Last night, I had the pleasure of attending a counter-demo organised by the brilliant Bloomsbury Pro-Choice Alliance. Womb-fanciers 40 Days For Life decided to drag a bishop down to preach outside a (thankfully closed) abortion clinic, and a network of pro-choice people decided they couldn’t let it pass without some noise.
The bishop turned up an hour early, perhaps having heard about the possibility of a counter-demo and wanting to squeeze in some praying for a good peek at the inside of our uteruses before we arrived. Luckily I and many others had been nearby, and we mobilised quickly. In a panic and with no equipment, someone began to sing the first song that came to mind: A Hundred Green Bottles. Once the first eleven or so bottles had fallen of the wall, we’d lost count, and there were finally enough people for some serious chanting.
The energy grew and grew. As the original seven o’clock start time approached, more and more arrived. The Red Rag Campaign appeared, clattering away on pots and pans. The SOAS Samba Band, a staple of a good demonstration, provided us with rhythm and the ever-growing crowd began to dance. To loud cheers, hundreds of Critical Mass cyclists rode past, ringing a chorus of bicycle bells. As the night fell, glowsticks were passed around, and we sang and danced until our feet and lungs ached.
It was a party. Sure, there was more placards and banners and chanting, and a heavier-than-necessary police presence, but it was a party nonetheless. The mood was jubilant, celebratory of a person’s right to choose. The atmosphere was irreverent, fun and friendly, never threatening. At times it was easy to forget about the fascists hidden away behind the police lines. We had drowned out their sermon and hidden them from view. Their archaic obsession with our wombs had brought us together, and we were winning.
While we danced, 40 Days for Life were doing this.
There is one very notable thing about this image if you enlarge it: I can count only six women among the hundred-or-so anti-choicers.* This is the crux of the anti-choice movement: it is almost invariably men telling women what they can and cannot do with their bodies.
It is crucial that we do not give an inch in protecting the right to choose. The anti-choice movement is gaining traction, putting out lies and propaganda where it can. They are not going to go away, so neither must we. We must call out each lie, each distortion, each veiled threat, resisting every attack. And if resistance means the odd street party now and again, I think I can live with that.
*A further point about this photograph: the moustachioed man in the beige jacket behind the photographer is self-professed fascist Geoffrey Godber, which highlights neatly the shared theoretical roots between anti-choice and fascism.