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Seattle's students walk out for abortion rights

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Photo by Lindsey Anderson
Photo by Lindsey Anderson

On Thursday, May 19, students from across Seattle walked out of school to support abortion rights. Donning green and taking to the streets, the protesters gathered in front of Seattle Central College on Capitol Hill before marching downtown and to Pike Place.

Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights organizer Margo Heights energized the crowd by reminding them of the importance of continued activism. "All of you are key to bringing forth those thousands and thousands of people who need to not just come out and protest on a Saturday, but need to keep coming back, disrupting business as usual, changing their schedules on a weekday, walking out of school, walking out of work, following the example that you are all setting today," Heights said.

While Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights has been organizing monthly protests and walkouts, these events ramped up after Politico leaked Justice Samuel Alito's draft decision reversing Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that legalized abortion. Despite the draft indicating that Roe is soon to be no more, activists like Heights continue to remind the public that abortion is still legal, and that the decision to overturn the case will not go down without a fight.

"You are in the right place. You are among other people who have decided to stay in these streets and to stop the Supreme Court from decimating abortion rights, because this draft memo is not yet law," Heights reminded the crowd. "Now is the time, in these weeks, to do everything we can to throw in, to make history."

Students speak out
After she finished, Heights welcomed student activists and Megan, a leader from the University of Washington, to the stage. "I want to thank y'all for taking the time," Megan started. "I know most of y'all have classes, skipped classes — you know I did — and I want to thank you for seeing the importance of being out in the streets."

She mentioned the current baby formula shortage and how male government officials have been mishandling yet another women's issue. "Government officials said we should resort to breastfeeding, and that kind of just illustrates how little they know about our bodies, because not all mothers are able to produce enough, or even any, breast milk," she said.

After mentioning the crisis facing children in foster care, she continued: "These are just two examples of how the [term] 'pro-life' is such a lie, because if they are actually pro-life, we wouldn't have to be here right now," she declared to a chorus of cheers. "We wouldn't have to fight for this protected right. If they're actually pro-life, they wouldn't prioritize a fetus or an embryo over the life of a pregnant person. If they're actually pro-life, they wouldn't be focusing on this developing fetus... they would be focusing on the lives of the people who are already born, they would focus on human security, they would try to solve the cause of why women get abortions instead of banning abortion."

After the speeches concluded, the students took to the streets with chants of "Reverse Roe? Hell no!"

Photo by Lindsey Anderson  

Reasons for marching
Everyone in attendance had their reasons for marching. Some, like UW student Zoltin Wolfe, were there as allies. "I'm here because if you love women in your life, if you care about people who can give birth, you care about their health and safety, just like you'd care about anyone else's health and safety who lives on earth, in my opinion. So I'm here to protect their rights from people that are huge pieces of shit," he said.

"I'm here to support reproductive rights for all," added ally Bob Thimbly, who showed up with two "protest dogs" decked out in green bandanas. "They're protest dogs. They just like to come out and be around people, and I don't know if they really understand, but they're here to support."

Some students had personal reasons to take to the streets. Aliyah, a student from the Seattle Academy of the Arts and Sciences, said, "I'm out marching today because women's rights are important to me and my grandma. When she was younger, she got pregnant at a really young age and was forced to carry to full term, when she had a miscarriage. She had to give birth to a dead child. It's important to me that women get the right healthcare."

Some of the students at the march had been coming out week after week and rallying to bring in more activists from their campuses. "I'm here today because we cannot allow the Supreme Court to decimate our very minimal rights," said Lizzie. "I am a student organizer at UW, so I've been out here for a while, and me and Megan, we've been working our asses off to get more people out here, so it's so exciting to see people showing up."

"I'm here because when I heard about the draft [decision] to overturn Roe, I felt hopeless," student organizer Wednesday Sky said. "But it's not hopeless, because it hasn't been overturned yet, and it's much harder to reinstate a right after it's been taken away, so we have to speak up now and we have to do it loudly."

