old favorite cousin Hannah, and her 13 or 14 year old sister Courtney. Hannah, Courtney, and I were in my grandparents’ bedroom talking on the bed. They did not particularly like us in their room as kids were supposed to be outside, in church, or in bed; yet, there we were on the bed dicking around as close southern cousins are want to do—nothing incestuous; that came earlier and prior to my birth yet colored my entire existence. Unfortunately, our hefty cousin Kristen decided to run down the hall after my sister. As she came barreling toward the bed, she attained what I can only describe as a miraculous airborne height similar to how Douglas Adams describes flight, “falling but missing,” and landed full force on the bed knocking over an antique—and sentimental to my grandmother—lamp in the process. Of course, all parents and grandparents recognize the distinct sound of their shit breaking at the hands of their spawn, and swept in the room to lay final judgment on the potential damned. Though the oldest of us were sitting still and my sister was hiding as Kristen took porcine flight, crashed, and created the necessary reverberations resulting in broken lamp, Wendy and I were blamed for the incident.

As I listened to my elders’ harsh criticism and unfair sentencing, it occurred to me then that I was a vainglorious fool. If ones as purportedly wise and Christian as my grandparents could erroneously condemn innocents, how could an ineffable wise grandparent to all be expected to unerringly pass judgment on the masses? How foolish was I to believe salvation lie through denying flesh and indiscriminant art burning. I do not know that I was familiar with past censorious art massacres, but I could not believe a creator God would condone such abhorrent and wanton destruction. Though I was not philosophically acquainted with a free will defense, the problem of evil, and had certainly never heard anyone dare utter God is dead, he died for me that day just as my respect in my father’s parents suffered an irrevocable foundational shift. To me, that summer of contradictions whose trajectory started roughly two years earlier when an unnamed girl damned me to hell for a T-shirt, ended in an unrecoverable loss of faith. I realized, then, a loving, all knowing, and ever present god would not subject me to hell for my grandparents’ erroneous judgment, my choice of wardrobe, or my innocent almost dry hump in the church bus. Yet, here were the so called redeemed acting as “purblind doomsters” readily strowing “blisses about my pilgrimage as pain.” Screen Shot 2012-12-13 at 6.57.54 AM

Though I subsequently discovered many contributing and primary causes for my sister’s and my unfair persecution, I never regained the youthful exuberant blind faith I cherished for perhaps a year and a half. Later that year, I almost joined my parents’ less radical (ie. Episcopal) church—they joined because it was expected that a doctor and his spouse in a small Bible Belt Alabama town conform to societal norms and join a congregation to fit in with the social elite–my many conversations with the priest prior to Christening or whatever could not shake my newfound conviction theism was a fraud and a tool used to manipulate and control. Though I now think of myself as possessing some sense or form of individual strength and slight intellectual capacity, I am utterly ashamed at how easily fundamentalism seduced me as a kid; moreover, it is blatantly obvious that its survival greatly depends on fearful indoctrination of children; otherwise, it would wither and die as hatred and fear require careful and consistent cultivation which explains, to a certain degree, white flight, Islamaphobia, homophobia, xenophobia, and the never ending persecution of women.

Also, looking back on those formative individual philosophical and political moments–though I could not name it as such at the time—I cannot help but question whether or not dad’s decision to embrace and perform a newly legalized medical procedure, a procedure misunderstood and unpopular six to seven years after it started to slough out from the shadows into the mainstream, contributed to my initial damnation since there are no secrets in a small Alabama town. I know now, as I grew older and the 70s ceded to the 80s and Christjihadism and Reagan’s social conservatism spread, that dad’s profession darkly, if unjustly so, colored everything that came afterwards.

PS. Shameless plug time: Please check out the following link for information regarding this summer’s planned Abortion Rights Freedom Ride set to kick off in late July:

http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/abortion-rights-freedom-ride

I Won’t Back Down

David Gunn, Jr.

David Gunn, Jr.

Please grant me the indulgence of a slight digression before getting to the meat of my post.  I have never been one for personal theme songs, couples taking ownership of a particular song from a particular place and calling it “our song”, and  I never believed in the “soundtrack of your life” bullshit slogan we get sold by Apple or some other company asking we consume their individuized music player cutting us off from the music’s true power which is to be consumed—not in the sense of bought in some meaningless disposable manner—but to be collectively consumed as one consumes food, nourishing your being and providing limitless sources of inspiration rivaling the written and spoken word in its power to move people to “seek, to find, and not to yield” (thanks, Tennyson).

