Friday, September 5, 2014

Respect for Life at Right to Life Rally 2013


Rally for Respect for Life 3013

Respect for Life


Encouraging unity among those who identify as anti-abortion and pro-choice at the 40th anniversary of Roe vs Wade, January 20, 2013

Right to Life Oregon’s “Memorial Rally and Walk for Life” begins to fill Pioneer Courthouse Square as the Praise Band fills the air with rock and roll. Despite the upbeat music, this isn’t a celebration, it’s a memorial for the 55 million aborted fetuses since 1973. Just as many abortions would have occurred without the law change, but tens of thousands of girls and women would have been added to the death toll.

A school bus stops in the middle of the block, letting children and adults off into a lane of traffic without red flashing lights. They run around the bus and jump the curb to safety. This being Portland, only one driver honks at their recklessness.

Cardboard stop signs with “Stop abortion now” are plentiful and a smattering of yellow helium balloons with “LIFE” printed on them hover over the swelling crowd. A group of young people seem to be smiling as they join the crowd, though it’s hard to be sure with red duct tape over their mouths.

A couple of students join me on the corner. Halley bravely chooses “Gay sex prevents abortion,” and Dylan takes the conservative “Contraception prevents abortion.” They move on into the crowd while I wait to see if anyone else arrives.

An elderly man arriving at the rally looks disdainfully at my “Condoms prevent abortion” sign, and I ask what he thinks. He continues slowly walking: “It perverts the sex act and is an abomination in itself!” he proclaims emphatically.

A man standing alone nearby holds “Stop abortion now” for drivers and pedestrians. He has no gloves so I offer a pair. “Oh, I’ve worked outside all my life, but thanks for the offer.”

A youngish man dressed in chocolate brown monk-like robes holds one of the pre-printed signs: “Women do regret abortion.” He reads my “Men do regret not using condoms” sign with a pleasant expression. “What do you think?” I ask. He may have taken a vow of silence, and simply maintains a benevolent countenance.

A group of middle school-aged girls and their adult chaperone pass out bags of literature along the sidewalk. One of the girls asks for a sign and I choose “Abstinence prevents abortion” for her. Later, one of her friends asks for one and as I dig through the choices, “Oral sex prevents abortion” passes by. “Not that one.” “No, here’s a better one.” I hand her “Sex ed prevents abortion.” Another friend accepts “Gender equality prevents abortion.” I ask if she knows what it means and she isn’t sure so offer a quick definition.

A half dozen people are across the tracks and seem to be the counter rally, but the most visible sign is “Women do regret abortion.”

I cross over the tracks to see that sign represents the counter-counter rally, though I can’t follow much of what she’s loudly proclaiming. A pair of cheerful young women hold a sign, “My body, my choice.” Sarah Mirk is texting and capturing images.

I offer signs. One of the women chooses “Masturbation prevents abortion,” and a man takes “Contraception prevents abortion.”

The Church Lady—nicknamed by Sarah—scolds me, “You know better than that.”
“I do?” I ask innocently.
“You’re old enough to know better. Look at how young these girls are and you’re teaching them this.”
They laugh at this accusation.
“It prevents abortion,” I counter.
“That’s undignified.”
“Maybe it should say ‘dignified masturbation’.” I point to the top of the sign.
“You know better than that!”

I head back to the Square.

A couple of men have set up shop on a trash can, passing out plastic Rosaries. One has engaged a man in full camouflage attire. “Why is there a law against rape but not against abortion?” he asks, but before his target can answer, he says, “You can see where I’m going with this.” His argument is well-rehearsed. His partner offers me a Rosary and I signal no thanks. I resist the urge to butt in with “The law hasn’t prevented rape, do you think it’ll prevent abortions?”

A ways away, I see Halley and Dylan getting schooled by a priest and his index finger. Later, Halley tells me “He was very misinformed.” Apparently he didn’t know about condoms.
“Well, he doesn’t need to,” I quip... erroneously.

One of the men working security comes over and tells me in a confidential tone, “I really appreciate what you’re doing. I’m donating everything I earn today to Planned Parenthood.”
“Wow! Good for you.”

The middle school group has had enough and they return their signs. “We gotta go. Thanks.”

