Nobody drives halfway across Texas—or halfway across the country—because they are unsure about what they believe.
Nobody takes time off work to sit in a capitol extension overflow room for 9 hours hoping a really smart stranger will completely change his or her worldview.
Nobody shows up at a rally, ready to chant, carry signs, and find someone with a totally different belief system and have a deep, personal, life-changing conversation.
Trust me on this.
It can be powerful to engage in dialogue with someone who doesn’t understand why you advocate for abortion rights, to share stories, to probe the uncomfortable space where your values and experience do or do not line up and discover common ground, but that’s a conversation that requires time, trust, and an assumption of good intentions.
Those are three things in very short supply when you are on the front lines of direct action.
Tomorrow, paid outside agitators will arrive in Austin. I refer to Mike Huckabee and the Duggars, people who are less interested in creating dialogue and finding common ground than in making sure they are relevant enough to have their highly lucrative television contracts renewed.
At the same time, buses full of students—amped up, egged on by peers, excited to be fighting for what they believe is right—will arrive on the capitol grounds.
Don’t engage. If you really must feed the trolls, go do it on Twitter.
Look, it isn’t that I don’t think you are smart, convincing, charming, or right. It is that I know that we have a very specific focus for the work being done at the capitol this session, and it isn’t convincing random strangers to abandoned their deeply held and often sincere beliefs. Here are our goals for being at the capitol:
- Sign in and/or testify as opposed to SB1, HB2, and any other anti-choice bill that comes up, to create a public record of our opposition and to show that the majority of Texans are opposed to such legislation.
- Be a silent but visible presence in the hearing rooms and legislative chambers both to remind lawmakers that the majority of their constituents believe that individuals, not elected officials, should be the ones making decisions about whether and when people become parents, and provide silent but visible encouragement to the legislators protecting our rights.
- Sign in at our elected representatives’ offices (they all have a guest books outside their offices) with an address (to demonstrate you are a constituent) and a quick note like “I’m here to oppose HB2 and ask you to do the same/thank you for doing the same.”
- Meet other people working in this movement to help strengthen coalition ties throughout our state, because we are going to have to keep working together long after the special session ends.
- Be a vocal and loud presence, in the appropriate time and place (e.g. outside at a rally), to show our appreciation for the fantastic legislators working hard on our behalf to prevent bad bills from becoming bad laws.
We’re not there to win converts to our side or argue with people who approach the issue of reproductive justice from a fundamentally different framework. We’re not there to refine our debate skills.
We’re really not there to create fodder for their fundraising newsletters, viral videos, or other gotcha social media ploys.
Your flip comment, offhand aside, or outburst in a hearing room, recorded on a phone and edited by someone with an agenda, shifts the focus away from our goals. Your getting arrested for provoking a confrontation with someone in blue, or someone in a uniform with a badge, proves nothing other than you know how to provoke and get arrested.
Our legislative goals are the primary focus, but behind them is something even more important.
People. People whose rights and access to safe healthcare, safe abortion, are in extreme jeopardy. My rights, your rights, our rights.
If you want to debate, provoke, disrupt, argue, or troll, please go elsewhere. Things are already tense at the legislature, and the intensity is about to ramp up. There is critical work being done, and debate, provocation, and trolling get in the way.
I’m not saying that the way our legislative process is unfolding is above criticism. I think we can all point to multiple examples of the way in which it is not working well (at best) or actually being rigged to work against us (which is, believe me, germane), but engaging with a random anti-choice activist isn’t going to fix that.
Stay safe, stay calm, and stay focused at the capitol this week. Focus on our legislative goals and the impact that achieving or not achieving those goals will have on the lives of Texans. That’s the best we can do, and the most important thing we can do.
*For Ken – the actual, practical, everything you need to know about tomorrow’s hearings on SB1 courtesy of Jessica Luther.
I’m glad you posted this. To be honest, I’m a little nervous about how I’m going to react. Anti-choice protesters have always made me uncomfortable, but I take it all very personally these days. I think I’m going to just try to hide in the sea of orange and stay away from them as best as possible.
How vicious and gross does the other side get?
There will certainly be people on all sides who think it is their duty, or think it is fun, to ruffle feathers. They’ll be in the minority, but they will make their presence known. Avoid them. One factor when it comes to abortion rights is that often, people who oppose the rights come from an evangelical background, so trying to win converts is part of how they practice their faith.
Remember, you are not there to cause problems, and you don’t owe anyone a discussion or a debate session. You can walk away, and you needn’t worry about appearing rude. You can carry ear buds and pretend you can’t hear, if you have to sit next to someone or stand in line with them and you’d rather not talk. Take a book you can read.
