News Violence

Your Body Under Arrest: Police in Riot Gear Remove Peaceful Women’s Rights Protestors in Virginia

Jodi Jacobson

Pictures worth 10,000 words... Virginia sends in riot police to arrest peaceful protestors supporting women's rights.  Apparently, they can occupy your uterus, but you can't occupy your state capitol.

Editor’s note: This article was amended at 10:33 a.m. on Monday, March 5th to correct an error of omission. An earlier draft with the link back to Style Weekly was lost and has now been re-inserted. The original reporting on this story comes from Style Weekly.

You might think that the right wing in this country was getting the message that women will no longer stand for legal, verbal, and physical abuse and harassment, especially by elected officials.  You would especially think that would be the case in Virginia where former Vice Presidential aspirant Governor Bob McDonnell, who is contemplating signing into law a forced ultrasound bill after doing women a “favor” and taking out the forced trans-vaginal ultrasounds initially required, has been widely pilloried.  You would also think the right-wing would be cautious after a week in which the seemingly untouchable Rush Limbaugh has, as of this writing, lost seven corporate sponsors over his debasing remarks about Sandra Fluke.

But you would be wrong. 

Because, you see, women in this country are so dangerous, their sense of entitlement as citizens so incredibly threatening to the peace of the republic that state police in riot gear were sent to remove peaceful protestors this past weekend. According to a news article in the Richmond independent news source Style Weekly:

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Photos by Scott Elmquist, Style Weekly

Photos by Scott Elmquist, Style Weekly

“About a thousand women’s rights protestors descended on the state Capitol Saturday afternoon to protest anti-abortion legislation in the General Assembly, and then things got ugly,” reports Style Weekly’s Vernal Colman.

“About 20 State Police officers, many in swat gear with face shields and body armor, were called in to assist Capitol Police in controlling the crowd. Some of the State Police officers wore green camouflage and carried rifles and canisters of tear gas (no tear gas was used, however). After being warned to vacate the south steps of the Capitol, police officers arrested 31 people — 14 men and 17 women — on charges ranging from unlawful assembly to trespassing, according to Capitol Police.”

The rally ended a raucous two weeks in the statehouse, with anti-abortion legislation generating national headlines in a Republican-controlled General Assembly. While legislation granting unborn children “personhood” status was shelved until next year and a bill requiring invasive, transvaginal ultrasounds prior to abortions was watered down at the request of Gov. Bob McDonnell, women’s rights protestors descended onto Capitol Square nonetheless.

Photos by Scott Elmquist, Style Weekly

Photos by Scott Elmquist, Style Weekly

Colman continues: Organizers for the event, Speak Loudly With Silence, say that an estimated 1,000 people participated in the rally, which also involved members of the Occupy Richmond movement.”

Claire Tuite says that the arrests were not planned. When the protestors emerged on the Capitol, some made an “autonomous decision” to “occupy” the steps of the Capitol building.”

“This was a peaceful protest on taxpayer-funded property,” Tuite says. “We have every right to be here.”

Josh Kadrich, one of the organizers, says a small group broke off from the larger crowd of protestors, determined to make it to the steps. They blew by the cops standing on the steps leading towards the capitol. Others joined in. “Eventually, there were around 400 people sitting on the steps of the capitol in silence to protect women’s rights,” Kadrich says.

Then State Police, many officers in riot gear, showed up. The protestors were asked to leave and given a countdown as to when the police would begin making arrests. Some complied peacefully. Others locked arms and resisted.

Photos by Scott Elmquist, Style Weekly

Photos by Scott Elmquist, Style Weekly

Colman writes: “Molly Vice, press liaison for the group, says the arrests “shames lawmakers for passing regressive legislation that usurps the good judgment of women on their own health care for the state’s.

“It’s an outrage,” she says of the ultrasound bill. “We’re here … to tell truth to power that infringing on women’s health is not okay. Not this year or the next.”

For more photos from the rally, visit Style’s facebook page.

Apparently, Virginia’s state legislators and governor can occupy your body and your uterus, but you can’t occupy your state capitol.

News Race

#SheWoke Fuels First Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls Event

Christine Grimaldi

Reps. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Robin Kelly (D-IL), and Yvette D. Clarke (D-NY) formed the caucus in March at the behest of #SheWoke, a collective started by seven advocates and thought leaders across the country.

The formal launch of the Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls (CBWG) examined barriers and pathways to success during a wide-ranging discussion Thursday.

