Today, thousands of anti-abortion marchers, predominantly white suburbanites, were bussed into San Francisco by Roman Catholic churches. Hundreds of San Francisco and East Bay pro-choice activists greeted them as they walked several miles along the edge of the city. It was a surreal intersection, to say the least. If women's freedom were not at stake, it might have been almost funny. As it was, the scene was sad and frightening. The two groups could not have looked more different. This was contemporary culture clash on display. Here are a few images from the anti-abortion side. (Further reflections follow the pictures; scroll down if interested.)
This was how the anti-abortion folks wanted to appear: led by bright, clean-cut, mostly white young women. And they did have some; the front row was full of them.
After that, this guy was a more common sort.
This set were more or less on message.
While this woman probably didn't carry the message organizers sought.
And this guy certainly was off message
Then there were those who protested what seemed to them (and to me) an invasion from another country.
The anti-choice folks certainly had no monopoly on young women.
Pro-choice women, too, believe this is an issue of life and death.
Without buses, pro-choice women straggled in, but they came.
The pro-choice people weren't all young.
Many had a lot of energy! This really is about our lives.
They weren't all countercultural either. This pair could have fit in with the anti-abortion women -- well, maybe not.
After much milling around, the anti-choice march proceeded down the Embarcadero, separated from protesters by a police gauntlet.
The good women of Code Pink jumped into the street in front of the anti-abortion march briefly, but were chased out of the street by the SFPD, as were several anarchist groups at various points on the march. I saw no arrests or even any confrontations that verged on violence by either side. (They may have happened; this was a big, spread out event.)
It took the anti-abortion march several hours to make its way to Marina Green. Pro-choice protesters left them for a speakout in Aquatic Park. Reflections
Watching this clash of cultures, I was reminded of an essay from a recent American Prospect.
According to Garance Franke-Ruta, working class folks in the U.S., a group that includes many who believe themselves "middle class," feel victimized by "the onslaught of the new nihilistic, macho, libertarian lawlessness unleashed by an economy that pits every man against his fellows." The right, embodied in the Republican Party, encourages them to fight back against insults from authoritarian corporate management and increasing economic insecurity by asserting "traditional values."
Here's the money quote:
Looking at the anti-choice marchers today, I felt I was looking in the faces of folks who were ripe to blame social disruption in their lives on the big, bad city and its unruly inhabitants. San Franciscans don't look like the anti-abortion marchers (even if they also don't look like many of the pro-choice protesters.)
... in today's society, traditional values have become aspirational. Lower-income individuals simply live in a much more disrupted society, with higher divorce rates, more single moms, more abortions, and more interpersonal and interfamily strife, than do the middle- and upper-middle class people they want to be like. It should come as no surprise that the politics of reaction is strongest where there is most to react to. People in states like Massachusetts, for example, which has very high per capita incomes and the lowest divorce rate in the country, are relatively unconcerned about gay marriage, while those in Southern states with much higher poverty, divorce, and single-parenthood rates feel the family to be threatened because family life is, in fact, much less stable in their communities. In such environments, where there are few paths to social solidarity and a great deal of social disruption, the church frequently steps into the breach, further exacerbating the fight.
Both crowds today were predominantly white. Both had a significant number of quite young people, though I'd say the anti-choice set had more teenagers (members of "Respect Life" clubs at Catholic high schools?) while the pro-choice young folks seem to consist more of young 20s, living independently of their families. Both had a sprinkling of older people. The huge difference between them was the presence among the anti-choice of lots of white men in middle age. These men's expectations for their lives and roles have been torn apart by social and economic forces they cannot control. They are ripe to be led against someone.
Their churches lead them against women's freedom. Several contingents apparently had been taught that mumbling continual "Hail Marys" would prevent contamination as they passed protesters. As a Christian believer, it was painful to watch folks praying the rosary as an incantation against other people who believe differently. This is not my faith. (Okay, I might was well say it: I'm not wild for abortion, but I figure that after millenia of old guys making the rules, we need at least a few hundred years of women's autonomy before we can sort out the ethics related to giving birth.)
Two young lesbians told me of having been set on by a man who wanted to exorcize Satan from them. I wasn't surprised.
Meanwhile the pro-choice demonstrators, many of them, are refuges from the world of the anti-choice. I actually heard two discussing how they had "recovered from religion." They are intentional city folks; many are gay; many look at U.S. society and "just say no." They have no truck with Christianity that they think of as either unfounded nonsense or the stalking horse of fascism. One final sign said it all for me: