The Women’s March

It was a quintessential fall New England day with heavy morning dew and a slight chill in the air. We, my wife Jan and I, headed to Northampton, Massachusetts after being absent from this quaint New England city for many years. We walked several blocks to the  business district and center of the city, its buildings defined by brick and stone facades common to the area. The Saturday afternoon streets were crowded.

Shops along Main Street and on adjoining streets are reminiscent of a time past and resemble the so-called head shops and avant-garde clothes shops of decades ago. With a nearby cannabis retail outlet, the quaintness of a head shop is like something out of ancient history.

Marches and rallies defending women’s rights and defending against the decades-long attack against women’s reproductive rights are anything but quintessential! Like the mostly defunct peace movement, the defense of women’s reproductive rights has been one of primarily rear-guard actions and responses to horrific assaults on women’s health clinics during past decades.

The speeches at the rally in the center of Northampton were mostly boilerplate. Personal accounts of what it was like to live in fear before abortion became legal in the US in 1973, what it’s like to be on the front lines of women’s care, etc. One speaker attacked the right-wing white male agenda to roll back reproductive rights and law that may be dealt another blow, perhaps a death blow, in the current Supreme Court session that begins this week.

The district court in Northampton was the scene of a 1987 case, in which former President Jimmy Carter’s daughter, Amy, along with fellow protester Abbie Hoffman and others, took on the CIA for their access to student recruitment at the nearby University of Massachusetts campus in Amherst. They won their case against the government and there is an iconic photo of Abbie walking outside the courthouse in a sports jacket following the verdict.

To those of us who spent years on the frontline defending reproductive rights, it seems as if we have returned to the age of the dinosaurs. But this reaction has not been unexpected or a surprise. At least two generations have passed since Roe v. Wade and it has only become a worse landscape for women’s rights. I’m in contact with a physician who I knew from the years I escorted at a women’s health clinic and he vividly recalls wearing a bullet-proof vest to work. I recall doing visual perimeter searches of the apartment buildings next to the clinic and paying particular attention to apartments with open windows. The howling and viciousness of anti-abortionists was a given.

The control of women’s bodies is an old piece of the agenda of many religions. Fundamentalists want total control and submissiveness among women, and their political agenda represents that juggernaut. I have long believed that besides the outrage of controlling women’s health and choices, the political right has long used this issue as a cover for equally egregious policy positions and policy actions. What could be more threatening to women and children than war, attacks on the mostly laughable social safety net, and a decayed environment?

The exploitation of some women, particularly women of color and poor women, has long been a centerpiece of the far right. What could have been more ludicrous than the court jester and alleged serial abuser of women, Donald Trump, holding a bible and railing against abortion? The paymasters of the political elite will always have access to all the rights and privileges that can be imagined, and their attacks against vulnerable members of this society and those around the world make good grist for their hypocrisy. They draw in the fundamentalist crazies and others who believe that women ought to be relegated to subservient roles.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).