Monday, June 11, 2012

Body Autonomy, Clinic Defense, and World Naked Bike Rides

Fragile bodies to bring a message to BP at the body autonomy ride June 9th.
Photo by Barbara Ross. 

Bodies, like streets, are contested spaces in New York.  On June 9th, we fought for and celebrated the need for these free bodies.  This year, the conflict felt particularly stark on June 9th, the date of our scheduled two part body autonomy ride.  The day would begin in South Brooklyn, for clinic defense, meander in and out of Manhattan for Summer Civil Disobedence School in Manhattan, and back to Williamberg for the World Naked Bike Ride.
            It was  clowdy as I pulled my bike out at 8 AM for part one.  Once or twice a year, a group of anti-abortion activists, led by Bishop Caggiano, assemble to hold a prayer vigil outside of a women's health facility in Sunset Park, a neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York.  These groups are typically met by a coalition of pro-choice groups: the Rude Mechanical Orchestra, the Brooklyn Pro Choice Network, and the Church Ladies for Choice and (of which this writer is a member).  These groups were dedicated to both ensuring access to clinics as well as street theatre to convey their political agenda.  A primary tactic of ‘the anti’s’  is setting up a clinic vigil as they planned to do last Saturday.
  The Students for Life of America, or SFLA (2007) lists steps to organizing a
clinic vigil:
1. ‘Choose a clinic’
2. ‘Announce the vigil’
3. ‘Know the laws’
4. ‘Gather materials for your vigil . . . with pictures of both living and aborted
babies’, and
5. ‘Be a witness for life at the clinic’.
               What SFLA does not mention are the eorts of abortion opponents to harass or
intimidate clinic clients, often screaming, ‘You’re murdering your baby.’
In response, queers have organized a practice known as clinic defense.
Over the last few years, I have attended clinic defense at the Ambulatory Center
in South Brooklyn.
               Through the clinic defense, the Church Ladies, Brooklyn Pro Choice Network and  company stand on one side of a barricade at the entrance to the clinic. On the other side, the anti’s hold a group of pro-life activists held rosaries and a replica of a dead bloody fetus; they oer diapers to those willing to be turned away.  This year, there was only one church lady, but several supporters from Brooklyn Pro Choice Network, Times Up! and the RMO were on hand.  Only two Church Ladies arrived, not enough for quorum. 
               Seeing a smaller crowd, which had not asked for a permit, the police told us we had to stand along the side of the building.  In contrast, the anti’s were given full access to the street.  Standing with a sign in my hand, the police walked over and told me to move. 

               “Why are they given the street and we can’t even stand on the sidewalk?” 
Photos by Peter Shapiro capture the conflict over just a  few inches while anti's sat and prayed on the streets.  

               “What do you want to do, have a fist fight?” the policeman replied.  He looked like he was sixteen years old.  A senior officer came up and let me know in no uncertain terms that I needed to stand behind the line.  My blood began to boil.  But there is little glory in getting arrested at 9 AM and being off the streets, especially over a conflict I have witnessed so many times.  Few street activists see any need to apply for a permit for a right we already have in the first amendment.  But the police see things differently.  Our idea of first amendment expression is their idea of disorderly conduct.  So I stepped back.  The anti’s prayed in the streets; their minions tried to intercept those going in for care, and clinic escorts from Brooklyn Pro Choice Network did their work, making sure those who needed care got it.  But it was a fight.  And the police certainly had taken a side. And members of the RMO played their songs, including “We Shall Overcome” and most importantly, “Whose Side are You On?”
               The Rude Mechanical Orchestra (RMO) and the Church Ladies each use songs as a component of their street theatre.  Dressed in green and black marching band uniforms, RMO members performed Salt and Peppa’s “Push It” injecting the words “Hands off Our Bodies” into the chorus to drive home their manifesto.
               Throughout the years, the Church Ladies have offered parodies of popular traditional songs with gay and pro-choice lyrics. “If You are Happy and You Know It” was sung to the words, “If you are Pro Choice and You know It – Kiss a Dyke.”  The Woody Guthrie anthem “This Land is My Land” is framed as  a pro choice anthem:
This womb is my womb
It is not your womb
And there is no room for Bishop Caggiano
From Flushing Meadow on Down to Bay Ridge
These wombs were made to be free!

