Guest Post from Virginia Commonwealth University: Organizing a Pro-Choice Counter-Protest on Campus

Hello! This is Sarah tuning in from Richmond, VA.

I’m the campus coordinator of #TruthFail at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU). We are a campus of 32,000 centered in the heart of Richmond – a mix of southern conservatives and liberal progressives.

Last week we had Students for Life sponsor the Genocide Awareness Project for two days on our campus. It was terribly violent. Although there were no physical altercations among pro-choicers and anti-choicers, there were pictures ranging from 5’x8′ to 2’x4′ of genocide victims in Rwanda, Armenia, and Europe with NO trigger warnings. Additionally, they used language such as “evil” and “demonizing” to describe the decision to have an abortion.

They initially set up on a Wednesday, unbeknownst to me, and continued to demonstrate the following Thursday. When I checked my phone on my break at work on Wednesday, I was berated with texts and voicemails from concerned feminists on our campus. After work, plans were set in motion to counter their demonstration the next day. I posted on Facebook about an impromptu meeting to counter-organize. About ten people showed up and we brainstormed for about 2 hours on how we wanted to create a safe space for those people witnessing the spectacle. We came up with 13 slogans and bought the posters the next morning. These slogans included alternative definitions to genocide, trigger warnings, “abortion is not equal to shame,” and other related titles.

We were planning on meeting at 8:30am to make the posters, but got a call from another feminist letting us know that GAP were setting up at 9am. Needless to say, we quickly woke up and started a pot of coffee. We collaborated briefly, made some more signage and bought some chalk. Our idea with the chalk was to foster an interactive “safe-space” for people to share their stories and silently protest. It was one of my favorite parts of the rally.

Two gals and a man-friend met me at the compass around 8:45-9:00am and we began our long day of standing in opposition. We started with about 5 people and ended up with 60+ standing in solidarity against the GAP. We sang, we danced, we chanted: “Not the church, not the state, women must decide our fate.” Though we earnestly tried to disengage ourselves from the speakers of GAP, there were several times that we all chanted in unison over top of their megaphone.

There were certain times in our stay (from 9am-5pm) where conversations were had amongst pro-choicers and anti-choicers. They were mediocre at best. We, the organizers, had made sure that everyone knew that if there was a one-on-one confrontation to make sure that we all were looking out for each other – we did this mostly for the emotional safety of each other. There was a point in which an anti-choicer triggered a rape victim – from that point on there was never one person standing alone in conversation.

Overall, the rally went well. The turn-out was great and the collaboration was superb! Though the 10 of us met at the bar the night before, the turn-out would not have been so high if another local feminist had not already started a counter-protest Facebook event. We sure are lucky to live in a community that cares about our women – though we live in separate spaces, we all seem to come together when we need it the most.

My favorite part of the day? Standing in unison with people of different races, genders, and dispositions while holding up signs and chanting in the rain. We stood for 9 hours. We laughed. We cried. We screamed. We showed our campus and our community that there was obvious and strong opposition to the anti-choice movement. And that is worth something.

As a result, it seems that the vice-provost has initiated a revision to the student code of conduct that would result in our counter-protest(s) being deemed unacceptable and inexcusable without a permit. For example, we would have been kicked off of our campus for being in public opposition to the GAP. This is something that is being actively discussed in our GSEX department. There are already petitions going around campus to have this revision taken out of our student code of conduct.

Cheers to you all! Don’t get discouraged and continue doing the work that can seem to be so tedious! You have support in places you would never expect!

Reach out!

Love to all!

Sarah

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