Reps. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Robin Kelly (D-IL), and Yvette D. Clarke (D-NY) formed the caucus in March at the behest of #SheWoke, a collective started by seven advocates and thought leaders across the country. CBWG is the first of its kind to represent Black women and girls among the 430 registered congressional caucuses and member organizations, which includes the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Caucus on Black Men and Boys, the lawmakers said at the time.

Portions of the inaugural event can be viewed via two videos on Watson Coleman’s Facebook page. The caucus also partnered with Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) for a second event on Black girls in the school-to-prison pipeline. Ebony magazine Senior Editor Jamilah Lemieux moderated the #RethinkDiscipline discussion.

“As we move forward in this launch, I can tell you that I’m looking forward to consistent, persistent work with an insistent attitude,” Watson Coleman said Thursday morning. “I believe that there’s been a vacuum of understanding our value, our challenges, our experiences, and our accomplishments.”

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CBWG Co-Chairs:
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ)
Rep. Robin Kelly (D-IL)
Rep. Yvette D. Clarke (D-NY)

CBWG Members:
Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN)
Rep. John Conyers (D-MI)
Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL)
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA)
Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-OH)
Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-MI)
Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-NC)
Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL)
Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI)
Rep. Donald Payne Jr. (D-NJ)
Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-FL)
Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH)
Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA)
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-MD)
Rep. Lacy Clay (D-MO)
Rep. Stacey Plaskett (D-VI)
Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ)
Rep. Alma Adams (D-NC)
Rep. John Lewis (D-GA)

#SheWoke’s Ifeoma Ike and Nakisha Lewis told Rewire that the collective, and the caucus, grew out of conversations about Sandra Bland, the 28-year-old woman who died in police custody under controversial circumstances last year. The New York-based roommates realized that they had a lot in common with Bland—including the same vulnerabilities. No amount of educational achievements, professional successes, or other accolades could protect them from joining the long list of Black women who preceded Bland in death.

“She really could have been us,” Lewis said in an interview.

Ike and Lewis organized with other members of historically Black Greek letter organizations to form #SheWoke and translate their conversations into action. The group then reached out to Kelly’s congressional office to bring the movement to Washington. #SheWoke began working collaboratively with the lawmakers and their staffers about how to bring in research on school discipline and other pressing issues, as well as how to better connect impacted communities with elected officials, Ike said in a separate interview.

As a former Capitol Hill staffer who worked on the Congressional Caucus on Black Men and Boys, Ike recognized the importance of a national platform to elevate the discussion and bring change to the local level. Going forward, #SheWoke would want the CBWG to coordinate hearings that allow Black girls to tell their stories and speak their truths before Congress.

“What we’re trying to challenge people with is to try to look at everyday people as the experts on their own lives,” Ike said. #SheWoke is planning to do the same through talkback sessions with young girls, professional women, and seniors across the country.

Firsthand accounts matter because Black women’s and girls’ lived experiences vary. A Black woman in Texas or Louisiana would likely have a far more difficult time trying to access Planned Parenthood services than her counterpart in New York or New Jersey, Ike said. Genderqueer, gender-nonconforming individuals, and “all the people who have been left out on the margins” also need to be a part of the conversation, Ike said.

Melissa Harris-Perry, the Maya Angelou presidential chair at Wake Forest University and editor-at-large at Elle.com, echoed the need for intersectionality in her remarks at the caucus’ first event.

“Despite important commonalities, all African American women do not share the same ideas, beliefs, and burdens,” Harris-Perry said. “Age, region, queer identity, and skin color shape Black women’s lived experiences. Black trans women are uniquely vulnerable to public and state violence. Black women living with disabilities face barriers we frequently overlook. Black girls in foster care or struggling with episodic homelessness will have very different challenges than those with more stability.”

Such variations, however, “do not invalidate the importance of thinking about [B]lack women and girls as a group,” she said.

Harris-Perry said the late Angelou would commend the congressional co-chairs for developing the CBWG and ask the larger legislative body, “What took so long?” Harris-Perry ran through the list of overdue conversations: the disproportionate vulnerability to violence, unequal opportunity, criminal injustice, and health disparities that Black women and girls face in their day-to-day lives.

In addition to Harris-Perry, the event included speakers representing nonprofits, advocates, academia, and in the case of Geneva Reed-Veal, the mother of Sandra Bland, experts in the realities, and consequences, of the criminal justice system. Sharon Cooper, Bland’s sister, is a #SheWoke member.

Ike said she was “amazed at the interactions in between the formalities” of the event. Conversations focused on veterans’ rights, homelessness, school discipline, disability issues, mental health issues, and more, she said. A discussion on how women of color continue to bear the brunt of the gender pay gap underscored the lack of parity for Black women and girls—and the need for a forum to discuss policy prescriptions.

