When Roe v. Wade was overturned, the anger was palpable immediately. I remember my mother-in-law telling me, when I called her to talk about it, that her progressive women’s group was already starting a postcard writing campaign.
I had a GenZ/Zoomer (whichever is the term du jour for “the young people”) friend who, knowing I’m politically active, texted me to say how furious she was and wanting to know what she could do to fight back.
My wife, meanwhile, resolved to wear her favorite new shirt every chance she got and dare anyone to say anything to her about it, and has.
Someone else here in North Texas decided to organize a protest march, which I went to with my wife and mother-in-law on Saturday, along with a couple hundred other people, in the last Republican stronghold in the DFW Metroplex.
My wife and I pulled our women’s rights protest signs out of the closet, and made our way to City Hall. My mother-in-law was handing out cards for her organization, the Progressive Women of Arlington. People from Beto for Texas were there to register voters. Local activists, including a man from the local Party for Socialism and Liberation, were there to commiserate and support reproductive rights. A woman, naked but for red flower pasties and a flesh-tone panty, strutted about with “my body, my choice” written on her belly and a blood-and-viscera coated wire hanger woven into her hair. From her posture and stride alone I could tell anyone who dared to try and reproach her would be in for it.
My MIL had been greeted by people who knew exactly who she was after her organization went toe to toe with the mayor and city council to push through a term limits bill, one which they were still trying to remove years later (and the PWA was gearing up to stop them). “Famous, or infamous” was how she was described. For her part, my MIL was surprised so many people knew her in the first place. Standing up to the mayor and organizing a successful grassroots campaign against him will do that for you, I imagine.
Ruby Faye Woolridge, the woman who I volunteered for when she was running for congress, arrived soon after. She was now running for Tarrant County District Clerk after winning election to the Arlington City Council in 2020. The organizers were under a canopy nearby, and someone in red medic shirt was checking on a rolling cooler filled with water bottles and ice. So far, it was just like any other rally or march I’d been to in Fort Worth, just closer to home. It was the calm before the storm.
As the clock ticked down to the starting time, more and more people arrived. What struck us the most was the ages of those in the crowd: it skewed heavily towards the young people. College kids from UTA were there in numbers, brimming with a bewildering mix of youthful excitement and happiness, and the righteous fury of a generation of women scorned. A middle-aged mom had been one of the main organizers, and a fair chunk of the PWA were retirees, but the young people were there not to follow but to lead.
I looked over my shoulder and saw a group of people, clad in black, with balaclavas and body armor and carrying baseball bats, pistols, and AR-15s heading our way. I groaned. My wife rolled her eyes. “Who invited the militia?”. I was surprised: I didn’t think we had a chapter of the Proud Boys around here.
These people were not the Proud Boys. The few splashes of color among them were rainbow pride bandanas, as well as red or blue arm bands. One of the college kids informed me they were actually here to provide security for us.
I went over to speak with them, and was told that they were a local left-wing, anti-capitalist self defense group. They regularly attended progressive/leftist protests and marches to provide protection from right-wing counter-protests. They also helped the homeless avoid arrest and the loss of their scant possessions. One of them asked me if I needed any sunblock with a surprisingly courteous tone. I asked if I could get a group picture of them for the story I would be writing. “We don’t like pictures,” was the polite but brief response I got from one of the people in charge.
(To respect their desire for anonymity, I’ve blacked out any faces that were partially visible, as well as omitted their organization’s name).
Eventually the police arrived. They were there about the nearly-nude protestor. She had been ready for this moment, and did not shy away from arguing against any charge of indecency: she knew her appearance was within the letter of the law, and wasn’t going to back down. The police led her away to boos and shouts from the crowd. The security group followed her and the police, standing nearby with their open-carry rifles pointed downwards. The police talked with her, and she mocked them back. Finally, they found a compromise: she wrapped a scarf around her waist, providing some minimal coverage of her butt. She returned to cheers from the crowd, and the police returned to their vehicles (after admonishing the security detail to keep to the sidewalk until the march began; the detail complied respectfully).
My former candidate Ruby was the first to speak, giving a passionate defense of the right to abortion. She emphasized that this was an issue everybody should support, and it didn’t matter if you liked abortions or not, even if you had reservations about them as a person of faith, individual women still deserved the right to control their own bodies. She called out abortion restrictions as just another effort to roll back civil rights, to allow the government to control bodies, and it must be stopped. As a woman whose great-grandfather had been a slave, she took any effort by the government to tell her what she could and couldn’t do with her body as a grievous insult. She saw it as proof that we could win the fight for rights tomorrow that we don’t have today.
