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May 4, 22

“How Far We’ve Come”: Austin in the Streets Against Attacks on Abortion Access

Report on demonstration in support or reproductive freedom and autonomy in so-called Austin, Texas.

The memory of 2020 is still around and led to a pretty inspiring demo in Austin, TX. Crowds protesting the ascendance of patriarchal state denials of abortion access, have shown their boldness, and openness to creativity and confrontation. If the movement can produce new targets, confront the police, and disrupt the infrastructure of the anti-abortion movement, they may produce a crisis to which the State has to respond.

Attacks on abortion access have come early and often to Texas, but people have organized against state sanctions on abortion, with multiple abortion funds offering aid to people seeking them. A mass movement in 2013 shut down the state legislative session requiring centers offering abortions to jump through legal and medical loopholes to continue offering them. The legislation eventually passed, decimating service provision in the state but only after thousands of people were shoved out of the Capital Building by State Cops. Unfortunately, in 2013 outside demonstrators thanked the cops for “protecting” their “rights.” This evenings demo, in 2022, showed how far we’ve come in Austin.

After long marches from the Capital to the Federal Courthouse in downtown, Austin Police began to get more aggressive. Crowd members speculated that they were frustrated, having known of the march to the courthouse but not expecting people to continue their unpermitted march after that point. At the end of the march, heading back to the capital, APD was tailing, driving slow behind several demonstrators walking with canes. Eventually this put them more than a block behind the bulk of marchers, and they got frustrated, driving quickly around the marchers with canes and leaving them to fend off approaching traffic on their own.

Time for speeches again at the Capital, including a appeal to vote (receiving cheers and jeers from the crowd) and a lonely Maoist leading 30% of the crowd in a call for “revolution.” After the Maoist was chided for using “women” to the exclusion of trans people who are also being denied abortion care, the crowd took off south down Congress Ave.

This time, heading south, the crowd felt bold and took up all four lanes of traffic, two of those against traffic. This had become part of crowd intelligence during the George Floyd Uprising in 2020. The cops were frustrated that their access to the front of the march had been curtailed and a cop, came on the loudspeaker telling people to move to the side. This voice sounded like a woman’s, perhaps the only female cop doing crowd control. Folks with the megaphones started to tell the cops that the crowd was not taking orders from them, and middle fingers went up.

Cop cars then sped through where the crowd was thinnest, and approached the front. Two brutal arrests happened minutes later, with APD tackling several people and throwing them headfirst into the asphalt. Folks in the crowd surged forward, but were not able to make the un-arrest. A squad car that had been mostly surrounded, sped backwards to escape the crowd. Chants of “Fuck the Police” and “Let Them Go!” went up, and at least one water bottle went through the air at the remaining cops on foot. These cops retreated to their cars and continued following the march, blaring the dispersal order, but unable to enforce it.

Notably there were no bike cops at the march, notorious for surging and kettling to do crowd control. There did not seem to be any reinforcements waiting in the wings either, though after this a surveillance helicopter was spotted, circling overhead. The crowd kept going, in defiance of 20 minutes of dispersal order, blaring loudly behind us. The crowd seemed energized by this conflict and the tone changed towards FTP as people recognized that every struggle will have to go through the police. Attempted police barricades were ignored and people moved freely through them, in an assessment that the cops did not have the power to stop them.

The crowd eventually wound up back at the Capital and there was a brief speakout before the lonely Maoist started yelling at the crowd about revolution again (whatever that meant to them). The crowd seemed like they still had some energy, but the main folks with the megaphones weened, ready to pack it in.

Another target circulated, a “crisis pregnancy center” located in the heart of the University neighborhood of West Campus. The Trotter House at 2717 Rio Grande takes advantage of desperate college youth, directing them explicitly away from abortion access and offering propaganda to dissuade them from seeking healthcare elsewhere. The remaining crowd was receptive to this as a destination, and were hopeful that we would be able to pick up more youth as we marched through the student neighborhood to get there. A sizeable chunk left to head to Trotter House and after some more dispersal orders and supportive cheers from student bars, we arrived.

The gate around the property was open, and the crowd filtered onto the property, their banner was removed and replaced with signs from the march, a box of chalk appeared, and we left the property adorned with slogans. Perhaps a small group of more prepared people can take things to the next level, or a community group could call for a protest during open hours. As the marchers said, “We Don’t Get Justice, They Don’t Get Peace.”

Overall the crowd, particularly during the latter half of the evening, seemed open to experimentation and confrontation. Debates on the police, which have kept years of street movements circling the drain, appeared to have been blown through in the aftermath of the 2020 uprising. Youth were encouraging others to take up all lanes of traffic and faced no push-back. It helped that there was little to no established NGO presence, or that those that attended were not interested in guiding the march. This may change in coming days as the rallies become less spontaneous and managed, but if the youth who have come up in recent years can stay savvy and creative, they may keep the initiative and continue the drive to open confrontation with the State.

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