In fact, music is one of my first artistic loves though I am not a musician.  It rivals reading and the written word in my mind, and fuels a long standing self-debate which should not matter in any capital T truth sense, but I find the question haunting—for me at least—and I have found how one answers the question reveals something of the soul for lack of a better word since I do not believe in an eternal soul.  The debate topic, my friends, is which of the following is the purest art:  music, painting—or some other graphic design, or the word?  Pure is probably a poor choice of words as it is a relative term and has no meaning we do not assign it so in simplest terms, I struggle to determine which one is better and find others’ answers to the conundrum particularly interesting and revealing.

Joyce

Joyce

Joyce argued the written word is the most powerful, and therefore, the purest art.  If you ask any self- respecting Christian, told since time immemorial that God is the word and the word is God, I believe they would agree with Joyce; however, Tolkien imagined the world’s creation through the singing of angelic type beings which is kind of ironic when you think about it since Tolkien envisioned the choral creation in writing!

Over the years I’ve vacillated on the topic but more and more find myself falling on the musical side of the debate as its motivational power transcends language.  Though great works find global appeal via translations, any bilingual reader knows any particular work’s power diminishes when not digested in the original language.  Music, though, requires no translation or modernization:  there is no New English Version of Beethoven’s Erocia for example, and if you play “Imagine” or any number of excellent modern songs most folks respond much more positively than, say, if you read a passage from Macbeth to an alien.  One of the proofs for my side of the argument is Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  When, in the movie, we finally established first contact, we “spoke” through music, not the written or spoken word.

Abortion

Abortion

I apologize, again, for the theoretical introduction and want to get down to what in the world all of the above has to do with abortion and my story.

1)     Gonna stand my ground, won’t be turned around:

I Won't Back Down

I Won’t Back Down

Though I do not believe in a personal theme song, my dad became irrevocably associated with Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down.”  I remember the first time I heard the song in 1989 and I owned a copy of “Full Moon Fever”.  I argue it is one of the greatest rock albums of the 80s for a number of reasons, but I have digressed enough and am not writing rock criticism.  Dad loved “I Won’t Back Down” and sang it to himself frequently.  Petty’s ode to personal strength and fortitude hit in the summer of 1989 which, oddly enough, is when Christian Terrorism was in its embryonic phase from the standpoint of most of their terror attacks, at this point anyway, were limited to physical damage to clinics and intimidation while also employing massive acts of civil disobedience.

Screen Shot 2013-06-05 at 1.09.29 PMBy late 1992-93, antis targeted dad with wanted posters, stalked him, staged protests at his workplace, and otherwise eviscerated any shred of privacy he enjoyed—which wasn’t much given we lived in a very small Alabama town at the time where gossip ran through town like the river from which it took its name.  In a show of personal strength and defiance, during an anti-abortion protest on Roe v. Wade day outside of one of the clinics on his circuit, dad stood in front of the antis, sang “Happy Birthday to You” to the Roe decision, and then played Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” to the antis as a means of showing his personal commitment to provide quality health care to women even in the face of intimidation and terror.  Of course, local media picked up on the event, and a local paper ran an article with a photo of dad antagonizing those who terrorized him, and his co-workers, for years.

2)     You can stand me up to the gates of hell, but I won’t back down:

Christian Terrorism

Christian Terrorism

Twenty days later, dad lay bleeding out on the ground outside a clinic in Pensacola, FL becoming the Abortion War’s first casualty.   Soon thereafter Petty’s anthem became a rallying cry for the pro-choice movement.  Folks played the song at vigils, protests, and speaking engagements.  What was a song I immensely enjoyed, became both a personal motivator and a painful reminder of death.  I quickly became a poor substitute for my father’s courage and attempted to act as his surrogate.  Though I was no doctor and could not actually fill his void, I tried, in my own small way, to keep the providers’ travails in front of a public who did not necessarily want to understand, for any number of reasons, what doctors and clinic staff experienced on a daily basis.

Christian Terrorism

Christian Terrorism

For six to seven years, I traveled to various cities—wherever I was asked to go—to tell dad’s, and by proxy other providers’, story.  My intent was to galvanize support for the providers and to tell those who thought “it can’t happen here,” that it can and will if you do not get involved, act, and act now.  Over the course of the 90s, Christian terrorists murdered more doctors, and violence spread northward disproving the widespread belief doctor murder was a Southern thing.  During the 90s, the choice movement grew and was highly visible.  We saw court and legislative victories in the form of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrance Act in mid-1994 as well as a positive ruling by the Supreme Court in the NOW v. Scheidler case which was subsequently overturned during the farce we now know as the Bush years.  We met each act of violence with a large public outcry and response.  Roughly 800,000 people attended the March for Women’s Lives on April 25, 1994 in Washington DC including myself as a speaker.

