As you’ve no doubt heard by now, a set of draconian anti-abortion measures have been winding their way through the Texas Legislature for the past couple weeks. (Last week we explained why you, sitting here in New York, should give a shit about that.) If they pass (and oh, they will), the twin bills in the state legislature would dramatically curtail abortion access, shutting down most of the clinics in the state.
As the bills continue to get more and more national attention, the protests outside the Capitol building have become, in technical terms, a complete shitshow.
Orange-shirted protesters, supporting abortion rights, have faced off against blue-shirted anti-abortion types; the Texas Tribune has some great slideshows of the immense culture clash. Accusations have been hurled that the pro-choice people routinely chant “Hail Satan” (it appears to have been one teenage dude, once).
And the protests are now also drawing the weirdest sort of star power from outside Texas: Mike Huckabee was there, along with that family who’s always on TLC with their 17,000 children. And, most interestingly, a big group of twentysomethings from here in the Northeast also went down to Texas, to help beef up the anti-abortion protesters’ numbers.
Here’s why that’s so interesting: For the past couple weeks, anti-abortion groups have claimed that many of the pro-choice protesters are ringers, brought in by Planned Parenthood and a “radical left-wing group with ties to the Obama re-election campaign,” as the anti-abortion website LifeNews put it.
Actually, a group called Grassroots Campaigns, which hires canvassers across the country, was running one of their usual ads on Craigslist, which LifeNews happened to see and subsequently get all excited about. The ads are on there all the time, alongside similar ads for other punishingly entry-level nonprofit jobs. They’re still there now. They’re those clipboard-toting kids you see on the sidewalk, asking if you have a minute and a couple extra bucks to save the whales or the Democrats or some other doomed species.
But LifeNews’ Steven Ertelt claims that he called about one of Grassroots Campaigns’ ads and was told, as he put it, that “this campaign is directly working with Planned Parenthood to bolster their efforts.” That might possibly be true. Sort of. Grassroots Campaigns works with a number of liberal causes and groups, including the DNC, MoveOn.org and, yes, Planned Parenthood. They’re a problematic company, as our former sister paper SF Weekly found, in that a lot of the money you give to those kids with clipboards seems to not make it to the causes they represent. Also, they’ve been sued by their young employees in the past for not paying overtime.
But Grassroots Campaigns isn’t paying hundreds of people in the orange shirts to come to the Capitol and protest. Those men and women in orange–some of whom I know from my time living and working in Texas–are there of their own accord, unpaid, because they’re extremely and sincerely pissed.
And the anti-abortion protesters outside the Capitol are probably unpaid too. There’s no evidence to the contrary. They’re likely there because they believe that abortion is murder and every sperm is sacred. But some of them have definitely been bused in from other parts of the country, yet another charge that they’ve been leveling against the pro-choice people.
So how do we know that some of the blue shirts came from out of state? Because they keep announcing it, in places where they don’t think the rest of us are going to look. A couple days ago, LifeNews ran an article about Students for Life America, a Virginia-based group, who have launched a “bus tour” originating from the DC area to take students from across the Northeast down to Austin. Their big white bus reads “Austin or Bust!” and is decorated with baby footprints.
“On Sunday morning, students from as far as New York and Ohio traveled to D.C. to catch the Students #Stand4Life bus, which will also make stops and pick up more students along the way in Nashville, Knoxville, Memphis, Little Rock, and Dallas,” Students For Life President Kirstan Hawkins wrote. “On Monday, the Bus Tour will meet up with even more pro-life students at the Texas State Capitol who have flown and driven from states like Iowa, New Mexico, and Oregon to back up their fellow pro-life Texans.”
In other words: The orange shirts might not be “ringers,” but some of the blue shirts certainly are. They tweeted the photo above when they arrived at their Hilton in Austin yesterday. (Please note the dude holding the “Don’t dismember me, bro,” sign, alongside a crudely drawn fetus.) And here they are “infiltrating” a Planned Parenthood rally, as they put it, i.e., standing next to it.
Follow their hashtag on Twitter to see even more of this sort of thing. Or don’t. That’s probably the better choice.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 9, 2013