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We Decide Our Own Fate

A tale of two rallies for reproductive justice

While some people want to cling onto their pink pussy hats for dear life, the color, shape, and historical weight of those blobs of yarn don’t seem fit for this moment at all. The escalating attacks on abortion rights, the directives to investigate parents who help their trans children seek gender-affirming care, the bills barring teachers from mentioning sexual orientation or gender identity in the classroom, all call for something new. Enter the Marea Verde or “Green Wave” movement.

On the C train into Manhattan’s Foley Square on Tuesday afternoon, I talked to two women who were on their way to protest the leaked Supreme Court opinion draft overturning Roe v. Wade. One of them, Kahlila Kramer, was enthusiastic about the Marea Verde movement in Latin America for reproductive rights, which helped prompt Argentina, Mexico, and Colombia to decriminalize abortion. She saw green as a more inclusive signal of protest than the prescriptive femininity of pink and believed it was time for a new chapter in activism in a world reshaped by the pandemic.

As we walked out of the Chambers Street station and into the crowd, we passed two cops going in the opposite direction. One muttered to another as he surveyed the incoming bodies: “Shit.” It was so crowded that I had a man’s bike wheel wedged between my legs, so crowded that a woman with a massive camera yelled “fucking move” at someone who’d come to a standstill outside a designated primal screaming zone.  

Kramer, who came to the rally with her long-time high school friend Emma Cooper-Serber, had been saying goodnight to her twelve-year-old daughter when she saw the news of the leaked SCOTUS draft. The New York Times notification flashed up on her husband’s phone, which she’d been carrying to check the weather. “I knew things were coming,” she said, “I just didn’t expect it at that moment. My guard was down.”

Comedian Amy Schumer (and cousin of New York senator Charles Schumer) popped up in a martini-olive green jumpsuit.

“I’m so full of rage, I just want to be out with people. I want to be in a sea of people, screaming, who are all as angry and fired up and passionate and scared and pissed and hopeful. I don’t even know how much protests necessarily change things always . . . There’s been a lot. But for me when something like this happens, taking to the streets feels really powerful, and there is power in numbers.”

Kramer pointed to Greta Thunberg and the “diligence” of consistently putting your body on the line to protest, not just turning up once a year in a pink pussy hat (“that was incredible . . . and then . . .”).

“Sometimes people feel fatigued, like what can I do, and what’s the point in a-fucking-nother protest . . . I do feel like I was so inspired by what was happening in South America—these are countries where women’s rights have always been under attack,” she explained.

Near the front of the barricaded speaker area was Karina Aybar, one of many people who helped mobilize the event on short notice: “It’s easier to preserve a right that we possess now than to fight to reinstate a right that we have lost,” she said.

Before kicking off the rally, an organizer from Girls for Gender Equity referred to a poem by June Jordan and encouraged the crowd to take its title and final lines to heart: “I must Become a Menace to My Enemies.”

Not long after, comedian Amy Schumer (and cousin of New York senator Charles Schumer) popped up in a martini-olive green jumpsuit. The Supreme Court was going in the wrong direction, she said; women want more freedom, not less. “John Roberts and his court are spitting in our faces right now. He’s all about the integrity of the court but not about women’s integrity.” At this point, she pulled her mask right down under her chin: “And I tell jokes, but this court is a joke.”

Schumer then introduced New York Attorney General Letitia James, who spoke about her experience having an abortion early in her career. James indicated a plan to establish some sort of dedicated fund for out-of-state abortion seekers, but details were scant and confused: “New York will establish a fund for a procedure, that will pay a fund, that will establish funds for individuals who wanted to come to New York for a procedure.”

A representative for Mayor Eric Adams tried to speak, but people started booing, and their jeers soon gave way to a chant of “Fuck Eric Adams.” An organizer interrupted to talk about the importance of listening. “I know you feel how you feel, but it’s also not easy to get up here and talk about abortion.”

Rather than a protest, I felt like I had just stood through an entire city council meeting, albeit one with galvanizing signs of more imaginative radical action in some of the speakers. I decided to take my chances at Barclays Center, where another protest had initially been arranged but then canceled to merge forces with the Foley Square event. While I appreciated the effort of the elected officials and the impressive wrangling of the organizers, it seemed odd that the promo material for the rally had invited attendees to “channel [our] rage into action” only to have us sit tight while speakers from the Adams administration—which has recently been undertaking homeless encampment sweeps— monologued about how we must “stand together.” The tension between these two points was glaring: Cruelty to people living in poverty and cruelty to people seeking abortions aren’t separate but merged issues. Reporting shows that patients seeking abortions are increasingly more likely to be poor than in decades past.

A sign at the Barclays Center rally. | Jess McAllen

At Barclays, one of the main meeting sites during New York’s Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020, there was a much smaller crowd. Where the Foley Square demonstration felt like a hierarchical, NGO/city council official talent quest, this one had no visible leaders. I preferred it. A man playing the drums outside Marshalls rapped, “We gonna uphold Roe v. Wade, we gonna uphold Roe v. Wade,” which was later chanted by the crowd in the same cadence, even after he appeared to have gone home. Also chanted: “Fuck the court, fuck the state, we decide our own fate.”

Diane Aronson was walking around, encouraging people to chant. She used to help with abortion clinic escorting in the leadup to the Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision of 1992. “Then, there was a hope that there would be a majority that would maintain the fundamental right to choose,” she said.

Today’s legislative attacks on abortion fundamentally come back to the right to privacy, Aronson said, citing the Griswold v. Connecticut case of the mid-1960s around birth control as the base decision on privacy that many later decisions related to gender and reproduction have stemmed from, as well as the Loving v. Virginia judgment on interracial marriage. Her implication was that overturning Roe could have a cascading effect on other rights that we often take for granted.

“All this objection to what people see as cancel culture, they’re just trying to keep this country from evolving in a direction of affording more people more rights, whether it’s rights based on the color of your skin or how you identify in terms of gender or whether you want to have a baby,” she said.

Before leaving Foley Square earlier that night, the back of my thigh had been rammed by a barricade seemingly moving of its own free will. It was being jostled along by a woman in a blue “Fox lies, Fox lies, Fox lies, Fox lies” shirt. She was moving the chunk of metal to let a car pass and, as I leapt back, yelled something about how I could help. The barricade-ramming seemed misdirected to me, as did the impulse to accommodate the driver. But we all act out our rage in different ways. Sometimes you feel comforted in a sea of thousands, deferring to people—or vehicles—in positions of power, and sometimes you feel like standing with just a few hundred others, in colder temperatures and without a sound system, willing to loudly yell the word “abortion” without apology.

Still, I hope the more defiant attitude on display at Barclays will be the one that comes to define the moment. When the court is against us, and the state has let us down, we must decide our own fate.