“The theme that I kept feeling was equity,” Ike said.

Commentary Abortion

The People’s History: The Birth of the New Feminist Army in Texas

Rocio Villalobos

Ultimately, we do not see the passage of HB 2 as a total loss. On the contrary, we recognize that that moment was an opportunity and an opening.

Read more of our coverage on Wendy Davis’ historic filibuster and the fight for reproductive rights in Texas here.

An entire year has passed since the shouts heard around the world reverberated throughout the Texas Capitol and forced the state legislature to come to a screeching halt. Rise Up/Levanta Texas formed in late June 2013 as a grassroots response to a growing awareness that our bodies, stories, and voices were being made invisible within the larger narrative surrounding reproductive rights and HB 2. The same pattern is playing out today as people continue to center straight, cisgender, white women in the retelling of the events that unfolded last summer and single out abortion as the only issue at hand. Several individuals and groups have published retrospectives that focus on Wendy Davis, women, and abortion, but their story of the struggle for reproductive justice in Texas is incomplete, and the reality of what happened is so much broader than what the public is being told.

The legislation has undoubtedly placed restrictions on people’s ability to access abortions. The provisions of HB 2 included the following: abortions were prohibited after 20 weeks of pregnancy; doctors performing abortions must have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic where abortions are performed; doctors must adhere to Food and Drug Administration-approved protocol when giving people medication abortion pills; and, by September 2014, all abortion clinics must meet ambulatory surgical center standards. However, many of the clinics that were targeted by HB 2 did more than just provide abortions. In huge spans of the Rio Grande Valley and West Texas, thousands of poor and working-class people also lost access to routine services such as mammograms, cervical cancer screenings, sexually transmitted infection testing, and contraception. At the end of the day, a pregnant person with access to financial resources will find a way to get an abortion, and it is unlikely that they would have utilized abortion clinics as their primary source of medical care. Rise Up/Levanta Texas thus interprets HB 2 as a manifestation of the apartheid that exists within the medical industrial complex in the state and in the country.

Image via Rise Up/Levanta Texas

Image via Rise Up/Levanta Texas

The “war on women” is being waged on a massive scale, however, in a way that too few people were talking about before Rise Up/Levanta Texas started to contribute to the shift in the narrative. We strove to center the war on the poor, the Black and the brown, the undocumented and queer people, and ways in which this bill serves as a weapon of the state in those prolonged wars against these particular communities. Yes, HB 2 actively sought to limit women’s ability to access abortions, but the struggle goes beyond this narrow focus on the “war on women.” Before and during the night of Wendy Davis’ filibuster, many people, including folks working with and for the Democratic Party, and other nonprofits, were aware of the desire and the need for civil disobedience as a means of resistance. There was a general level of preparedness and understanding around the subject when it came up in discussion. After the initial filibuster, however, as bodies began to regularly fill the capitol, groups associated with the Democratic Party and the other large coalitions, were quick to shift gears from amplifying voices of people suffering at the hands of the State, to analyzing how the energy that was being generated could be captured for votes and donors. In doing this, their perspective was no longer focused on the situation at hand. The Democratic Party and its allied organizations took self-assuming positions of power and were quick to criticize and police the actions of Rise Up/Levanta Texas instead of continuing a dialogue about how to use our collective strength to fight oppressive policies being enacted by the state. Discussions were shifted towards elections—people were told to “wait until November” (the 2014 midterm elections) to “fight back,” while far-right zealots spent each day at the capitol using all means possible to oppress and push people out of a public process.

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Consider this document the collective testimony of Rise Up/Levanta Texas—our bearing witness to the events that transpired, the repression that supporters of reproductive justice experienced, and the violence that was unleashed on our bodies and spirit in an effort to kill the rebirth of the feminist movement in Texas. We do not claim to represent all of the voices of those who have been written out of this particular moment in history, nor do we claim to represent the voices of those who were tangentially involved in the events and actions that Rise Up/Levanta Texas coordinated last summer. However, we do intend for this to serve as a people’s history of sorts, one that centers those who are often relegated to the margins or made invisible due to the state’s fondness for revisionist history. The stories recounted below are a testament to our commitment to make the discussion of reproductive justice one that is intersectional and uncompromising in our belief that everyone has the right to bodily autonomy, self-determination, and dignity.

