Why I Got Arrested Outside The Supreme Court In Support Of Abortion Rights (And Considerations If You Are Thinking Of The Same)

October 4 was the first day of the new Supreme Court term. In a few short years since the Whole Woman’s Health case, the Supreme Court has radically shifted to a six-member super majority of justices opposed to abortion rights. In September, they allowed a cruel and blatantly unconstitutional six-week abortion ban to go into effect in Texas. This term they will consider Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, in which the state of Mississippi is openly seeking to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that affirmed the federal constitutional right to abortion. Against this backdrop, 2021 is the worst year on record for abortion restrictions enacted in the states — more than 100.

As I’ve said repeatedly, for nearly 50 years the anti-abortion movement has pursued a two-pronged strategy: to stack the Supreme Court to overturn Roe, and eviscerate access to abortion in the states. They now have the chessboard they’ve long sought. And what has been very bad — a reality where Roe practically and functionally disappeared for so many people years ago, especially people in red states, women of color, low-income people, and young people — is on the precipice of getting much, much worse.

I believe in direct action with my entire soul. When I’m taking action I feel a power extending from my veins to my feet, a rootedness that I am exactly where I’m supposed to be. All the meetings and strategies and talking points, they play critical roles. But nothing brings change the way ‘breaking the agreement’ does, as a dear friend and mentor Zoe Nicholson has taught me. Direct action works. Direct action is not indirect action, such as lobbying an individual to take action on our behalf. It is using our bodies and the environment to literally change the equation.

So here’s what we did last week: Dozens of us marched up to the Supreme Court as the term officially began, carrying a “no abortion ban” banner, chanting Abortion Is Unstoppable, Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop, moving peacefully through abortion opponents shouting all sorts of invective toward us. After continuing to chant on the sidewalk outside the Supreme Court, we moved into the street and blocked traffic in an act of non-violent civil disobedience. We then sat in the street with our signs, continuing to chant. Capitol Police provided verbal warnings. With the final warning, activists who were not risking arrest got up and moved to the sidewalk. Twelve of us stayed down.

We were handcuffed, patted down, arrested, and brought to Capitol Police headquarters in wagons for detention and processing. Throughout we remained peaceful and dignified, in honor of the utter seriousness of what is at stake. Equality under the law, bodily autonomy, gender justice, racial justice, democracy, religious freedom, sexual freedom, and the right to sexual pleasure. After three hours in jail, we each paid $50, provided a fingerprint, and were released.

Would I do it again? Absolutely, in a similar situation in which all avenues for leverage have been exhausted. That is where we are with this Supreme Court. The best hope we have for the group project from hell taking place on First Street Northeast is Chief Justice John Roberts, who is hostile to abortion rights and still has five more justices who will overrule him, as they did in allowing the Texas abortion ban to go into effect. (This is to say: Not great hope.)

But this is important: Justices on all sides of the ideological spectrum appear to be concerned about the public opinion turning against their legitimacy, seeing them as politicized (warranted, given how Justices Kavanaugh and Barrett were rammed through). The leverage we have left is letting them know that if they further disrupt the legal status of abortion, outrage and protest will follow — and putting a pro-choice sticker on your Facebook profile picture isn’t going to change a damn thing as far as these justices are concerned. Breaking convention is an important piece of this puzzle.

All this is to say, I’m not a fan of people leaping to ‘let’s get arrested’ because something bad is happening. Strategy before tactics is Organizing 101, whether the tactic we’re talking about is getting arrested or selling cookies and flyering outside the grocery store. If we’re trying to be smart, we’ve got to define what we want, our targets and what we want them to do, relevant power players and pressure points, and a pathway to winning, before even thinking about tactics.

Also, importantly: Non-violent civil disobedience is a sacred tradition that I believe carries most impact when it’s saved for the times we most need it. We all know the story of Chicken Little. We need to act when it truly, actually matters. This is the time I believe we are now in with abortion rights.

We must be clear that non-violent civil disobedience is not for everyone. Due to systemic racism, risking arrest and encounters with law enforcement means very different — dangerous — things for people of color than it does for someone like me, who is mostly read as a white, middle-age, suburban mom-type. There are also times when for mental or physical health reasons, or caregiving reasons, or any range of personal reasons that radical action is not right for any given person at any given time. In any case, there are a number of roles for people who are not arrested during civil disobedience that are equally critical to the action. Further, risking arrest makes no activist cooler, more devoted, or more effective than another activists; a spectrum of activities are needed to bring change.