The Green Wave
Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights has adopted the color green to symbolize the fight against patriarchy and oppressive governmental systems that aim to take away reproductive rights. Organizers asked all who support the movement to wear green in solidarity, even if they were unable to walk out of work or school for the event.

"Only the people can stop the Supreme Court from decimating abortion rights," Heights said to an energized crowd. "We do this through powerful and relentless resistance, by walking out of school and work, speaking in the arts and in society, speaking out, disrupting business as usual. We do this through the sounds of our collective rage and disciplined fury of our actions... We do this because it is right, and because we can do no other. We do this by being a green wave."

"The Green Wave" began in Latin America, where dedicated activists took to the streets to demand reproductive justice. "That's what they did in Colombia, in Argentina, in Mexico," Heights added. "They came out into the streets when the other avenues of decriminalizing abortion were closed to them. When they tried everything, when they could see this future laid out for them of more and more brutality, more and more lost lives, and more and more blood on the hands of their government, they took to the streets, not just once but over and over again until their demand was met, and they won! We can do this here."

With green shirts and bandanas, the students were ready to form a green wave. Some, like UW student Storm Wolf, even dyed their hair for the march. "I did dye my hair for the march," Wolf explained, "because abortion rights are human rights, and I'm a woman. My sister is going to be moving to Missouri for college, which is one of those 'trigger states' that would get abortion bans automatically, and I just don't want to stand silent while this shit goes down.

"We can't silently wait for things to happen. We need to do things now, right now."

Public reactions
As the students marched, onlookers noticed. The reception, for the most part, was positive. Armed with green flyers explaining the movement and inviting more people to join the next Thursday protest, young activists reached out to anyone and everyone who showed interest on the sidewalks.

"Off of the sidewalks and into the streets!" the protesters chanted as they passed businesses and construction sites. Bystanders showed support with fists raised in the air. A busker in Westlake Center took to a microphone to echo the chants of the Green Wave as the march progressed downtown. Tourists in Pike Place cheered the students on as if they were watching a Seahawks victory march. Others pulled out cellphones to record the march that took up entire city blocks.

Some onlookers were visibly moved by the show of solidarity. One woman broke down in tears on the sidewalk as the crowd passed by. Heights and Megan stepped out of line to comfort her, sitting with her and listening to her story.

Some members of the public even joined. One man, coffee in hand, hopped into the march and began using his strong baritone voice to augment the chants for several blocks.

Photo by Lindsey Anderson  

Not all positive
Not all the reception the students received was positive, however. The march ran into opponents on Pine Street. A man exited his vehicle to condemn the reproductive justice movement. Volunteer security attempted to surround the man and calm him down while acting as a human buffer between him and the protesters. The angered man did not calm down. After a few minutes of cursing, he hopped back in his car and erratically attempted to drive into the crowd.

Leaders pushed the march back, directing students to scatter onto the sidewalk until the man and his car were gone. Security remained bravely between the car and the students until the man left, honking and yelling out his window.

When the march proceeded into Pike Place, protesters caught the attention of market security, who vowed to closely follow the ensemble until they had exited the venue. "Oh, the security, those little motherfuckers," laughed one marcher, Christina, who attempted to film them when they got too close to her.

"Oh, because it's the market and they're market security, so they were going to follow us, because they can do that, because they're market security," she scoffed. "I was like, okay that's fine, and then I filmed them, and they were like, 'You film me, I'm going to film you,' and I was like okay, and then he starts and goes 'Oh, don't fall,'" she recalled.

The security personnel continued to taunt the protesters, making snide comments and laughing at them. "I was just like, 'You said you were going to follow us, and now you're talking shit, so you should probably shut up,'" Christina said.

Police harassment isn't something new for the Green Wave.

"We went to [a] Catholic church for Mother's Day to do a die-in, and I'm almost positive the church hired private security," Christina added. "As we were walking up the stairs, the private security pushed one of our elderly activists down the stairs and broke her kneecap. I have footage of it and everything, and then SPD came and threatened to arrest me for not getting off the stairs. I was like, why don't you arrest him for assaulting somebody, and they didn't do shit."

