This past Monday evening, the same day a Google Doodle commemorated what would have been the 131st birthday of Alice Paul—a prominent suffragist who believed public demonstrations were the most effective way to voting rights for women—three members of FURIE (Feminist Uprising to Resist Inequality and Exploitation), a Chicago grassroots feminist organization, sat in a coffee shop in Ukrainian Village discussing their own upcoming public demonstration, a counterprotest against this Sunday’s Illinois March for Life, which they have taken to calling the “March for Lies.”
FURIE will be marching under the banner of reproductive justice, a term they consider far more inclusive than “abortion rights.”
“Young black people are not having children,” says Georgette Kirkendall, one of the protest organizers, who will speak at the rally. “They can’t handle being afraid.”
“It’s not just abortion,” adds Mallory Harwardt, who will also be speaking. “It’s about access to birth control.”
“People want to parent without excessive interference from the state,” says Kirkendall.
(This also explains why other rally speakers include Andy Thayer of the Gay Liberation Network and youth activist Lamon Reccord.)
“It’s a weird time to be navigating this stuff,” says Lauren Bianchi, who helped establish FURIE a little more than a year ago with a few people she met from the Occupy movement who noticed that there were no feminist activist groups in Chicago. “Antichoice folks are not pro-life. They’re using the language of Black Lives Matter: ‘black babies matter.'”
“Until they’re 13 and can be tried as an adult,” Kirkendall quips.
Currently FURIE has about ten core members who regularly attend meetings and a dozen more who are less active, though its Facebook presence is much larger. (“We thought the conditions were ripe for getting off the Internet,” Bianchi says. “Nothing’s off the Internet now,” Kirkendall replies.) But it’s hard to say how many people are actually in FURIE or who they are because membership has turned over rapidly as the organization has tried to narrow its focus and determine its goals.
“We want to call people on their bullshit,” Bianchi continues. “We want to tell them that their antiabortion policy is not pro-life, that it’s sexist and racist.”
“I was researching the March for Life online,” Harwardt says. “I kept seeing stuff like ‘Pro-life is pro-woman.’ I think my browser is tainted.”
“Way to take one for the team,” Kirkendall tells her.
“Or ‘Women deserve better than abortion,'” Bianchi continues. “They’re ‘Feminists for Life.'”
“A picture from one of our rallies was on one of their websites,” says Kirkendall. “The caption was something like ‘baby-eating feminists.'”
“Or they call themselves ‘abortion survivors,'” says Bianchi.
“They make that shit up as they go,” Kirkendall replies.
“You want to laugh,” says Bianchi, “but it distorts how prevalent these issues are. It’s like women can’t be trusted to make decisions about their own bodies. We’re supposed to be nurturers and do unpaid housework.”
“They have sophisticated campaigns,” says Harwardt. “And on March 2, there’s going to be a Supreme Court case [Whole Women’s Health vs. Cole, which will rule whether a 2013 Texas law known as HB2 is restrictive to the point of undermining the government’s interest in promoting health]. One way to stop abortion is to mandate it into nonexistence, to set a bar so high that it’s unreachable.”
“It would be funny,” says Kirkendall, “if they weren’t murdering people.”
Both Kirkendall and Bianchi have experienced violence outside abortion clinics firsthand: they’ve volunteered as escorts, guiding women past the gauntlet of protesters standing outside.
“I don’t know exactly when escorting started,” says Bianchi, “but it was a response to an awful wave of terrorism, when antiabortion protesters would chain themselves to the doors to keep people from getting in. Clinics are businesses. They don’t want people standing around outside. [Activists] thought they should be allowed to have clinic-defense protests. When I was an escort, I was told that patients can’t tell the difference [between protesting factions].”
“But they can,” says Kirkendall.
“Protesting an organization is the only way to get reforms,” Bianchi continues, “to have CPCs [crisis pregnancy centers that counsel women against having abortions] defunded and shut down. Back in the Roe vs. Wade era, the pro-choice protesters were carrying signs that said ‘Free abortion on demand.’ Now we have to fight for scraps to defend the idea of choice.”
“There’s so much capitulation,” Kirkendall adds. “Planned Parenthood is apologizing for calling people terrorists—but the definition of terrorism is blowing up health centers and shooting people in the face!”
“Planned Parenthood and NARAL and NOW are not going to be leading the protests,” says Bianchi. “They do good work—I will always defend Planned Parenthood—but I won’t be uncritical of their political strategy. They have millions of dollars on the line.”
“There are very political reasons Planned Parenthood is not marching,” says Harwardt. (Planned Parenthood receives more than $500 million from the federal government, despite efforts last fall to defund the organization amid accusations that it was profiting by selling fetal tissue; that funding, however, goes toward general health care for women, not abortions.)
It’s not that FURIE doesn’t support or want to work with Planned Parenthood—it supports everyone who is fighting for abortion rights, and its most recent march, in September, was in support of Planned Parenthood. But FURIE doesn’t want to be beholden to any political party.
“Escorting is a trip,” says Kirkendall. “You get there and check the bushes. People yell all manner of outlandish things at you. They can’t tell which button will work, so they push ’em all. They wear you down. I escorted in one place where the antis came up with gift bags full of pacifiers and booties and little knitted baby hats and they’d give them to anybody, any woman on that side of the street. On Mother’s Day they’ll show up with a child dressed like an angel and a sign that says, ‘Please, Mommy, don’t abort me.’ It’s psychological torture. They don’t have an intelligent argument, so they go for emotion.”
“There’s a group here that wrote the book on sidewalk counseling,” says Bianchi. “The Pro-Life Action League. Their headquarters are in Mayfair, in a CPC labeled ‘women’s center.'”
“The antis at that clinic are particularly lively,” says Kirkendall. “They set up camp every day, religious, Catholic, extremely doctored imagery. The atheists are just filthy, awful misogynists.”
“It’s what we’re up against,” says Bianchi. “It’s interesting to be in Chicago doing this work.”
Based on responses on Facebook, FURIE expects about 300 people to show up to its protest on Sunday; the March for Life expects more than 1,000, many of whom will be bused in from other parts of Illinois and Indiana.
“The majority of America is pro-choice,” says Harwardt, “but the busing gives the impression that Chicago has thousands of people willing to stand in the cold with their kids to protest abortion. It skews reality. It’s important to stand up against it.”
“It’s terrorism,” says Bianchi. “There’s going to be enormous pressure in the next six months, if you put your faith in Hillary Clinton, to sit back and not interfere. But the only way to win is to build up consciousness.”
“We’ve got to nip this shit in the bud,” says Kirkendall. “Reactionary violence has taken us right back to lynching and church bombings. It’s horrifying.”
The March for Abortion Rights: Pro-Choice Counterprotest begins at 1 PM Sunday, 1/17, at the Chicago Federal Courthouse, 219 S. Dearborn, furie.strikingly.com.
An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of activist Lamon Reccord.