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Jul 15, 22

Standing Together: A Report on Clinic Defense in San Diego

A report on defending a reproductive health clinic from far-Right forced birth protesters in so-called San Diego, California. Check out action on the ground here.

Antifascist activists in San Diego have had enough. Months before the leaked SCOTUS ruling over reproductive rights, a group of angry San Diegans took protecting their local Planned Parenthood into their own hands. Although the opposition occupies the sidewalk outside the clinic more frequently, our tactics have shocked and horrified the pro-lifers so that we are living in their heads, rent free. From the beginning we have been outnumbered, and the latest SCOTUS ruling has empowered the pro-lifers and boosted their attendance. Now is the time to join the defense of your local clinic in California, because things are about to get a lot more intense.

Why is clinic defense important? Many Planned Parenthood locations hire and provide escorts to create a safer and more comfortable walk to the front door, particularly if the area is occupied with protestors who do not believe in our right to body autonomy. For some, this may seem like enough of a defense and will leave this job to the experts. However, these official Planned Parenthood escorts and their fellow staff are limited in the ways they are able to communicate with protestors, to make an impact, to help to educate, to deter and to reject these awful groups. We have endless respect for these professionals whose jobs are important and should be respected and protected. However, we are in a time of monsters and there is a desperate need for robust community defense.

We have all seen the groups, primarily compromised of white men, crowding the sidewalks around clinics which provide abortion access. They hold signs with disturbing combinations of images, like mutilated fetuses and smiling toddlers, harassing anyone who might be approaching the clinic and creating an intimidating presence for those who may need to enter alone. They make comments to patients warning them that their decision is wrong, that it will ruin their lives, that it is murder and that the guilt will haunt them forever. Trust us, the more you get to know them, the worse they get.

These people are posted up outside your local abortion provider to be manipulative and intimidating. Their goal is to use any tactic possible: fear, crowds, religion, false information, shame, disturbing images or guilt; all to deter patients from making the best decision for themselves. They prey on anyone walking alone, anyone crying, anyone who looks like they don’t want to be spoken to about whatever medical care they may be seeking that day. This is wrong. The correct response to this abuse is anger. For some activists, the best approach is to fight fire with fire and this means confronting and blockading christofascists with a show of energy, determination and force. Rather than imagining all the things you’d like to scream at these assholes, why not do it? We are under unprecedented times of stress and social instability. We see our body autonomy, safety, queerness and ability to breath under attack. We need to stand our ground and push back collectively.

Those who will be most affected by abortion bans and lack of access to this vital healthcare are people of color who have less economic resources. We have seen nationwide demonstrations in support of reproductive rights, many resulting in heavy handed police tactics, arrests and injuries. In general, people of color are more likely to be targeted by police brutality for fighting against these harmful and unjust systems. Those without economic resources are unable to endure the costly legal fight against false and trumped up charges, and the medical bills that may result from this abuse. This means those of us who have the privilege of time, money, health, ability, whiteness and emotional currency need to be on the front lines amplifying the message that body autonomy is at the core of liberty while we still have the ability to do so.

Roe was not won by voting. Roe was won by radical actions by grassroots groups taking matters into their own hands. People had fought for decades to try to reform abortion laws, but that fight was through legal means, mainly among the white collar class. These struggles accomplished very little in terms of winning us our body autonomy. After just a few years of militant mass struggle by feminist groups, SCOTUS had no choice but to act. In the late 60s and early 70s, feminists had built a militant mass movement around the repeal of abortion reforms. This movement, which included systems of care and abortion access, had grown to a point of undermining the greater patriarchal structures our government relies on. For this reason, the supreme court was forced to codify some aspects of abortion access. The liberal myth that Roe was codified through some enlightened struggle via legal strategies which convinced the supreme court, is a lie.

After Roe was codified, and throughout the 1980s, pro-life groups launched into action, attacking queer and women’s liberation, reproductive freedom, and all advances made during the protest movements of the 1960s. This forced radical feminist groups to change their approach and resulted in the “pro-choice” rhetoric we see today, erasing the original goals of the struggle, which were abortion access and liberation. We saw the terrifying birth of radical right-wing groups like “Operation Rescue” in the 1990s, which supported attacks and bombings on abortion clinics. Without Roe in place, these groups are getting the message that they were right all along.