Dennis Sherrard, the Democratic candidate for TX HD-94 was next to speak. He spoke about how unacceptable an intrusion in women’s lives this bill was. He quipped that as a husband to and a father of Texas women he never told them what to do, prompting laughter and cheers from the crowd. As he was wrapping up his remarks, someone in the crowd called for Texas to have citizen ballot initiatives, and he assured her that if elected he’d work to make that a reality.
Next was the representative from the PSL, who vehemently called out the bigoted, fascist behavior of the modern republican party. “Abortion restrictions are an attack on the poor — there will always be access to abortions for the wealthy,” got him some applause. “In a nation with the highest maternal mortality rates in the so-called ‘developed world’, forced pregnancy is a death sentence. In a nation where maternal mortality disproportionately impacts people of color, it is genocide,”
It was nice to finally be in a place where I might not be the leftmost person in attendance. I was a bit miffed when he threw a barb at the “Democrat” party for being complacent and partly responsible for all this, but I also understood his reasons for staying in his current party. I wish we had a parliamentary system or something similar so third parties like the PSL could get national traction, and calls for voting for them would be a viable choice (instead of a giant waste of time), but we don’t, so I hold my nose and vote for moderates. Besides, it turned out to be mostly a throwaway line in his impassioned remarks.
The last to speak was a young woman who had been a major part of the organizing effort. She started off by stressing how important it was for us to carry on this fight. She called upon her fellow cisgendered white women to acknowledge the work and leadership done by women of color, and to use their collective resources to continue the fight with them that they had been doing all along. She called out men, particularly ones in power, to do more than offer mealy-mouthed platitudes and to actually do something to fight back. Women were not, she insisted, some helpless bird with a broken wing for them to rescue.
She was angry, angry from what had been done to her gender; angry from alleged “allies” being all talk and no walk despite having the means to do so much more; and she was angry at the misogyny she faced, even now, from her own side: patronizing remarks and advice on how to lead and organize, all from men talking down to her as though their sage advice was a gift she should gratefully accept. The energy of the crowd was on her side through all of it, and I was so grateful to see a woman like her at the front of this crowd. I’m approaching middle-aged (yeah, approaching, that’s the ticket…) and I’m so excited to see the generation behind me so fired up. Afterwards, she walked us through some of the chants, had volunteers hand out cards with the cheers listed for handy reference, and went over our Miranda rights since a recent SCOTUS ruling meant that local law enforcement couldn’t be trusted to do so in the event of arrest (those little cards had the Miranda rights printed on them too). She summed it up with the advice that if arrested, all you say is “I want a lawyer”. I wish I’d gotten a picture of her speaking, but I was wrapped up in listening to her speak instead.
As a side effect of being an effort led by and directed by the youth, it had the most inclusive language I’d ever encountered at an event: the LGBT and queer community were represented, people of color were represented, pronouns were provided, and the small cards they handed out to provide some handy information for everyone referenced “people who can give birth” as well as “non-uterine individuals”. Small gestures, sure, but what impressed me was the matter-of-fact nature of it: of course this is the sort of language we use. What else would we do? The kids do not care about your gender or color, respect is for everyone.
The march took us through the downtown area of Arlington, eventually looping back to City Hall. You would think in a conservative bastion like Arlington this would have been a fight waiting to happen, but it was the opposite. Cars honked in approval as we set up, and people watched us from out of windows, cars, and just standing on the sidewalk in front of their businesses as we marched. Cars stopped on cross streets honked in support, and drivers and passengers raised clenched fists from their windows in solidarity. There were probably only two hundred or so of us, but the only reactions we got were approval or passive silence. If you can’t get so much as a dirty look when marching for abortion rights in the most conservative major city left in Texas, what does that say about where people stand on this issue?
The security detail accompanied us, walking on the sidewalks and encouraging us to stay in the streets; (“The permit says we can go in the streets, we will not be forced onto the sidewalks, so remain in the streets”) they looked after anyone who seemed to be needing help, while medical volunteers continued to offer ice-cold bottled water to anyone who needed it. The march stopped twice to let everyone rest and drink up; even though it had been scheduled for the evening, the heat wave we’ve been enduring was still going on. It was mercifully drier and slightly less hot than usual, making it much more tolerable as the sun set.
By the time we made it back to City Hall, we were all a tired and sweaty, but still passionate bunch. I’ve said before that nothing boosts your spirits as a liberal in a conservative state than marching: seeing so many others who share your beliefs gives you hope. It’s a drink for your parched soul, long suffering from the years of cruelty and ignorance we’ve been trying to defeat as the right lurched from corporate toadies and robber barons into a full-throated fascist movement.
I’m looking forward to the next one. In the meantime, I’m going to start writing letters.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.