Signs – some more graphic than others – were held high, water bottles consumed and messages discussing what was called ‘abortion justice’ advocated at a Saturday afternoon rally in Everman Park in downtown Abilene.
More than 100 people – women, men and a few children – gathered in the shade offered by the trees along the train tracks that divide the city on a 103 degree day to protest, encourage the inscription on voters lists and share personal stories.
“As we stand here today, our lives are under attack,” said Crystal White, a Rangers resident who organized the rally. “We no longer have the luxury of sitting around and waiting for them to find out. Let our elected officials save us or condemn us.
“We’re not going anywhere sitting around, twiddling our thumbs, thinking about what men who died 200 years ago would have to say about current events.”
So, “We need to march, we need to speak out and raise our voices,” said Elizabeth Smyser, chairwoman of the Taylor County Democratic Party.
“It’s time to fuck off,” said speaker Brianna Royals. “We have to fight, non-stop.”
Chairman Kevin Smith said he was frustrated another rally was needed.
“Let’s listen to it if you’re mad,” he said.
A roar went up from the crowd.
“We must unite, work together and fight together to reclaim the rights that have been stolen, for those who come after us,” said Chairman Gavyn Hardegree.
Saturday’s event over the 4th of July weekend aimed to achieve all three goals set by Smyser.
The words were often not chopped. And to encourage speakers to be candid, Smyser asked attendees to repeat “We see you. We love you. We have your back.”
“Feel free to shout that,” she said.
To take a position
White admitted she was new to this stuff.
Smyser said it was good to see people rising up.
“It’s so important and we wouldn’t be here today if Crystal hadn’t made the call,” Smyser told the crowd. She said people were looking for someone to lead, and White became that person.
“Thank you, Crystal, for taking this step and taking this first step,” Smyser said. “Take a look and see, you’re not alone.
White said she avoids politics because politics leads to government overreach and “takes away our bodily autonomy and medical privacy from our daughters, sisters, wives… anyone in that condition with a womb. They say in refutation of our cause, they didn’t ban abortion, they just left it to the states.
“I’m sorry, but you left my human right to bodily autonomy and my constitutional right to medical confidentiality to (Governor Greg Abbott).”
Says Royals, “Here we are again in the 1950s, fighting for the rights of our womb.”
President La’Triva Johnson said “men’s opinions of my body are so stupid.”
Joining her on the mic was Diamond Olvera, who said not all women should be mothers, including herself. So aborting “a few cells” is not murder.
Mixing religion and law is not fair, other speakers said.
The Roe commentary v. Wade of Judge Samuel Alito “that abortion is not deeply rooted in the history and traditions of our nation,” White said, “you know what is deeply rooted, the First Amendment. Separation from the church and the state.
“You have no right to make laws based on your religion.”
This drew loud applause.
“No matter your religious background or what you believe, today, tomorrow or any day,” said Smith, who identifies as a Christian, “our faith has no hold over the country. is ours. We can’t tell anyone what to do with their own body.”
But, said White, it’s happening in Texas.
She said women in Texas were better off in the event of a pregnancy-related health crisis and traveled to another state for treatment.
“Nurses in all red states fear this is the new normal,” she said. “They have no power but to watch, and the doctors fear imprisonment.”
White said the legal issues at stake “in the conflict between pro-life and pro-choice are not based on morality or religion.” It’s the educated versus the illiterate, she says.
“It’s not okay to refuse to adapt to change and learn with our society. There is nothing permanent on this Earth but change.”
Now is the time to vote
White said she never voted, but now is the time.
“We need to come out and vote for the leaders who will stand up for our rights and save us no matter what the Supreme Court does,” she said, her voice rising.
“We need to be safe in the state we used to live in. We were born and raised here, most of us, and we have a right to be here. Whatever diversity you hold, you you have the right to be in this state.
“This is the United States of America!”
Smyser said that opportunity will present itself in November, and Democrat Beto O’Rourke hopes to bring change to Texas.