As the 90s ended and the Bush era began, abortion, though still a target of Christian Fascists, ceded ground to the now eternal War on Terror taking a backseat to Bush’s neverending wars, civil rights abuses, and war crimes.  Though the struggle—and Christian Terror–continued, it went largely ignored by a press preoccupied with terrorists abroad while those of the homegrown ilk were allowed to regroup and gain courage from the first admittedly Evangelical President.

3)     Well I know what’s right, I got just one life; In a world that keeps on pushin’ me around but I’ll stand my ground and I won’t back down:

Following a highly abridged overview of the past 20 years in an attempt to keep your attention and this post a respectably attention holding length, I ask you to look around you to see where we are as of mid-2013.  Many Republican controlled states—mine included—passed and/or are preparing to pass regulations designed to severely cripple a clinic’s ability to remain open while at the same time making it personally intrusive and harder than ever for women to seek the medical care they feel they need.  Whether being forced to undergo a rape-like act via vaginal probe, an onerous waiting period, propaganda influenced “counseling”, or being forced to watch an ultrasound, Christian Fascists have succeeded in making a legal medical procedure virtually unobtainable in many Red states via intrusive and overly restrictive regulations. It’s funny how the party of regulatory constraint never met a regulation it did not like when abortion—or birth control or sex education for that matter–is concerned, and how the “libertarian” Tea Party Racist/Terrorists love liberty as long as it doesn’t apply to women, minorities, or the poor.

Screen Shot 2013-06-05 at 1.14.59 PMHell, in my state alone, where there used to be multiple clinics in three of the major cities—or at least six to nine clinics statewide–according to abortion. com, there are only two clinics for the entire state.  These last bastions of reproductive freedom risk closure due to new regulations making their way through my state’s state legislature.  In Mississippi, were there were clinics in Jackson and Gulfport at the very least, there is now one in Jackson.  Likewise, Tennessee is served by only two clinics:  one in Nashville and one in Bristol (eight hours apart at least for the southern geographically challenged).  Also, there is only one operational clinic for the women of Arkansas.

Think of the implications of the above for a few moments.  Imagine yourself a minimum wage earner in rural Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, or Tennessee who elects to undergo an abortion; in order to get the medical care you desire, you must travel at the very least 60 miles to the nearest clinic and more than likely longer.  If you are unfortunate enough to live on the Gulf Coast of Alabama or Mississippi, your travel time to the nearest clinic exponentiates drastically and may be sufficient, on its own, to force you into motherhood.  Aside from the travel obstacle, you also have significant economic challenges if you elect to travel the underground abortion railroad as you must lose at least a full day’s wage, waste at least another few days’ wages and fuel, and then endure the cost of a hotel plus the cost of the procedure itself; therefore, your medical procedure—since it isn’t covered by insurance, Medicaid, or military insurance—can cost you a month’s salary.  Given the above, it is blatantly clear for many women in the United States, though abortion is technically legal, it is not available as a viable health care option.  These obstacles do not account for the ever reducing number of providers who do not view abortion services as a career option due to the threat of violence.  Again, though abortion is legal in the USA, the Christian Fascists through terrorism, regulatory intimidation, and simple misogyny have effectively banned the procedure for many women across the county.

4)     Hey, baby, there ain’t no easy way out; hey I will stand my ground and I won’t back down:

The above encapsulates a small number of the travails women seeking abortion in 2013 face.  There are many reasons for these developments.  One, choice groups cede the local fights in Red States and instead focus on a national agenda. Two, politicians and the media cannot say the word abortion much less report on it in a way that reflects the actual disposition of the nation on the topic.  If one simply watched corporate news, you would think most people are against abortion while the converse is obviously and undeniably true in poll after poll.  Three, and this is most important in my opinion, we lack grass roots direct action to counter the actions of the Christian Terrorists.  We do this for a number of reasons primarily out of a combination of fear and shame.  Fear of how a strong stance on abortion will impact our friendships, family relations, and children as well as a shame or guilt some may feel due to their own religious beliefs.  We must, though, have the courage to educate the public as to the true reality.  Namely, we significantly outnumber those against abortion, and we must have the confidence and perseverance to unabashedly engage the public, teach the scientific truth, and demonstrate our determination to win this war on women.  Not because it is, in simplest terms, the right action but because it is just.