Based on my experience, I urge you to consider the following if you’re considering non-violent civil disobedience in support of abortion rights during these tenuous times for equality and justice:

  • Plan in advance. Getting arrested in the heat of the moment affords far less time to build maximum visibility and security strategies for your participants.
  • Be prepared that abortion opponents will probably be there. I recommend complete and total non-engagement. Don’t talk to them, don’t let them touch you, and raise your hands and ask for help if they get too close to you. Sadly, a common tactic they have is to get close to you and then claim you assaulted them. Don’t let them get away with it.
  • Know the laws, and work with lawyers in advance. Some groups will want to engage with police prior to the action, whereas others will very justifiably not. The time to have these serious discussions is well in advance of the action.
  • Approach the action with a clear message. You’ll want everyone looking at you to know what you’re doing and why. Have clear signs, clear T-shirts, and clear chants. Have people on press detail who will not be risking arrest. Event advisories, press releases, social media, photographs, videos — if you’re not letting people know it happened, it didn’t happen.
  • Root in purpose. Meditate. Feel the importance of what you are doing and why. Know who you are acting for. Take your time in the moment of civil disobedience. You will feel an incredible closeness during the action. Do not forget, direct action doesn’t just change the circumstances — it changes the activists. In action we feel our power. Root it in purpose.
Marching up to Supreme Court on October 4, 2021
Chanting outside Supreme Court on October 4, 2021 – wearing a green bandana in solidarity with Latin American feminists who have been fighting for the right to abortion in their own countries
Blocking the street outside the Supreme Court on October 4, 2021
Activists are handcuffed, waiting transport to Capitol Police headquarters
I was released from jail three hours later (All photo credits: Kristine Jones)

Looking for more? I wrote When It Comes to Abortion Rights, Civil Disobedience Could Be the Only Option for Teen Vogue after the fateful nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Read it here.

Doing Feminism In The 2000s

The increasing attention on the abusive treatment Britney Spears has received in the media throughout her career as well as a conservatorship that robs this talented, brilliant woman of basic control over her own life has put the spotlight on a number of important conversations, including the rights of people with disabilities to live with autonomy and dignity and the real crappiness and sexism of the 2000s.

This is when my feminist activism began, and I recall how being a feminist not of the baby boom generation was considered such an abberation at the time that basically anyone was labelled a “young feminist,” whether they were 5 or 45. I was one of them, and would like to pause and reflect back on how different it was to do feminism then than it is now.

We were marginalized. Basically everyone, whether or not they identified as feminist, was getting date raped whether they acknowledged it as that or not. People repeated Rush Limbaugh’s “feminazi” slur uncritically. Literally the first question I usually got was, “are you a lesbian?,” which rules because lesbians are awesome, but made no sense coming from people like a live-in boyfriend’s family.

While there was really exciting growth of activism among my age cohort, and second wave feminists pursued incremental progress within the corridors of power, overall the movement was in a fallow period. This is not a slam. The young feminists of the 2000s and early 2010s were successful beyond our wildest dreams. In the span of those years, feminism shifted from a punchline to a mainstream value. While I love the more radical, less-mainstreamy stuff, especially the hard questions about claiming sexual equality and pleasure, deconstructing white womanhood and its relation to systemic racism, and challenging gender roles and gender period, it matters when people more generally want to advance gender equality. We engineered that change, us feminists in the 2000s, through blogs and protests in the streets when most people thought what we did was a joke and older feminists thought we really needed to cover up our midriffs. It is because of our work that the numbers grew. There are so many more feminist activists today, just look!

Of course we talked about Britney then. We were, like everyone else, obsessed with her. We would endlessly debate whether Britney and other stars were empowering for women and what it all meant. But we were climbing up hill, all of us. I’m proud of how far we have come.

2020: The Year I Became A Parent

My daughter was born in 2013. 2020 is the year I became her parent. I do not say this to diminish all the things we did prior to that point: nursing, learning to walk, potty-training, cuddling through sicknesses, and going out for ice cream after summer camp. March 13, 2020, the day she no longer went to school, changed everything.

Since that time we have remained in isolation with her dad, save a few masked, distanced outdoor gatherings with friends and one month when we moved to Minnesota to be closer to grandparents. I have not had outside childcare. She has not set foot in a school building. Together, we have sat in my office, her doing school, and me doing work, an absurd situation that does not work but that we have been forced to make work as elected officials continue with cowardly decisions that prioritize bars, restaurants, and movie theaters over sending kids back to school.

During this time we have come to know one another in ways I couldn’t have foreseen. I know everything about Harry Potter and how much these stories have captivated her mind. Being her only playmate for recess, I learned how to build fairy houses from sticks and offered some interior design ideas of my own. She knows what misoprostol is, what it does, and how it works to safely self-manage abortion because she works in my office. One day she summed up my work as follows: “Abortion, abortion, abortion, and Trump sucks.” (“What? That’s what you say on calls all day.”)

