Angered and concerned by a recent rush of radical anti-abortion laws being passed in several other states, protestors around the country, including here on Bainbridge Island, took to the streets Wednesday to demonstrate.
More than 100 people crowded all four corners of the Winslow Way and Highway 305 intersection from 3 to 5 p.m. as part of a “Ban the Bans” National Day of Action, protesting the recent laws and advocating for women’s bodily autonomy.
Signs with the messages, “My body not state property,” “Safe abortion is health care,” “Pro choice is not pro abortion,” and “Against abortion? Have a vasectomy,” among others, were raised along with chants of “My body, my choice” and “Women’s rights are human rights” by the demonstrators, who varied widely in age and consisted of both men and women.
Holly Brewer, of the action group Indivisible Bainbridge Island and one of the demonstration’s co-coordinators, said the turnout was “over and above” what she’d hoped for, and that the response from passing vehicles had been primarily supportive.
“We haven’t been flipped off once,” she said. “I was kind of disappointed, it’s kind of a badge of honor.”
Brewer, along with several others, expressed bitter bemusement that, having participating in similar protests years ago, they are now on the streets again in support of the same cause.
“We’re doing this crap again?” she said.
“It makes me angry and sad at the same time,” agreed Pamela Singer, a protester and Bainbridge resident. “I can’t believe this is happening again. We did it in the ’70s in Palo Alto and San Fransisco.”
Singer said the biggest differences this time around are the media landscape of the day and the coordinated financial backing of anti-abortion efforts.
“There’s a media system, both online and in mass cable, and they can just blast out with a bullhorn against our cause. And I don’t know if we are meeting that force,” she said. “It’s hard to combat that, because there’s a lot of money against [us], there’s a lot of money in the right wing. I think there tends to be more money. I think it’s less people — but more money.”
The main goal of the Winslow demonstration, Singer said, was “to be in the face of everybody who drives by so that they know we’re not going to sit tight for this, we’re not going to be quiet on this.”
Her own observations of the reactions of passersby were mixed.
“I had somebody drive by with a thumb down,” Singer said. “So, if maybe I can make that person aware that there’s a lot of people who think different, maybe they will examine, maybe they’ll start reading. All they really need to do is start reading, and reading about other people’s experiences.”
Still, drivers and cyclists had overall been supportive.
“[There’s been] a little bit of honking, I wish there was more,” Singer said. “A lot of people with windows rolled up, and they just drive by. A lot of people don’t want to deal with it; they don’t want to get involved.”
Even among those philosophically in agreement with the protest, Singer said, a willingness to demonstrate can be hard to find.
“I asked a friend to join me [today] and she said, ‘Well, 76 percent of the population support Roe vs. Wade so I don’t know if I should go,’” she said. “Instead of getting upset with her I just responded, ‘I’m going to go and let me know if you change your mind.’
“I didn’t understand that way of thinking,” she added. “Because even if I can get through to one person I feel like I’m a better citizen, and this is a fight for democracy.”
Both Singer and Brewer said having actually known women who needed abortions made them more resolute in their desire to protest the recent laws that ban abortion outright.
“Like half the people I know have had abortions,” Brewer said. “They would do the alternative if they had to, they wouldn’t just say, ‘Oh, I won’t get one then’ — that’s not a thing. That’s the big misunderstanding about this whole thing. And they should be treated as adults, that’s the underlying thing.
“Also, it feels like it’s a slippery slope and if this gets let go then we’ll go way back to the 1950s,” she added. “Women will have less employment opportunities and all the rest of it.”
Some Bainbridge demonstrators chose to hold aloft coat hangers instead of signs, a callback to the history of a time which necessitated secret, more dangerous abortion procedures. Though a powerful image, Brewer said the island group’s chosen iconography was downright cozy compared to their Seattle counterparts.
“They went full gung-ho in Seattle this afternoon,” she said. “They had a pair of white trousers with red all down them, because that is how the coat hanger thing ends; it’s not good. They went full-on visceral, we look kind of tame compared to them.”