Standing up for Women

Mar 4, 2016

My parents taught me to stand up for what I believed in. We stood by my dashing, mustachioed dad, a union plumber who occasionally walked the strike line, and I learned to explain labor disputes to my grade-school classmates.  My mom took me to my first demonstration in 1983, when I was in high school.  Our bodies formed two slender links in a17-mile human chain that surrounded Rocky Flats plant to protest their production of plutonium triggers for nuclear weapons. Buffeted by the front-range mountain wind, I was transfixed by the flapping bandanas many protesters symbolically tied over their faces.  Knowing that thin cotton couldn’t protect any of us from the toxic waste seeping into the soil, I learned that standing for convictions can be scary.

 I called on those memories recently as I stood, with others, in support of Planned Parenthood — an organization that in Indiana provides 2/3 of publicly funded contraceptive services.  March is Women’s History Month, but women’s bodies are making news right now. Every presidential candidate has weighed in about Planned Parenthood, bills restricting reproductive rights are moving through the Indiana statehouse, and the Supreme Court, Scalia-free, is in the midst of a landmark decision about whether a woman’s access to health care can be determined by her address. Our Planned Parenthood rally drew enough supporters to fill the sidewalk in front of the health center, cars zooming by on our area’s busiest shopping strip, halfway between a Kmart and a Midwest Gun Exchange.  Our hand-markered hot pink signs said: HONK IF YOU SUPPORT PLANNED PARENTHOOD.  We wanted to provoke participation: Honk if you’re with us.  If you’re not, drive on by.  Oh, we got our fair share of rude middle-fingers, thumbs pointed down, and big fat boos — all pretty comical, actually, as if the nay-sayers, sealed inside their soundproof cars, were silent movie stars over-acting their parts.  As for the honkers .. well, we sign-holders became roadside sociologists, cataloguing the types of supportive noise.  For example, there was:   • The heck-yeah! honk: staccato beeps and broad smiles — sometimes a visible YAY! mouthed through a window. • There was the delayed honk — folks who needed a moment to process our signs, and then laid on the horn a half-block away, still wanting credit for a honk.• There was the sheepish honk — mostly from plaid-clad twenty-something men who seemed grateful for, if bashful about, reproductive care. *ahem*  yay.  Honk.• And there was my favorite — the reach-over honk,  performed by an enthusiastic passenger who would reach across the often surprised driver and pound on the horn, as if to say: “Oh, this car is supporting Planned Parenthood, you’d better believe it!”   Despite our frozen fingers, it was an afternoon to warm a progressive’s spirits, as bus drivers honked, truckers honked, rusted cars honked, and so did fancy SUVs.  We got raised coffee cups, seat-grooving thumbs-uppers, and in general a picture that looks like the U.S.: Most folks don’t want to turn back the clock on women’s rights. So, I’m trying to lean optimistically into the wind in these blustery political times.  This Women’s History Month, I’m cheered by local women’s stories in this year’s Michiana Monologues, on stage tonight and tomorrow, raising money for organizations that work to stop violence in our community.( If you missed Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s lecture at Saint Mary’s College last night, you can YouTube her inspiring TED Talk on “Why We Should All Be Feminists.”  You might watch the trailer to the new documentary,  Trapped, for background on the Supreme Court’s reproductive access case. And you might recall, as I have been, the shimmering line that Justice Kennedy wrote in the 1992 Casey decision: “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe and of the mystery of human life.”  Beautiful, yes?  Justices Sotomayor, Kagan, and Ginsberg are having a mighty say about this current case involving Whole Women’s Health.  But, maddeningly, it’s up to a man, Kennedy, to cast the deciding vote on whether self-determination is a right that in 2016 belongs to women, too.   For Michiana Chronicles, this is April Lidinsky