On the Wednesday of Holy Week I attended the Zubik Rally in front of the Supreme Court with fellow colleagues from Americans United for Separation of Church and State and several allied groups. We were on the pro-birth control side of the rally, of course, while the opposing side, mostly Catholic school children and nuns, were anti-birth control. I must confess that I had no idea what to expect going into this rally other than that the Religious Right was on the opposing side. So, I expected the Religious Right would be confrontational because that is certainly their trade mark.
Before I continue a little background info is needed to understand AU’s involvement in the rally. AU decided to have a Zubik rally with other allied groups to make our pro-birth control voices heard in the battle over women’s health care. The stance of those in the rally is that birth control is necessary in providing complete and accurate coverage in women’s health care and that not every woman can afford to pay for birth control on here own. After all many women need birth control pills to manage severe medical issues that only birth control can resolve. One of these conditions are ovarian cysts that can be life threatening if not treated properly as well as other severe medical issues that can be treated via birth control. The other stance that the rally took is that religious organizations don’t have a right to refuse giving birth control to their employees or students through a third party provider if they are going to use Obama Care. By having religious organizations provide birth control to students and employees through a third party provider means that religious organizations are not directly giving birth control to students and employees and there for doesn’t violate their religious objections to birth control. Well, many religious organizations don’t see that way and are arguing that providing birth control via a third party is a violation against their conscience.
For every event or rally there is weeks of planning to make it happen. The Zubik rally was no different. My colleagues and I got word that there would be rally for the Zubik case a month out from the day the rally would take place. Before we also started planning we also knew that there would be a few allied groups that would be with us at the rally. From there Field Department at AU started working on creating visible unifying symbols that would unite everyone at the rally while also creating visible unifying symbols for those who work with AU. For this we had teal colored ribbons and balloons to hand out to people at the rally while everyone from AU wore dark blue shirts with our logo on the shirts. To finish the visuals off AU workers who would be at the rally made signs to hold and wrote up chants to be chanted.
Going into the rally we knew that there would be an opposing side that supported the objections to birth control and that they could be confrontational. To counter this the various allied groups in our rally decided to set a non-confrontational rule where rally members would not engage with the opposing side. This turned out be a good call as the opposing side kept trying to engage us through various means. In the end the pro-birth control side of the rally looked like the better people because of our non-engagement policy. It also allowed us to ignore the antics of the opposing side while continuing on with our party atmosphere instead of having a hostile one that could have resulted in police intervention.
The Religious Right
As many readers might know I am not a fan of the Religious Right. In fact I despise them but non the less watching the Religious Right in action was fascinating. The first thing I noticed about the opposing side as they gathered was that their numbers were mostly made up of of those in the religious orders, Catholic school children, and parents with their young children. There were a few college students and adults but most people no the opposing side were children who had no idea of what was going on or couldn’t possibly be expected to understand the arguments concerning the case. As far as I could tell the children and Catholic school students had been dragged there by their parents or school.
Other than most of the people on the opposing side being children, I was horrified by the singing of patriotic songs and religious songs by an overtly religious group. This only confirmed my belief that the Religious Right believed that to be a true patriot one needs to be a radical Christian and that the U.S. should be ruled as a Christian nation with Biblical laws.
I also found the opposing side to be very confrontational. Confrontational in a way that suggested that they were itching to pick a fight or create a scene. Two particular instances stand out in memory. At the beginning of the rally an older woman from the opposing side, with a heavy Eastern European accent decided to wander over to our side holding her yellow sign with the face of a nun on it. A young woman from our side asked if the woman needed help finding rallying point for the opposing rally (many people were confused and had been helping each other out in establishing boundaries). The older woman angrily stated that she did not need help finding her people and that she was there to “remind us who we were up against”. The poor young woman who had kindly asked the older woman if she needed looked shocked, hurt, and confused all at once. Another woman from our side stepped in trying to explain that the young was trying to help so that they older woman would embarrass herself by being in the wrong area and having people laugh at her. The older woman angrily stated that this was not the case, that she knew she should be, and that she was not stupid (the women never said that she was stupid or suggested it), while continuing to shout “Let them serve!” The women then explained that we were not practicing confrontational tactics and asked the older woman to leave. The older woman did leave after realizing that she would not get a reaction out of us and we knew who we were up against because the opposing side was less than 100 feet away.
The second incident happened towards the end of the rally. A group of people from, yet again, the opposing decided to show and parade a banner with a graphic photo of aborted babies that had NOTHING to do with the rally (remember the rally was about birth control not abortion). Just to make it clear: if the rally was about abortion I would not be there. I believe both sides on the abortion argument are equally hypocritical on who has right to live and who doesn’t in all spheres of life and death issues. So, back to my original thought. The photo on the banner was graphic, too graphic to be showing it in front of children. I was surprised and not that the opposing side allowed the banner to be shown in front of children considering that many parents in the religious right would have problem if there was swearing, violence or un-Christian material on TV. Thankfully some amazing women on our side realized what was happening and blocked the images from being seen by children to young to see such graphic images. I was more horrified that young children had to see such images than being horrified by the images.
And did I mention the speech by a Catholic convert that summed up the opposing side’s argument against birth control? Come to think of it, I didn’t and I should write about it, after all it was the talk of the office for the rest of the afternoon. As at all rallies each side has speakers to talk to their people about the issue they are supporting or opposing. The opposition was no different, in fact they had a speaker who talked about why birth control should be illegal. The college student gave his testimonial on why he converted to Catholicism and his life story. While telling his story he mentioned that he was one of eight children and that he was proud of that. I thought to myself that being part of a large family is typical in many parts of the U.S. and if that’s what a family wants, then have at it. But I was shocked at what came next. At the mention of “one of eight” the whole opposing side cheered. Then the speaker said, “and women keeping having all those children! I hope my wife does!” More cheers from the anti-birth control people. A lightbulb went off in my head as I looked at my Jewish colleague (we had twin posters so we decided to parade around together wearing my cross and she, her Star of David). That’s what this whole anti-birth control thing is about, forcing American women to have more children because that’s all we are good for.
We all know that the media, whether it be social or the news, proliferates all aspects of society, and once your on social media your there to stay. Going into the rally I knew that the news media would be there as well as those active on social media but I didn’t expect to be the center of some of their attention. When I first arrived at the rally in my AU shirt it had not been ten minutes before a reported started asking me questions about the rally and my role in planning the rally. In actuality I did very little in the planning and I told the reporter so but he kept asking questions about my role in the rally and why I was there. I decided to get away from this reporter as quickly as I could. I was media free for just over an hour until I was handed the sign that I made the day before. To be honest I didn’t think the sign would gain as much attention from the media as it did. After all when have I ever made anything that goes viral at an event? Never. So, with my sign in hand I gained more media attention than I planned on. For someone who is stage and video camera shy, well, all the attention pushed me out of my comfort zone. Despite being camera shy I did talk to one or two news stations that were covering the rally and had dozens of photos taken of me and my sign. As with all photos in our modern times, the photos ended up on social media with #zubik. So, I ended up all over social media. A little unsettling if you ask me but it’s part of being at a rally. What I did learn about media presence at rallies is that the media will cling onto anyone who has a crazy and outrageous sign that gains much of the attention at a rally.
The largest difference between the pro-birth control side of the rally vs. the anti-birth control side was that we, the pro-birth control people, knew how to have fun and made our rally a party. And we partied, minus the alcohol, like it was 1999! Yes, that is a Prince reference (rest in peace Prince!). Having the party atmosphere really made the rally memorable and everyone enjoyed themselves. After all we were celebrating women’s rights to birth control access. So why not party!