A young man walks quickly past the Rally for Life people to tell me, “Glad to see you out here, Bro.”
“Thanks! Want a free bumper sticker?”
“Sure!”
I hand him the sticker we’re offering:

On the west side of the square, I see a man I’d greeted earlier carrying a homemade, double-sided sign: “Right to choose? That’s a lie. Babies don’t choose to die.” and “Stop killing babies.” A couple of people coming out of Starbucks seem amused by his signs and ask to take his photo with a smart phone, which he readily agrees to. I step aside to avoid photo bombing, but he recognizes me and waves me over to be in the photo. I’m holding “Nip abortion in the bud, support condoms.” The picture takers are delighted.
“Instagram,” I encourage them as we all part.

One of the speakers on stage is going on about how bad Obamacare is, claiming that the money spent could give everyone the best health insurance there is. Imagine that. He says it’s a Trojan horse. If he means it’ll include contraception, he’s right about that.

An older man looks puzzled at my “Gender equality prevents abortion” sign. “You know, treating men and women equally,” I explain. While he looks down, apparently pondering the idea, I turn the sign around to “Condoms prevent abortion.”
“Yeah, I know...” he looks back up and recoils at the new sign. “Oh, don’t show me that!” and quickly turns away. Apparently the word itself is an abomination, not just the unmentionable item.

Halley and Dylan return their signs and I’m about as cold as I want to get, too. As the walk to Waterfront Park gets ready to move, a MAX train pulls up and the relative warmth draws me in. Enough for this year’s rally.

Rallies were held all over the country, including Washington DC where demonstrators marched on the US Supreme Court as Pope Benedict XVI tweeted encouragement from the Vatican. Back east they march but we’re low key and walk instead.

Before the DC demonstration, Jeanne Monahan, president of March for Life said “Being pro-life is the new normal.” Al Jazeera reports that Monahan “cited a recent Gallup poll in which 50 percent of respondents identified themselves as being against abortion—in contrast to 41 percent who believed in a woman’s right to choose on the issue, down from 56 percent in 1995.”

Actually, the poll shows that 51% identify as pro-life, which is not the same as “being against abortion,” and 42% identify as pro-choice, which is not identical to believing in “a woman’s right to choose.” Mainstream media, with few exceptions, misrepresent the American people’s opinions on abortion as evenly divided.

In reality, Americans from all political parties overwhelmingly believe a woman should be free to make her own reproductive choices. A survey in August 2012 found that 71 percent of Republicans, 80 percent of Independents, and 89 percent of Democrats said they “strongly” believe women have the right to choose an abortion.

We are all anti-abortion: no one is in favor of unwanted pregnancies, fetal deformities, or complications in pregnancy which endanger a woman’s life. The vast majority of us are also pro-choice, though that label has become less popular.

Rather than wasting our energies on friction, we could unite and work to reduce the need for abortions. The choice every woman getting an abortion would prefer is the choice to not need one in the first place.

Rev. Barron, Director, Respect for Life

Photos ©2013 Sarah Mirk
Respect for Life homepage

Respect for Life’s participation in the 2012 rally.
Right to Life’s documentation of their 2012 rally and march: Photos and Videos

