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March for Abortion Rights: In New York, We Sang Our Rage Together

On May 3 in New York, hundreds of people moved from rage to action and took the streets for abortion rights, marching from Foley Square to Washington Square Park.

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On the streets of New York City, the message to the Supreme Court, the Far Right, the Church, and the Republican Party was loud and clear: we are not intimidated. With all that we have, we will defend our right to decide. “Not the Church and not the State. The people must decide our fate,” rang in the streets as nearly one thousand of us marched on Tuesday.

The demonstration was organized in response to the leaked Supreme Court draft decision that promises to overturn Roe v. Wade. If the ruling is overturned, it will be up to individual states to decide whether to ban abortion.The right-wing bigots in the GOP have been chomping at the bit to attack abortion rights for decades. Those of us who support abortion access are not only the majority in this country, but are now angry and awakened. The attack on abortion rights is horrific in and of itself, but if Roe v. Wade is overturned, LGBTQ+ rights are undoubtedly next on the chopping block, and even gains from the Civil Rights era, like interracial marriage, could be under threat if we allow the right wing to move forward. For now, the opinion is just a draft — the final decision will come in July when the Supreme Court releases its rulings at the end of the court’s term.

Draft or not, the decision shows that five unelected people think they have the power to throw away our futures, control our bodies, and make us cannon fodder for political gain. The decision provoked outrage across the United States. Hours after the leak, protests were called across the country for the following day, several in New York City alone. 

The New York protest converged in Foley Square for a rally headed by the Women’s March, an organization that brought millions of people into the streets in 2017 to protest Donald Trump, but which has since failed to mobilize with any urgency even as abortion is attacked under the Biden administration. Instead, they’ve consistently called on people to “Vote Blue.” They seem to forget that the Democrats already control both the legislative and executive branches. 

An hour before the New York protest began, several hundred people had already congregated in the small square in front of a slew of government buildings. By the time the speeches began, we were thousands — all dressed in green, the international symbol of abortion rights, an aftershock of the crushing marea verde (“green wave”) that won abortion rights for millions of people in Argentina, decriminalization in Mexico and Colombia, and inspired the heroic fight for legal abortion in Ireland and beyond.

“Abort the Supreme Court!” shouted protesters across the square. Justice Samuel Alito, the author of the leaked draft, would have been afraid of us, afraid of the rage we feel at his “reasoning” that, “a right to abortion is not deeply rooted in the Nation’s history and traditions.” He is trying to erase the long-standing tradition of struggle forged by the feminist movement, the queer movement, Black feminists, and pro-abortion trade unionism.

Many of us at the rally did not live through those struggles. We are in our twenties or younger. But we have studied and admired those fights. We have learned from that history so that the perpetrators of misogyny, bigotry, and oppression can’t fool us.

Many speakers at the rally talked about how it’s necessary to “pack” or “extend” the Supreme Court. Signs to this effect dotted the square as well. Others read, “Biden promised to codify Roe v. Wade.”

But thousands of young people in the plaza yesterday are tired of the Democrats and the Supreme Court. We think it’s unacceptable that nine unelected people, with lifetime appointments — never mind eleven, twenty, or thirty — are able to dictate what happens to the lives and bodies of millions of people. We’re fed up with decisions being made for us by the Senate which was constructed to ensure minority rule. These pillars of the capitalist state are like the Holy Inquisition, not only for how they think, but how they decide. American “Democracy” — which the United States uses to justify imposing its will across the world — is a complete farce. 

For their part, the Democrats always promise that they will put up a fight, but somehow our rights and our living conditions have only deteriorated over the years. Year after year, anti-abortion laws have passed and abortion clinics have closed, making “the right to choose” dead in all but word for people in states with only one abortion clinic. The Democrats themselves supported and passed the Hyde Amendment that keeps low income people from accessing abortion using Medicaid. The Democrats had numerous opportunities to pass a federal law to make abortion legal with a majority in Congress, but it never happened. Legal abortion and the threat of overturning Roe v. Wade is yet another right they hold hostage to scare people into voting blue.

As we gathered in Foley Square, these politicians and their friends in the pro-Democrat NGOs made the same tired speeches they’ve made for the last several years. Speech after speech dragged on; they were part of a rally designed to demoralize and demobilize. Most of the crowd couldn’t even hear the speakers.