That I have become a parent in this all-encompassing way has hit me on days with recurring frequency, many frustrating but others sweet as hell, with one morning in December providing an appropriate vignette:

It is 5:30 a.m. It is pitch dark outside but my lights are on. I am in my office, writing out her daily schedule on the whiteboard that used to be for work but became the epicenter of her schoolhouse. I am excited for the ‘theme day’ ahead, the activities I have planned for her, and I am wearing a fuzzy hat with two horns sticking out of it. I have been working since 4 a.m. so that when she wakes up, I will be able to focus some of my attention on her, to lead her through writing in her journal, sharing something she’s grateful for, dancing and singing to a song with me, and going for a snack before beginning remote schooling on her iPad at a table three feet from my desk.

I work hard, always have, always will. Before 2020 we had a deep relationship that involved shuttling her off to before- and after-care at school, and racing to get there on time for pickup from meetings downtown. I took her to the library every week, we went to swim class, she had enrichments. Now, because I love her, I have become the enrichments, the reader, the teacher, the playground pal. This has changed our relationship, and me, forever. One of the few good things to come from a wretched, murderous year.

An Advent Calendar To Get Eating Disorder Culture Out Of Your Holidays

The holidays are here, and for those who struggle with eating disorders or negative self-image this time of year can get pretty real. Some of my worst memories of anorexia involve the holidays, and so my recovery present to you (and me!) is an advent calendar to tell eating disorder culture to back off.

December 8
Repeat aloud: I am adequate just as I am. Close your eyes and take three deep breaths. Notice the feeling of your body, and praise it.

December 9
Donate the ‘skinny’ clothes in your closet.

December 10
Repeat aloud: I deserve to enjoy food, including holiday foods made for celebration or given to me as a gift. Close your eyes and take three deep breaths. Silently thank yourself for the affirmation.

December 11
Take Instagram off your phone for a week. (Okay it’s not realistic as the month goes on, so try now!) If a week is too much, take three days off. Notice how you feel not looking at pictures of other people.

December 12
Repeat aloud: I deserve to eat food I don’t normally eat without fear of having to punish myself for it. Visualize your favorite holiday foods with love in your heart. If you feel fear or anger, imagine yourself bopping the feeling over the head with a mallet, Whack-A-Mole style.

December 13
Grab a pen, and write down three unhealthy behaviors or thoughts you’ve had that beat up your body. Rip up the paper and throw it in the trash.

December 14
Repeat aloud: I deserve to eat before and after holiday meals, without engaging in other behaviors to ‘make up’ for those meals. Visualize what the days immediately before and after your holidays will look like, and imagine three square meals and the snacks you need to stay fueled. Then, look in the mirror and blow yourself a kiss!

December 15
Take a #diet break — mute the people on social media who take pictures of their weird weight loss foods. They’ll never know.

December 16
Put the emphasis on hunger where it belongs: Donate or volunteer to support your local food bank.

December 17
Take yourself for a walk outside. Breathe deep (through your mask). Appreciate your body and its ability to move you through this beautiful Earth.

December 18
Come up with a one-liner to talk back to negative self-talk about your body. Then, keep using it. (When I had anorexia, I developed “Shut up, you’re trying to kill me,” and I still use it as needed.)

December 19
Write a list of 50 cool things your body has allowed you to do, and doodle pretty pictures in the margins.

December 20
Hide diet advertisements from your feed.

December 21
Sit in a comfortable position, and do a body scan, noticing how you feel all over your body, area by area. It’s harder to hate a body that you are appreciating piece by piece.

December 22
Make a body-affirming playlist!

December 23
Prepare a short response for family members or friends who make a comment about your body or your food choices, such as, “I’m just fine, thank you.”

December 24
Gift yourself a dessert you wouldn’t be ashamed to leave out for Santa.

December 25
Carve out three minutes to meditate in silence, appreciating your body.

December 26
Take your eating disorder or negative self-image for a walk to take out the trash, and literally push your arms toward the dumpster, saying, “be gone.”

December 27
Evaluate relationships that may no longer be serving you, particularly with people who may make you feel bad about yourself, and develop an action plan to deal with them.

December 28
Write a thank-you note to your therapist for the ways they have helped you see your body in a new way. (Don’t have a therapist? Research to find a body-positive one!)

December 29
Think of someone you respect who seems comfortable in their body. Journal about what seems to make it work for them.

December 30
Cancel your gym membership. I don’t care if they have hand sanitizer by the door, we’re in the middle of a freaking pandemic! Bonus avoidance: January in the gym is a self-image hell hole.

December 31
Set a new year’s resolution to love yourself and love your body. Praise it for getting you through 2020, the worst year of so many people’s lives.