Monday, June 4, 2012

This blog is illegal in Arkansas

Naturally this law will someday be judged unconstitutional—first amendment and all—but in the meantime: “It shall be unlawful for any person, club, camp, corporation, partnership, association, or organization to advocate, demonstrate, or promote nudism...”
Well, I’m a person and I advocate and promote nudism—even in Arkansas, if anyone in that state has this in their browser window. I’d demonstrate it too, but I don’t think anyone needs a demonstration to figure out how to get naked. If you’re reading this in Arkansas, I’m in violation of § 5-68-204, and if you share a link, be sure to say you disagree or you will be too.
Arkansas’ anti nudity law is laughably extreme: “The term ‘nudism’ as used in this section is defined to be the act or acts of a person or persons congregating or gathering with his, her, or their private parts exposed in the presence of one (1) or more persons of the opposite sex as a form of social practice.” It goes on to say it’s okay to be naked when medically necessary—whew!—or when married—double whew! Cohabiting unmarried couples better wear their jammies. Just turning off the lights might mean you’re still practicing nudism, but that’s for the jury to decide.
Apparently it would be okay to have a nudist resort that’s exclusively male or female, as that wouldn’t fit their definition of nudism. Little Rock would no doubt be down with gay guys getting together to hang out and kick it in the nude.
Historically, cultures range from nonchalant acceptance of nudity to strict taboo. Ancient Greeks’ athletic meets, including the original Olympics, were nude and “gymnasium” loosely means a place to get naked and work out. Ancient Hebrews, on the other hand, didn’t approve of getting naked even with the same gender. Noah’s Curse of Canaan gives us an idea of how gymnophobic their culture was.
That belief system spawned Islam and Christianity, and all three tend to be gymnophobic today, though their focus is more on keeping women covered up rather than men. Except for Canada and Oregon, women aren’t allowed to be topless in many of the same places men are in North America.
Although there are plenty of Christian nudists, Judeo-Christian influences remain so entrenched in Western culture that even atheists are commonly clothes-minded.
American society’s mix of cultures reflects a wide range of mores and personal preferences. Seems to me most people have no interest in social nudity beyond occasional skinny dipping, but don’t care if others do. A vocal minority feels that it’s something immoral to be stopped and they campaign to close nude beaches and draft laws restricting simple nudity. Another minority challenges these attempts with legal actions.
This “culture war” was played out in Europe in the last century. In the early 1900s, a social movement emphasizing health and connection with Nature became popular in Germany, mainly with young people. Freik├Ârperkultur, (FKK) or Free Body Culture grew exponentially and eventually spread as far afield as California. Soon another movement was gaining popularity in Germany, and personal freedom wasn’t part of their weltanschauung. The fascists won the battle but lost the war, and in 1949 the German Association for Free Body Culture rose from the ashes.
Oregon is at the other end of the freedom of expression spectrum from Arkansas, with public nudity technically illegal only if it’s done for sexual arousal. However, although non-sexual nudity is legal on state-owned land, the state designates only two beaches, Collins and Rooster Rock, as clothing-optional. As a practical matter, only secluded or designated areas allow hassle-free nudity. As human population becomes more dense, finding a nearby secluded place is increasingly difficult.
I haven’t been to a designated public nude beach, nor a resort, so I can’t speak about either from experience. I’ve read they are self-policing: watching out for creepers and lewd behavior. Volunteer groups like ORCOBA keep the beaches clear of litter and other trash. Their Yellow Flag Program offers a visible safe spot where beach-goers are welcome to join a group, and report inappropriate activity for appropriate raw vigilante action.
Naturist resorts and non-landed or travel clubs also provide opportunities to shed society’s symbolic yoke of submission. A listing of those near Portland may be found below.
Almost all resorts and clubs cater to families, and are vigilant about screening new members and policing inappropriate behavior, according to everything I’ve read in first-hand reports. They do have restrictions: typically, no one under 18 without a parent and often a maximum ratio of males to females, which makes it hard for people under 18 and single males to enjoy social nudity. Although single males can find a female if they’re lucky, people who are legally children and can’t talk a parent into going are out of luck. They still have the option of a public clothing-optional beach, which may not feel as safe as a private resort or travel club.
Many people enjoy clothes freedom indoors, though connection with the natural world is lacking unless a window can be opened to let in sunshine and air.
Rather than drive half an hour to Rooster Rock or an hour to Collins Beach just to get naked, I prefer my own mini-resort. Private yards may offer our most convenient locations, though they usually require extensive fencing and/or plantings. This can take years if second story windows look in. In some locations, it’s just about impossible to find a sunny spot that can be made private.
I adhere to the same ageist restriction at my place as resorts, though I’m philosophically opposed to it. Society’s perception that nudity and sexuality are inextricably linked restricts older children’s choices. Organizations for young nudists start at 18 for the safety of the organization, not for the safety of children.

The articulate and wise Laci Green advocates nudity for Fun:


also, for body acceptance

If you’ve never tried social nudity, it might seem strange at first but feels normal in a short time. Perhaps paradoxically, it’s easier to disassociate sexuality from nudity when everyone gets naked.
I consider myself a naturist rather than a nudist, as my intent is to remove barriers between myself and Nature. Discussion of the distinction continues. No matter what you call it or why you choose to get naked, the feeling of sun, wind, and water without textile encumberment is a life experience everyone should try at least once—with friends and family if practical.