In furtherance of these goals, we must reorganize and have the courage to “stand our ground” and “not back down” as our children’s rights depend upon what we do now, not what we might do in the future.  I have a personal stake in this not only due to dad’s death and my own personal involvement in the past, but I owe it to my daughter to ensure she enjoys self-determination and true liberation.  If the Christian Right has it their way, by the time my daughter hits puberty, after suffering through abstinence only sex education, should she be “legitimately raped” to quote Mr. Akin, she would be forced to bear the rapist’s child.  How utterly intolerable, ludicrous, and goddamned unacceptable is that statement?  How important, then, is it we re-energize, re-engage, and rejuvenate our conviction to win this fight and win it now—and we absolutely can and will win if we take proper action at this crucial moment!

To this end, I want to announce a project I’m supporting and ask that you support as well.  Two groups of activists embarking from San Francisco and New York City are planning a freedom ride style journey across the United States set to kick off with joint rallies at each city of origin tentatively set for July 23.  The riders will tour and engage the public in areas of the country impacted most by the draconian anti- abortion regulations currently making their way through state houses across the country.  Both groups will converge on Bismark, North Dakota by 8/1 to protest the effective date of North Dakota’s fetal heartbeat legislation which goes into full effect 1 August 2013.

I believe actions such as these are not only needed but required if we as a movement are going to regain the needed momentum to re-establish our strong and solid footing in our struggle against the well- funded and connected Christian Fascists.  If you have any sense of history, you know that only through mass direct action do the voiceless gain voice, the powerless gain power, and the professed ideals of our nation actualize in reality.  Building a national movement is paramount and failing to do so is tantamount to surrender; however, I know we will not surrender to threat, intimidation, and violence because we have righteous conviction to engage the armies of the night and prevail.  To this end, I urge you to review this statement published by the Riders’ organizing committee and lend your signature/support to the growing movement by following the attached link:

http://www.stoppatriarchy.org/abortionondemandstatement.html

Lastly, I appeal to everyone to reflect objectively on the statement, sign it, and lend what support you can.  Give money to fund the riders, join the caravan when they come through your town, and even if you simply donate your signature to the statement:  that alone is taking action.  There are those of us in the movement who have been engaged for a long time—many of you much longer than myself.  You know abortion is not a foul and dirty word.  You know attaching shame to the procedure only aids the antis by keeping it in the closet and attaching a scarlet letter type stigma to what should be a private matter between patient and doctor.  You understand the effectiveness and utility of direct action because you organized and led it in the past.  You also understand sacrifice because some of you do it daily by choosing to walk into a clinic under threat of death after witnessing many of your colleagues suffer death for continuing to make abortion services a safe option for women across the country.  I know all of the above from direct experience after suffering through what the Christian terrorists did to my family.  We cannot allow it to happen to another.  We must draw a line and we must not back down.

Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman

I started this post with a lighthearted philosophical debate and have framed my essay using song.  To be fair to both sides, let me offer the following words of Walt Whitman as a benediction of sorts:

O ME! O life!… of the questions of these recurring;

Of the endless trains of the faithless—of cities fill’d with the foolish;

Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)

Of eyes that vainly crave the light—of the objects mean—of the struggle ever renew’d;

Of the poor results of all—of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me;

         

Of the empty and useless years of the rest—with the rest me intertwined;

The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?

Answer.

That you are here—that life exists, and identity;

That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.

Now is the time to ask ourselves about our verse and to determine what impact it has to the powerful play.  My dad’s was “I Won’t Back Down.”  Is it not time that we make it ours as well?

A Sort of Reintrodution

David Gunn, Jr.

David Gunn, Jr.

On a warm spring day in March of 1993, I sat outside the Humanities building of the University of Alabama at Birmingham studying for a Semantics final exam; meanwhile and probably simultaneously, my dad arrived at work, parked his car, started to head toward the door to the clinic where he practiced, and was assassinated by a Christian terrorist named Michael Griffin.  After pumping three rounds into my dad’s back, Griffin promptly walked around to the front of the clinic where the typical and regular antis were gathered, and turned himself in to the police who arrived on the scene to break up the protest which I always believed was contemplated and coordinated by the protest organizers to serve as the diversion Griffin needed to pull off his assassination unimpeded.