Last week, there were people wearing signs around their necks saying they wanted to talk, to debate. There were people in blue seeking out people in orange and asking to have a conversation. Just say no. Don’t let them be bullies. And if you really feel uncomfortable, leave. Go to the museum or take a walk. Clear your head. Focus on what’s positive. You can do this!
I say smile kindly and turn your back.
A very practical solution!
I’m just now starting to decompress. I was called a slut and a murderess, but I did really well not engaging with people who tried to provoke me. I actually found that the people who were there before 7 were the only ones who tried to engage me – once we were in the actual building, everything was fine. I found that my cell phones was my best defense. I was able to keep my head down and ignore very easily that way.
I am, however, staying away from the papers. A quote from my testimony regarding termination for a fetal anomaly was picked up by the AP and I’m now in newspapers ranging from Orlando Fox News to NPR. I was prepared for the protestors – I don’t know if I was prepared for that.
Isn’t it sad that I’m completely inured to being called slut, murderess, and the like? Once you’ve had priests with their collars on call you names like that, it is hard to take it too personally. I even received a phone call once from a woman calling to let me know I was a murdered. I worked at Planned Parenthood at the time. I answered, said my name, and she lit into me. She eventually paused, as it dawned on me that she knew me. “Oh, are you ______?! I used to drive your ballet carpool! I haven’t seen your parents at church in awhile. Tell them I say hello. But I still think what you are doing is murder.” TRULY, she said that!
You are strong and brave for speaking out! Take care and don’t worry if you need to take a back seat to recover. You rock.
I will not be there, but I’ll be at work, in California, proudly wearing orange, thinking about all of you and appreciating your work. Be safe, but be seen!
Reblogged this on Power To The Voters and commented:
Protests carry many names like “Rally” or “March” and here are some very good pointers here on how to conduct yourself. Excerpt: “Our legislative goals are the primary focus, but behind them is something even more important.
People. People whose rights and access to safe healthcare, safe abortion, are in extreme jeopardy. My rights, your rights, our rights.”
Voting laws that deliberately disenfranchise people are cynical and wrong. They undermine our Democracy! Voter Suppression is equally important as Gun Violence and the War On Women. The Do-Nothing Congress has done nothing long enough and now we must force them into ACTION! To deny one issue is the same as denying all of the issues.
This piece is excellent advice. Being a regular at the Capitol and a frequent committee witness, I have seen examples as referenced play out, and they can only hurt the cause.
Thank you for writing this!
But will the media care? If they don’t the political machine (the real target,) will not even notice your actions. Don’t bring a knife to a gunfight! Don’t break the law, except passively, but don’t be quiet, and don’t be nice. Your enemies will take pictures and videos and tell lies about you no matter what you do. They’ll get the media’s attention, and make you look like idiots, radica0sl and sinners–no matter what you do. Accept it and do your best to rub the public’s nose in the facts! Be passionate!
Tom, I have to disagree. Don’t bring a knife or a gun (real or rhetorical) and don’t treat it as a fight. The situation will be heated enough – no need to add fuel.
Wonderful piece! That’s how things actually get done in the legislative process. I hope those that show up, be they blue or orange, listen to your advice and watch change happen! I will be rooting for you here in Ohio. Watching and listening and learning, because we’re next and I hope Kasich is ready for the huge Buckeye Tide that’s going to come down on his head!
We’re keeping our eyes on Ohio from down here, for sure. Good luck – hold Kasich accountable!
I have been working in El Paso to hold our own West Texas Rally tomorrow (7pm, County Courthouse, y’all). In my attempt to drum up support and inform especially the young (possibly non-voters) in El Paso, I took to handing out fliers at a show last night. I passed out fliers to a group of girls, who asked about the legislation. Asked me to clarify.. “So you’re FOR abortion?” – I corrected “No. I’m for Choice. And access to safe healthcare.” She was polite, handed me back my flier and suggested I had it to someone else. I thanked her and moved on.
Later in the evening, she approached me again and apologized if she was rude (she hadn’t been). I explained calmly and nicely why I was doing what I was doing, what I considered to be equal access to healthcare and other things. In the end, she had admitted to never really considering a lot of those things, because she herself would always choose life if given the choice. And that’s where she stopped. I stopped. And I said.. “yes, given the choice.” I don’t think I’ll see her down rallying with me at the courthouse on Monday. But engaging those who have a desire to calmly engage in discourse if you have factual data to back it up is never a bad thing. If it gets aggressive, then thank them kindly and move on.
With that said, people who will physically be at the capitol are often passionate about their issue. I had few problems when I was there last Mon-Tues with anyone. I always thanked the police officers and any of the anti-choice folks who were kind enough to hold open doors for my son and I, ect. Mama always told me you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.
I offered cookies to the DPS officers I encountered in the capitol – they all appreciated it!
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