More links:

Brief history of nudism
The World Naked Bike Ride has a huge event in Portland in June, often more than one. I rode for the first time in 2011 and it was way Fun to be a part of a rolling nude party—despite needing to watch out for other riders and nearly freezing my nipples off. People in Arkansas aren’t so lucky.
Introduction to Naturism answers just about every question you may have about clothing-optional activities. Any concern not addressed may be submitted to a forum of experienced nudists.
Though not illegal in Oregon, public nudity could land one in a lot of trouble. When arresting officers prevent the nude person they’re arresting from covering up, they become accomplices to the “crime” they are purportedly stopping.
State nudity laws in the US.

Resorts near Portland:

Mountaindale Sun Resort: “a secure, secluded, nudist resort in the Oregon wine country, just 30 miles northwest of Portland. Social nudists enjoy family-oriented, hassle-free leisure on 104 acres of forested, private land. Ideally located, we’re just 1½ hours from ocean beaches, deep sea fishing, and Sauvie Island’s renowned Columbia River nudist beach is only 40 minutes away. Visitors are within 30 minutes of groceries, restaurants, shops, vineyard tasting rooms, and golf at Quail Valley or nationally known Pumpkin Ridge.
“Hosting visitors from all around the globe, we’re proud of our attractive, accessible, rural location, our well balanced membership and warm social climate. We host dances and parties year round. Come visit us, enjoy our hot tub, pool, sauna and other amenities. And remember, Just wear a smile!”
Squaw Mountain Resort: “a safe, comfortable, family oriented nudist campsite resort so all of the family is invited to camp here. We are also cooperatively held and operated so as a result, things frequently happen more casually here than they do in a privately operated, for-profit resort. We do hope that you will enjoy the informality. We are also a rustic campsite resort so no food is available... but fresh clean drinking water from our mountain well is plentiful.”
Lodge has rooms and there are RV hookups and tent campsites. Near Estacada.
The Willamettans: “a modern resort in a secluded setting... the largest nudist club in the Pacific Northwest with more than 500 members. We are member owned and located on 40 acres just 30 minutes from Springfield, Oregon.
“If you have not yet experienced the freedom and fun of nude recreation, you are in for a wonderful and liberating experience when you visit the Willamettans. The Willamettans welcomes singles, couples and families of all ages.”

Non-landed or travel clubs (listed from closest to farthest from Portland):

The Oregon Clothing-Optional Beach Alliance (ORCOBA): “dedicated to actively preserving, maintaining, and promoting family-oriented, social naturism at Oregon’s two officially-designated clothing-optional beaches: Sauvie Island (Collins Beach) and Rooster Rock State Park. This group is open to everyone concerned with maintaining our beaches as family-friendly venues for non-sexual clothing-optional recreation.”
Hidden Springs: “established in September 1969. We are chartered as a ‘full member’ club with the American Association of Nude Recreation (AANR) in 1970... Hidden Springs is a family nudist club with activities appropriate for members of all ages.” Portland, OR
Sun Rovers: “a non-landed travel and nudist club who is family friendly. We are located in the greater Portland area. We have members as far south as Eugene area and as far north as greater Tacoma area. Our goal is to support other nudist organizations and to provide outside activities that are of interest to our membership. We meet monthly at other clubs, individual members’ homes, and other venues.”
Sun Lovers Under Gray Skies: “a Family Naturist Events Club. Discover the freedom and benefits of Naturism. Find out why young & old agree that the cure for the Northwest’s endlessly cloudy days is a skinny-dipping party. Around the world they understand, lose the clothes = lose the stress = harmony. The Sun Lovers Under Gray Skies is a community of ordinary people sharing family naturist values. We support the primary human-right of simply being human as originally designed. Most of all, we strive to have more fun and a better quality of life for ourselves and our families.” Lacey, WA.
Bare Spirits: “a nudist travel club centered in the Willamette Valley of Oregon... As a Travel Club we do not have our own park, but meet at members homes or travel to nudist events, beaches, and landed nudist clubs in our area... We often have a meeting, a pot luck dinner, great conversation, and use of the available facilities. Depending on when and where we meet, activities can also include hot tubbing, card/board games, billiards, volleyball, swimming, horseshoes, wine tasting, and other fun activities. Like other AANR Travel Clubs, we are a family friendly club.” Dallas, OR.
Central Oregon Tumbleweeds: “a non landed travel club of the AANR. We enjoy social gatherings and just laying around in the beautiful sunshine of the high desert. We invite you and your family to join us in the Beautiful outdoors of Central Oregon. We have a nice home base that one of our members generously shares.” Bend, OR.
Rogue Suncatchers: “a family oriented nudist group that meets socially to enjoy a clothing free lifestyle.” Ashland, OR.