Since my dad has the bitter designation of First Abortion Provider Assassinated, a media circus ensured after his assassination, and I ended up fighting a battle on my dad’s behalf with the dual intentions of drawing the public’s attention to the Christian terrorists and their horrible tactics as well as doing whatever I could to keep another doctor’s family from experiencing what mine did.  I spent almost 10 years in the trenches, hitting any media outlet I could, speaking to whatever group would listen, and lobbying our government for action.  I certainly was not alone in these actions, and through the efforts of Pat Richard’s organization NCAP as well as other Pro-Choice organizations, we won a major victory with the passage of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Law which Pat and I watched President Clinton ultimately sign into law.  Along the way, I married, had a child, and I reached a point where I had to pause my activism to raise a family which evolved to include a second child eight years after the first.

Christian Anti Choice - Anti Life Terrorist - He Assassinated Dr. David Gunn

Christian Anti Choice – Anti Life Terrorist – He Assassinated Dr. David Gunn

I recently reconnected with my old friend Pat Richards.  We had a couple of phone conversations and swapped some emails which culminated in my being asked to provide some blog content which I am happy to do.  In fact it is the least I can do and I have some sense of duty insofar as doing it is concerned.  Now I’m a somewhat motivated person, but oftentimes I need a pressure point to get me off my arse.  The arrangement between Pat and I results in my monthly blog contribution.  Our project gives me the deadline I need to stress me to produce pages while at the same time gives me some encouragement to write the goddamned book I’ve been wanting to write for about 20 years now whose vague amoebic shapely mass lies somewhere between the brain cells you use daily, those that are reserved for recreational devastation, and those we can’t yet access but the Obama administration is currently making the Kennedian final frontier of R and D if you believe recent administration palaver.

I’m presently faced with the dilemma of which topics to cover, what salacious details to include, what to leave out to protect the guilty, how to make myself the Byronic hero shaking my fist at the heavens perched on a cliff façade, and where the hell to start.

I’ve been away for a few years so a reintroduction seemed like a decent initial post, but I do not know that I want to go the route of a typical linear biographical “I was the son of a share cropper” type format.  What I’d really prefer is to utilize this opportunity to inspire me to do what I’ve been delaying for 20 years now and that’s write the goddamn book—in fact, I think if I finish it, that will be my title:  The Goddamn Book by David Gunn, Jr.  I think the folks in marketing could work wonders with such an appellation.  It sure beats An American Tragedy or My Antonia or The Stand, or any title given to similar real-life tragicomic rehashing of events insofar as titles go in my opinion anyway.

Seriously, though, after my absence from the scene, if you will, and in light of Dr. Tiller’s recent assassination coupled with the renewed draconian Red State regulatory traps aimed at eliminating reproductive freedom by technicality rather than illegality, my desire to do something—and the something was some ambiguous uninformed action I could not label—led me to stumble upon Pat’s blog which allowed us to reconnect and brings us current while preserving the biographical fare for future posts which I hope will include some serial entries from The Goddamn Book I am now seriously starting to write and develop.

I am truly grateful for the opportunity Pat’s providing me and hopefully, we in the community who know the tragic and truly dangerous effects of living under constant threat while at the same time constantly remaining vigilant in our guarded responses to certain questions we get from normal folks—especially when you have kids cause you don’t want the response to negatively impact them indirectly—can become acquainted again, you’ll get something from my humble wordsmithery, and I may finally be able to cathart out The Goddamn Book I’ve been promising myself I will write for years.  I’m looking forward to this new venture and am already finding it difficult to stop writing now that I’ve finally started.  As of now, I resolve to contribute toward a solution to our problems in any small way that I can.  I’ve grown weary of lacking conviction, and it is now time to confront those of the worst who have the passionate intensity desperately lacking on our side (thanks WBY).

Paul Hill Convicted Anti Abortion Pro Life Christian Murderer

Paul Hill Convicted Anti Abortion Pro Life Christian Murderer

It might have come down to a simple question mark.

On July 29, 1994  anti-abortion advocate Paul Hill killed Doctor John Britton and his body guard, James Barrett, as they pulled into the parking lot of the Ladies Center in Pensacola, Florida. Hill just calmly walked up to the pick-up truck, took out a shotgun and, aware that the Doctor was wearing a bullet proof vest, shot him in the face. Hill was quickly arrested, tried and convicted. He died by lethal injection on Sept 3, 2003.