As I was walking up to a clinic,
I got socked by a psycho-Catholic
He showed me pictures and showed me lies
I said my womb belongs to me refrain (Church Ladies hymnal, P. 6).

The Rude Mechanical Orchestra’s performance climaxed with a rendition of the 1980’s heavy metal anthem 'We're Not Going to Take It' as the anti-choice contingent, still praying, departed the scene.
               Of course, this cultural activism campy not a new approach.  US anarchist Emma Goldman brought the same ingredients to her early-Twentieth-century struggle for reproductive freedoms.  In February 1916, Goldman was arrested while speaking about abortion, in violation of the Comstock Law.  After her arrest she explained that the battle over birth control had become: “a war of the oppressed and the disinherited of the  earth against their enemies, capitalism and the state, a war for a seat at the table of life, a war for well being, for beauty, for liberty.”  She concluded, “Above all this war is for a free motherhood and a joyous, playful, glorious childhood.”

            For Goldman, whose work helped establish the foundations for both anarcha feminism and queer theory, an anti-capitalist critique overlapped with the pursuit of a richer experience of the world on one’s own terms. Much of Goldman’s philosophy was based on a broad belief in personal freedom. For Goldman, joy and justice intermingled, neither able to exist without the other. Today, Goldman’s adage on dance and revolution provides the underpinnings for the street party-style protest of Reclaim the Streets and the global justice “movement of movements”.  OWS celebrates this approach, yet the movement is still in the process of connecting the dots between reproductive autonomy, freedom of space, and bodies.  
            Over the years, advocates such as the Singing Nun, Margaret Sanger and Emma Goldman sacrificed everything to challenge the pseudo morality of the Comstock law which linked discussion of reproductive health with obscenity.  In the years to follow, queer activists would continue to battle the prohibitive politics of Comstock’s ilk.  Taking apart the arguments of the self appointed moralists, would remain  an ongoing target of queer politics and activism.  Current battles over abstinence-only sex education mirror much of this the struggle between supporters of sexual self determination and advocates of social control dating back to the Comstock era.
            This struggle against the anti’s challenges a cultural body shame, resentment, and docile approach to living.  The point of social movements is to challenge this.  Leaving the clinic defense, we rode for breakfast and then to take part in the OWS summer civil disobedience school.  We found SCDS meeting at Times Square where activists defiantly challenged the sense that Times Square is a depoliticized shopping space, as Comstock’s cultural inheritor, Rudy Giuliani hoped it would be.  The group held rally and hung gong in the space.

OWS Summer Civil Disobedience School by

Mickey Z-Vegan

            Finishing summer civil disobedience school, we rode to ABC No Rio to pick  up the sound bike.  We would bring it along for part two the body autonomy ride in solidarity with World Naked Bike Ride.  Themes this year included the struggle for freedom of bodies from police, stop and frisk, and the state.  We called the ride body autonomy to celebrate the practice of freedom of bodies, safety of bodies.  While some go naked many others simply arrive and take off a shirt.  Other cities, such as London witness thousands naked.  Yet, we still have to fight our cities prohibitive puritanical ilk.  Yet, with each smile and celebration, we break this down just a little bit more.  Throughout the ride from Brooklyn to Manhattan and back, car drivers honked and people laughed, smiled and cheered the naked and semi clad riders dancing and singing as they rode through the naked city.  \
This blogger's message by Cara Hartley

1 comment:

  1. What a day. I'd love to spend a Saturday riding through NYNY with you.