Despite the harassment and violence from men, the march continued until it returned to Seattle Central College.

Gender-neutral language
Unlike Rise Up 4 Abortion events of the past, the chants at the student-organized walkout tended to use gender-inclusive language, often referring to "people" instead of "women."

The decision to use gender-neutral language was intentional, said Sky. "[The gender-neutral language] was on purpose. A lot of us who are participating identify as Nonbinary or Trans, so it's really important for us to use the word 'people,' because not just women have uteruses, and some women don't have uteruses," they explained.

The use of gender-neutral language also functioned as a reminder of just what's at stake if Roe is overturned. "Forcing women to have children against their will is a form of enslavement. Forcing Trans and Nonbinary people to have children against their will is a form of enslavement," Heights had said in her introduction. "It would hit Black and other women of color especially hard and accelerate the theocratic Christian fascist juggernaut that is also aimed at contraception, LGBTQ rights, voting rights, Black people and other people of color, immigrants, and many more."

Open-mic testimonies
After the march ended, the students held an "open mic" for those particularly moved to share their anger and their stories.

The mic began in true Gen Z fashion. "I saw this on TikTok like a week ago, but it was basically about how lawyers are held to a very high standard, and if they're caught in a lie, there are huge consequences for that," said Zoe, a student. "These Supreme Court justices were once lawyers. There is no reason they should not be held to the same standard their coworkers are held to. They said in their Senate confirmation hearings that Roe v. Wade is precedent, but now they're fighting to overturn it? Doesn't make sense."

Next to the mic was a middle schooler, Catharine, who said she was inspired by the march on Saturday and wanted to keep the activism going. Joined by her father, who many in the crowd deemed "the dad of the year," she walked out of school, but not before first bringing over a hundred flyers to her campus and encouraging fellow middle schoolers to wear green in solidarity and walk out if they could. "I've found something I'm interested in now, and I just wanted to thank everyone here for being here and doing this," she said.

Others who stepped up to the mic did so to share their stories, like Emily, a Seattle U nursing student. "I actually got an abortion about ten years ago, and I'm not sorry, I'm not fucking sorry," she said. "I wouldn't be here right now if I didn't have the abortion.

"This is my choice. This is my body. The fact that they are trying to take away this from people, just like me... In Texas, they're taking away nurses, they're taking away doctors, they're taking away lawyers, they're taking away people who can do real things right now. It's fucked up. We need to be in the streets! We need to be in the streets every week. It's very important. We won't do anything else that's more important, in my opinion."

Others shared their testimonies, speaking out about the dangers of a post-Roe world. "When I was raped at the age of 15, I was too afraid to tell anyone," another student organizer told the silent crowd. "I was too afraid to seek help, to tell the world what had happened and call out my abuser. I had to perform an abortion on myself, and I am lucky to be here in front of you today to tell the story. Nobody should ever have to be in that situation, nobody should ever be afraid to call out their abuser. Nobody should ever be afraid to go to their parents and get help."

"That's the problem in today's society," they continued. "We are afraid. We have let them make us afraid. That time is over. We are done being afraid. We are not going to sit still and let you control us anymore. We will fucking burn it to the ground if we have to...

"This is just the start. If Roe v. Wade is overturned, that just opens up the door for the government to attack other laws regarding LGBT communities, Black communities, and other minorities. This is our chance, and we will not get this chance again. We must stand up, we must fight back, we must raise hell. We won't go back."

The event, as a whole, was affirming. It was a chance for those angered by the draft decision to come together and do something about it. A community was formed through the brave voices of those willing to share their stories, the tears of those on the side, and the fire sparked in the hearts of all who raised their voices and fists against the latest attempts to police reproductive justice.

Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights will be hosting weekly marches at Seattle Central College every Thursday at 1 p.m. until "this isn't an issue anymore." All are welcome and encouraged to walk out of work or school and join in. For those unable to physically join the fight but still dedicated to showing support, the movement suggests wearing green on Thursdays.