Texans Rise and Organize

While the new special session rectified the bill and sought to quell the massive uprising of dissent surrounding the capitol, those of us who were present at the capitol for the filibuster never could have imagined the outpouring of resistance to HB 2 that people in Texas demonstrated. Inspired by the sea of orange that flooded the capitol and came to represent the pro-choice movement, a group of long-time organizers and activists met a couple of days after the filibuster to discuss what a grassroots response to this right-wing attack on reproductive rights in Texas might look like. From the beginning we articulated the importance of nonhierarchical organizing, nonviolent direct action, and prioritizing the voices of those most impacted by the legislation.

Using an intersectional lens to analyze and discuss HB 2 was also at the core of our work. The group that would become Rise Up/Levanta Texas was comprised of people from different backgrounds with respect to race, gender, age, ability, class, and sexuality, among other factors. Our different lived experiences as people and organizers allowed us to connect what was being played out at the capitol to larger systems of oppression that affect us differently based on our identities. Our process manifested a very different story about power than the narrative espoused by “Stand With Texas Women” and allowed us to articulate the impact of HB 2 in a way that centered the experiences of those who were being left out of the conversation. We told the story that was being ignored: the story of those who would be most impacted. It was not just about cisgender women needing abortions, but about queer and trans people, people of color, people with disabilities, rural Texans, undocumented migrants who might be risking detention and deportation by being forced to drive hundreds of miles and through Border Patrol checkpoints, sex workers, and IV drug users needing access to basic health care. We are the people who were willing to put our bodies on the line to prevent an even greater injustice. We worked with intention to be collective, cooperative, creative, and collaborative with other groups working to defeat HB 2.

From the beginning, we strategically focused on where we might be able to make a difference. Each day we produced a list of legislative targets and key messages so we could creatively interrupt the process, generate media, and build momentum not just in Austin or Texas, but around the country as thousands of people watched on. We functioned horizontally, organizing in working and affinity groups, and in clusters to accommodate those who had come together to organize and carry out creative direct actions. We held regular spokes council meetings where our action plans emerged into an overall action framework that enabled many levels of participation. In an effort to model direct democracy, our decisions were made using a consensus based decision-making process. We trained hundreds of people in nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience building pressure along the way. We did this openly, publicly with no fear, despite the increasing police presence and its focus on us.

Image via Rise Up/Levanta Texas

Image via Rise Up/Levanta Texas

During our regular meetings we developed a roll-out plan with trainings, meetings, and actions. Each day we grew stronger with more and more people joining us on the ground. Rise Up/Levanta Texas became a force within the capitol that kept the momentum and media attention building. From creative testimony, from marches to sing-ins, from the parachute banner to gallery actions, from legislator office actions to eventually civil-disobedience, we showed up, spoke out, and refused to back down.

Early on we decided that a cleverly coordinated media campaign would be a central part of Rise Up/Levanta Texas’ efforts to change the narrative surrounding reproductive rights. Rather than wait for the mainstream news outlets to come to us, we sought out a combination of mainstream and alternative news outlets in order to proactively engage the media. We had late-night meetings to craft press releases, generate talking points, and designate media spokespersons. We tried to be mindful of who was doing the talking and prioritized having queer folks and people of color as points of contact to intentionally disrupt mainstream media’s messaging and images of who would be directly impacted by HB 2.

The Rise Up/Levanta Texas media team also posted updates, articles, photos, and videos through various social media platforms in both English and Spanish. We utilized a mass texting app to communicate with our supporters regarding when and where we were coordinating direct actions, trainings, and general assemblies. Our sense of humor and passion for what we were doing kept us going through the late nights and countless hours spent working. In the end we were successful in getting some of our perspectives and organizing efforts published through the New York Times, Real News Network, Truthout, and Common Dreams, to name a few. We were also able to gain the attention of local Spanish language media, which we considered a huge victory. Having outlets through which to tell this story proved to be more important than ever during the final days of the fight at the capitol as people were arrested during acts of nonviolent civil disobedience. Lies and accusations were spread by legislators and by the state police in an attempt to have the public believe we were radical extremists acting from a place of hate rather than a place of concern for basic human rights and dignity.

Solidarity Is a Beautiful Verb

During that time, the entire world was exploding with people out in the streets who were speaking out and fighting back against oppressive regimes of power. This reminded us that our organizing must take into account the places in this country and around the world that live with the implications our government’s aggressive policies have upon their/our daily lives. One of the more beautiful and inspiring elements of our organizing at the capitol appeared in the form of acts of solidarity from people all over the United States as well as some from people abroad. During the height of our organizing, we spent days and nights at the capitol without ready access to food and drinks. We were inspired, but we were also exhausted, hungry, and often dehydrated thanks to the overwhelming Texas heat and humidity. People quickly answered our calls for support by sending us pizza, snacks, water, and what soon become everyone’s favorite, pro-choice vegan donuts from Austin’s Red Rabbit Cooperative Bakery. While these actions may seem simple, they met one of our most basic needs and reminded us that we are connected to a much broader community that exists outside of Austin, Texas, and the State Capitol. We belong to a community of reproductive justice advocates and freedom fighters who believe that everyone should have the right to decide what happens to their bodies. We were and are outraged by the Texas legislature’s attacks on care and on people’s right to decide what is in their own best interest. Knowing that we had statewide, national, and international support; that thousands of eyes were watching us and cheering us on from all over the world boosted our morale and reminded us of what was at stake: our collective sense of self-determination.