But the energy among the crowd was combative and it was clear that people wanted to do something, to express their anger rather than patiently listen to speeches. We came to the rally ready to march. We know we need to show the Right that we are strong and that we’ll fight back.

Rather than give up and go home, when the rally was over we organized with the other socialist and abortion rights organizations present — such as Socialist Alternative and NYC for Abortion Rights — to start a march. Then we stepped out of the square and into the street and encouraged those around us to join us, chanting “We want to march!” We made signs and stood at the entrances to the square to catch those who were leaving. Many were waiting for this moment and jumped into our group. Once we reached a critical mass, we began to march.

Before we knew it, there were already a thousand of us in the street marching towards the park. The dozens of police assembled for the rally couldn’t stop us. That was something we won during Black Lives Matter in New York: we took back the street then, and we no longer ask for permission to protest. We no longer march single file on the sidewalk. “Whose streets? Our streets!” rings more true. 

Based on their experience in the long summer of protest in 2020, dozens of people sprung into action to direct the march — bikers blocked traffic, other protesters made sure we stayed together, and drummers kept our energy up as we chanted and marched block after block. After two hours of standing still listening to empty words, the atmosphere of the march was combative, supercharged with the energy brought by our decision to take our struggle in both hands.

Arriving at Washington Square Park, we organized our own rally to hear the voices of the protesters who marched to defend abortion rights. We may not have had a big sound system, but we made ourselves heard. A call and response amplified our speeches across a park that has become a locus of resistance and struggle in the last few years for Black Lives Matter protesters, young people, and unhoused people claiming the right to use the space.

Our voices were unleashed, no longer stifled by bureaucrats and politicians claiming to represent us while acting against our interests. We put forward our own perspectives as those who will suffer the consequences of the Supreme Court’s decision, the Right’s attacks, and the Democrats’ complicity.

The fact is that the path to free, safe, and legal abortion — on demand, without apology — is the path of struggle from below. It is a path in the spirit of the millions of feminists around the world who organized themselves in their schools, universities, and workplaces to take to the streets to demand the right to an abortion. 

The protagonists in this fight aren’t the Democrats or the NGOs — and we can’t fool ourselves into thinking they’re the lesser evil. Some people still have doubts about the role of the Democrats, but it’s essential that despite that disagreement, we stand together in the streets against the attacks of reactionaries. The way to win our rights is with our power to hit the capitalists where it hurts: by disrupting business as usual. We must fight independently from the capitalists alongside all those struggling against bigotry and oppression, alongside all those fighting to unionize their workplaces, against union-busting, and for better working conditions. 

The day after the SCOTUS decision was leaked, Starbucks Workers United — who are unionizing workers at one of the biggest chains in the United States — tweeted a strong statement that the entire labor movement should take note of: 

Their words show that the fight for unions and the fight for free, safe, and legal abortion are profoundly linked — and that our demands will be won by our combined struggle in our workplaces and in the streets. Many of us who took to the street on Tuesday are workers too, even if we came to the rally as individuals. But together we have the power to run all of society, and so together we have the power to shut it all down to win our demands. 

Defending our rights and our lives against the attacks of the Right depends on deepening those connections between the fight in the streets and the fight in our workplaces. We must put these connections into action by organizing ourselves into a mass movement that fights for abortion rights and against all the attacks of the Right. But not the way the Democrats tell us to “get organized” — not as a critical mass to mobilize to the polls.

We must organize democratically so that the thousands of us who are ready to spring into action are the ones to decide what actions to take. Similar to what we did in Washington Square Park, we need assemblies to discuss our movement and to set a course around a common set of demands. We need committees in defense of reproductive rights in our schools and workplaces. In these spaces, we can organize to defend ourselves against the attacks of the Right, beginning with the demand to make it law that abortion is free, legal, safe, and on demand, without apology.

As the crowd dispersed on Tuesday night, the energy in the air was electric. Some of the speakers announced a meeting to discuss next steps and plan the way forward for the movement. We hope you join Left Voice, Socialist Alternative, Tempest and other groups Saturday at 12pm EST in Union Square to discuss next steps for our movement. 

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Madeleine Freeman

Madeleine is a writer and video collaborator for Left Voice. She lives in New York.

Sou Mi

Sou Mi is an activist based in New York City.

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