Body autonomy is an innate freedom we must protect. It is not a condition provided to us or taken from us by the state. Liberals would like us to believe that SCOTUS was our benevolent caretaker who granted us the right to decide whether we wanted a parasite growing inside of our bodies. We can only hope that this image has been shattered by their recent “betrayal” of our freedom. Whether we should have body autonomy is not a moral question. It should be an undeniable right.

Organizing on every level and with every tactic is important in the fight against fascism. Antifascist activists stand against well-funded and organized groups that have the capacity to occupy this location and others daily. Despite their resources, to allow them to dominate a space which should be safe, neutral, and peaceful would be an injustice. We see large national organizations such as the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) and Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights (a front for the Revolutionary Community Party) organizing large parades that attract thousands. But when people are asked to confront our enemies, those who wish to make us into objects, those who want control over our life decisions and do not want us to own our own bodies… no one shows up.

There is nothing inappropriate about telling a misogynist harassing people outside a medical clinic to fuck themselves. And here are some of the ways we have done so:

  • Flaunting our sexuality. We had one christofascist who frequently showed up to harass patrons dressed in a potato sack. He believed this made him appear more Christ like and holy so as to manipulate anyone who might believe in a Christian God to rethink their decision. We combated his approach by wearing our own potato sacks and little else, painting a homage to the band Pussy Riot across our chests.
  • Drowning them out. We have brought a variety of megaphones, amplifiers and drums to override their sermons. We have WAPed them many times. Our location is unfortunately in a jetstream, so most noise ordinances do not apply, which the christofascists take full advantage off. More than once, we have had liberal women approach our group and say, “I totally support the right to choose… but I was sleeping… and I want to keep sleeping in, so please be quiet.” This was highly offensive to our team members who immediately pointed out the hypocrisy of this statement and directed these liberals to those who are the cause of our occupation. We are out here protecting your right to ABORTION, not your right to sleep in and ignore fascism.
  • Clowning them. We had a lot of fun the day we dressed fully as clowns from head to toe, complete with circus music and an adult tricycle. We made penis balloons, gave birth to a satanic baby and tricked them into praying to a toilet seat.
  • Poetry Readings. We thought maybe expanding their minds might help them to realize their wrongdoings, so we read them several very sexual and naughty poems by various queer poets.
  • Mock Bloc. This work is draining, scary and depressing. Sometimes satire and dressing up as “chuds” is our best choice for those days when we want to let anger rest. Many who say they believe in body autonomy will not attend an autonomously organized protest because of the stress, uncertainly and potential for counter protesters; this is the “love is love” crowd. Their liberal tactics are lukewarm and ineffective. We built solidarity with the community through humor and holding up large signs shaped as speech bubbles that read, “I hate myself” and “My religion is your problem.” Their beliefs are absurd and thus, easy to mock.

Unsurprisingly, those who occupy the Planned Parenthood at First and Grape in San Diego are not forthcoming with which groups they belong to. We do know for certain that many of them are a part of Awaken Church, a Trump loving homophobic evangelical megachurch attended by J6 rioters and which is constantly swaddled with controversy. Awaken was once part of C3 San Diego but broke off to form a new church with even more extreme beliefs and right-wing political goals. Some “pro-life” protestors on site have professed their admiration for garbage such as Ben Shapiro and Matt Walsh. They are unashamedly bigoted, patriarchal and openly admit they use hate to further their agendas.

And then we have the police. When the counter-protests began, there was a heavy police presence, normally 2-3 squad cars and a handful of cops standing on the street corner. The only arrest in our 10 months of protesting was due to a right-wing occupier kicking a leftist’s dog. When the pro-body autonomy protestor made the unfortunate choice to report this incident to nearby SDPD, she was charged with resisting arrest only to later have the charges dropped. All of these patterns are reflective of the state’s response to demands for freedom and body autonomy.

This article is a call to action. We must protect each other and help to build courage and power. This recent SCOTUS decision did not send us into the past, but forward into a terrifying future of a surveillance state where we can be criminalized for what happens inside of our own bodies. At this time, there is a police “spy camera” above the Planned Parenthood location. We are expected to believe it is there for our safety. However, as we enter an era where crossing state lines to get healthcare may become illegal, the presence of powerful live-feed cameras becomes foreboding and dangerous. The law is not what defines us as a community. We will not comply with laws that endanger the lives of birthing people. Without permission from any entity, we will be ready to protect each other and ensure access to community clinics safely, so everyone can get the healthcare they deserve.

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