Several months before the murders, I was at the White House when President Bill Clinton signed into law the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act. That law prohibited the “use of physical force, threat of physical force, or physical obstruction to intentionally injure, intimidate, interfere with …any person who is obtaining reproductive health services or providing…such services.” That law also included language confirming that anti-abortion protestors could exercise their First Amendment rights without fear of prosecution. Of course, how one defined the right to protest was subject to interpretation.

Bill Clinton Abortion Rights Advocate

Bill Clinton Abortion Rights Advocate

Once the law became effective, pro-choice groups started lobbying the Department of Justice to use it against protestors who were considered particularly dangerous. Paul Hill, because he believed that it was “justifiable homicide” to kill an abortion doctor, was very high on the list.

A long-time presence at the Ladies Center, Hill was known for carrying with him a very large sign that read: “EXECUTE MURDERERS ABORTIONISTS ACCESSORIES?” The sign caught the attention of many in the media, it intimidated patients and it terrified the clinic staff. When the National Coalition of Abortion Providers held a memorial service for Doctor David Gunn at the site of his murder in March, 1994, Paul Hill was quietly walking back and forth with that very sign.

Pro Lifer Murder Threat Today!

Pro Lifer Murder Threat Today!

Pro-choice groups were very concerned about Hill (as were some anti-abortion advocates), but the lawyers at the DOJ were not sure what they could do about him. In June, 1994 I had a conversation with one of their attorneys and he said that he had not crossed the Free Speech line because he was not saying out loud “I am going to kill a doctor.” Instead, he was “merely” expressing his views on the issue, i.e., saying that he thought it was “justified” to kill an abortion doctor. When I raised the issue of the sign, the attorney directed me to the question mark at the end of the sentence. I had never noticed it. Paul Hill was “merely” posing the question.

Department of Justice

Department of Justice

Was Paul Hill really that smart? Did he understand how far he could push the First Amendment? We’ll never know. We do know, however, that Hill was being watched very carefully by the authorities but that sign – and his very ugly speech – was not actionable.

I often wonder what the authorities might have done if there was no question mark on his sign.

I wonder if a case could have been made under the FACE law?

I wonder if the lives of two people could have been saved?

What happens next time?

What happens next time?

The pro-life terrorist boarded the Greyhound bus in Houston in early March, 1994, carrying two duffel bags stuffed with semiautomatic weapons. His destination was Pensacola, Florida where he planned to conduct what the FBI later described as a “Beruit-style” massacre at a meeting of the members of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers.

Just a year earlier, a pro-life assassin murdered Doctor David Gunn as he was entering the office of the Pensacola Medical Services, one of several facilities where he performed abortions. The murder was national news, casting a pall amongst his colleagues in the field and NCAP members were determined to get to the funeral in Tennessee, but a major snow storm dashed those plans. Months later, abortion clinic staff across the country still yearned to get together for that much- needed “group hug.” Ultimately, NCAP announced it would host a one year anniversary event at the actual site where Doctor Gunn was killed. Right across the street from the clinic was an open air amphitheatre – a perfect spot for a series of speeches and rememberences.

Meanwhile, a pro-life activist named Daniel Ware took notice and made his plans.

The “David Gunn Memorial” went off without a hitch and it was a great opportunity for the approximately 80 abortion doctors, staff and clinic owners to finally get together and console each other. The evening before, however, I received a call informing me that a man had been arrested in Houston who apparently was headed for Pensacola to disrupt our event. No other details were offered and the next morning we told the attendees about the incident but no one seemed too concerned. After all, they lived with the threat of terrorism every day. Instead, they were intent on going to the clinic where David Gunn was killed.

Years later, I was at a conference about how local police forces protect (or don’t protect) abortion clinics. At some point, a reporter with the Los Angeles Times casually mentioned how the FBI had successfully thwarted a “guy named Daniel Ware who was in Pensacola intending to wipe out members of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers at a David Gunn Memorial.” I almost fell off my chair. I had never been told that Ware had actually been in Pensacola while we were there.

I later learned that a pro-life activist had tipped off the FBI that a man was in Pensacola with the intention of killing as many abortion providers as possible during the memorial event. The FBI then started casting a wide net, interviewing numerous local pro-life activists. Although all of the facts are not known, it seems that Daniel Ware got wind that the feds were onto his plot and he immediately turned around and went back to Houston. He was arrested when he got off the bus.

It’s hard to describe the feeling of knowing that someone was in the vicinity of an event you were hosting and he was preparing to kill you. As I celebrated Saint Patty’s Day this weekend, I couldn’t help but thinking about how lucky we all were back in March, 1994.