Image via Rise Up/Levanta Texas

Image via Rise Up/Levanta Texas

Also missing from these retellings are mention of the 16 people who were arrested that summer—those who were arrested for explicitly protesting HB 2 and those who were arrested merely for associating too closely with “radical” protesters. Several others were ushered and at times carried out of the house and senate galleries as the bill approached a final vote. As the police forcibly arrested those whose voices expressed discontent with the process inside the legislature, several liberal women of color legislators on the floor clapped for those being carried away and for those who also stood up in protest that day. We realized in that moment that as limited as the party politicians were in what they could do and in what they could advocate, they still subscribe to a process that many of us have long since lost faith in. Maybe by clapping for us they were starting to recognize that they needed our help in the fight. Not the petition signing, voter registering, orange T-shirt wearing, Wendy Davis fan club-type help, but rather help from the radicals—from the limitless and unafraid. The politicians who were on the front lines and getting their asses handed to them were starting to get it anyway. The Democrats out on in the halls with us were still mostly being , but progress is progress, and we appreciated it.

When the final vote was taken and the bill passed, a sit-in of over 50 people took place outside of the gallery doors, where protesters were brutalized during Texas State Troopers’ attempts to disperse them. We were outraged by the use of unnecessary violence and force by the police, but proud of our friends and comrades for holding the space and power despite the brutality of the state.

You Can’t Legislate This: Growing the Resistance

The day the bill was signed into law, we knew the fight had only just begun and that we had our work cut out for us. We could no longer watch in silence as misogynistic, patriarchal, and conservative governmental forces continued to try and dominate our lives. As a result of HB 2, fewer than two dozen abortion clinics are currently operating in Texas. The southernmost clinic in operation is in San Antonio, meaning that people living in border areas have to drive hours in order to receive care. In West Texas, people can only obtain an abortion in their first trimester. Many clinics have attempted to challenge the provision in HB 2 regarding hospital admitting privileges, but only one clinic has been successful in its attempts. By the time HB 2 goes into full effect, only five abortion clinics that are also ambulatory surgical centers will remain in the cities of Austin, Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth, and San Antonio.

Since last summer, Rise Up/Levanta Texas has been working on becoming a sustainable and fixed presence in Central Texas that consistently advocates and works towards reproductive justice. Our members have taken part in statewide and national convenings, conferences, and meetings aimed at addressing and challenging the terrifying reality that Texans will face when HB 2 goes into full effect in September of this year. We have spoken on panels and given presentations about our work, the obstacles we faced and continue to face, and what differed in our perspective and approach that made people pay attention to what we were doing. Just as important has been our ability to connect with other activist groups and individual organizers working around these issues in other red states that face similar, if not copycat, legislation to what we now have to contend with.

Image via Rise Up/Levanta Texas

Image via Rise Up/Levanta Texas

Before the filibuster, every day since, and after this election in November, no matter its result, marginalized communities will continue to be at the receiving ends of the adverse effects of an oppressive state. Rise Up/Levanta Texas does not see turning the state “blue” as part of our mission for the future; our collective efforts were not limited by these markers of time because achieving social justice compels constant pressure at the root of the problem. We will not be silent about what is happening in our state. We have not stopped the pressure. The struggle is not just about abortion or women’s rights or getting out the vote—this is about uncovering the truth with respect to ongoing attacks that are historically rooted in greed, racism, and hate. Enough is enough.

Ultimately, we do not see the passage of HB 2 as a total loss. On the contrary, we recognize that that moment was an opportunity and an opening. Since the summer of 2013, we’ve seen record participation and widespread support from people all across Texas whose vision differs from the draconian, anti-democratic, misogynistic political tricks we saw come out of the capitol. It became clear that last summer was only the beginning. In order to continue building the feminist army, we must support each other and keep the pressure on for access to comprehensive reproductive health care in our communities. We will continue to fight for access to reproductive health care and for reproductive autonomy that all Texans deserve. Will you join us?