O’Rourke posters were displayed at the event.
Even when the audio system temporarily failed while Hardegree was talking, the event didn’t miss a beat.
A pink bull’s horn was found and other speakers talked into a cell phone, their conversation amplified by a smaller speaker.
Smyser offered Republicans some love — “sometimes they do good things,” she said — despite being in power because of “our state’s mandate.”
“That’s not cool,” she said. “Guys, we have to vote. They act on behalf of a minority. Not the interest of you and me. What they want.”
Smyser mocked her County counterpart (Chris Carnohan) for her comment that rapes were “statistically irrelevant” to abortion.
“It hit me a little hard,” she said. “Republican friends, if you’re in power, you’re going to have to talk to us a little differently. We matter, just like our votes matter.
“Governor Abbott, you won’t be sitting here long.”
Hardegree then called for a show of hands by those who were sexually assaulted. A good number, if not half, have increased.
“Statistically irrelevant, my ass,” Hardegree said.
This drew applause.
Hardegree said the battle had been fought before, in the 1960s and 1970s, but this one would be won, even if “those charged with victory look a little different”.
“We will get there nonetheless,” she said.
She said Roe v. Wade had left embers that would burst into the flames of change.
Gender issues were discussed, and not just in passing.
Says White, “Governor Abbott has completely spat on our LGBTQ community by creating a GOP filled with stripping their validity of their identities, marriages and existences strictly because it goes against his religion.”
“We are always fighting and we never give up,” Royals said of social justice, women’s rights and gender issues.
“We want to create a world where everyone will agree, and we don’t have to fight. We don’t have to argue. The only thing we have to do is love each other.”
Speaking of love, around 5:10 p.m., Melissa Horton and Cole Bruhm’s wedding party walked across the street to the park to take pictures near the central fountain. Their blue suits and red dresses contrasted with the colored hair and assortment of body art worn by many of the protesters.
Those present at the gathering have previously been asked to show courtesy to this group and share the park.
Hardegree, who has lived in Abilene for nearly 25 years, said not everyone who has a uterus is female.
Hardegree identifies as a non-binary queer and trans human being.
“Everything feels so hard and heavy right now, but us being here with each other supporting each other, there’s a power in there that can’t be explained,” Hardegree said. “None of your reactions in the overturning of Roe v. Wade are wrong.”
Roe v. Wade, Hardegree said, guaranteed the right to bodily autonomy, a signal to the government not to interfere.
The 1973 ruling paved the way for grandfathering by the LGTBQA community.
“There has been a particularly deep sense of grief among our gay elders,” Hardegree said of the recent High Court ruling.
What they said, on the signs and the T’s
Here are examples of t-shirt placards and slogans seen at the rally, some made by participants and others handed out.
“Vaginas gave birth to you and vaginas will reject you.”
“We won’t be going back”, with a hanger design.
“If man could become pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.”
“Girls just want to have basic human rights.”
“Quality men support gender equality.”
“I survived military rape.”
“Women’s rights are human rights.”
“Pay attention to your own uterus.”
“We are not cattle.”
“Blood is on your hands”, with red drops on the letters.
“Keep your theocracy away from my democracy.”
Another T-shirt said black lives matter, as do “women’s rights and human rights.”
Another sign read “Come and take it” next to an image of a womb colored like the state flag.
A sign simply read: “No sign is big enough”.
Members of the royal family wore large white t-shirts with red handprints in strategic places. On the back was the message “No hands”.
A planned 6 p.m. march began around 7:45 p.m. with the majority of participants walking from Everman Park to North Fifth on Cypress Street and then back to the park on Pine Street.
White led the way, leading chants.
A hot red vehicle displayed a rainbow flag.
“My body, my choice!” a song rang out. “My body, my choice!”
With cloud cover, walkers repeated the route.
Greg Jaklewicz is editor of the Abilene Reporter-News and general columnist. If you enjoy local news, you can support local reporters with a digital subscription to ReporterNews.com.