Online discussions for nudists and naurists:

Northwest Fun in the Sun (You have to verify you’re 18+ because, well, there are naked people in there.)
ORCOBA message and news board
NetNude Naturists Site. Extensive resources and message boards. I’m a supporting member of this one.
Clothesfree Forum. Broadcasts “Nudes in the News,” and more.
There are lots more but I’m sure about recommending these four.

National organizations:

The Naturist Society: “a membership organization first and foremost. If you enjoy skinny-dipping, nude sunbathing, or that feeling of freedom while nude, then TNS membership is for you... The term naturist means different things to different people. To some, it suggests a carefully considered way of life—a philosophy, no less. To others it’s nothing more than a day at the nude beach.” I’m a member of this one.
American Association for Nude Recreation: “The credible voice of reason for nude recreation since 1931. AANR is proud to be affiliated with 260 nudist resorts and clubs across North America and beyond.” I can’t afford to join both.
Even clothed, I’m bare in mind.
Barronmind homepage

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Respect for Life at Rally for Life 2012

Encouraging unity among those who identify as
anti-abortion and/or pro-choice at
Right to Life, Oregon’s Rally for Life.
Sunday, January 22, 2012


I arrive at Pioneer Square with a big bag of signs for this year’s Rally for Life. Umbrellas and yellow helium balloons with “Life” printed on them hover over the crowd facing the giant covered stage. There’s still plenty of room to move about, though the crowd is spread throughout the upper and lower areas. About 30 young people standing in a rectangular formation have red tape over their mouths with “Life” written on it. Many supporters are holding placards reading “Defend Life”. I think I see a theme here: life vs death.

There’s no anti-rally rally this year, so it’s quieter. No giant photos of bloody fetuses, so it’s visually quieter too. Low metal barricades surround the square and line the streets so crowds won’t spill onto the light rail tracks or into traffic on Broadway. Security is well supplied, with transit police, private security guards, bicycle and motorcycle police dispersed and alert. A row of covered booths sits on the upper level, with tables of information.


Lena meets me at the designated corner, and chooses the “Contraception prevents abortion” sign. I have two taped together for front and back signs: “Unite to prevent abortions” and “Condoms prevent abortions.” We wander around the edge of the crowd and a woman offers Lena a flier. Lena offers her a “Vasectomy prevents abortion” sticker.
“Oh, I don’t know,” she hesitates as she reads it. “That still wouldn’t stop immoral behavior.”
“No,” I allow, “we still have to work on that, but at least no one would get pregnant.” We exchange flier for sticker.

Young people in pairs pass out plastic baggies of information and Lena accepts one. “I’ll read hers.” It contains small fliers telling of events like the 40 Days for Life vigil at Planned Parenthood’s “abortion facility,” and Camp Joshua, where “tomorrow’s pro-life leaders” aged 16-21 receive “intense leadership training.”

A man reads Lena’s sign and tells us that contraception is demeaning to women because it makes them nothing but sex objects for man’s pleasure.
“Don’t you think women get pleasure from sex too?“ Lena asks. While he ponders this concept, she politely adds, “I use contraception and I don’t feel demeaned.” He seems surprised by her frankness, and rewords his line about men treating women as objects for pleasure.
“Better than treating them as breed sows,” I joke. He doesn’t appreciate my attempted humor and our conversation ends.


Olivia joins us, choosing “Sex Ed prevents abortion.” We stand near one of the openings in the barricades where our signs evoke puzzled expressions. A couple of counter-ralliers come over to talk, glad to see they’re not alone. I offer a sign, reading through the options. “Abstinence prevents abortion”?
“Not real big on that,” he says, and chooses “Gay sex prevents abortion.”
“I’d totally carry that one.”
“You’re brave,” I tell him.
“I like to think so,” he says as he wanders off through the crowd by himself. His friend sticks with her own handmade sign. Around 8 to 10 people are countering the dominant perspective, but we’re not sticking together. A few people stand blocking our way in, perhaps intentionally. Olivia and Lena maneuver around them and go to the upper level. The guy with the gay sex sign returns with reports of shocked expressions.

Another woman arrives at the rally intending to oppose it. “I wish I’d brought a bullhorn to get the message out there.”
“Oh, it’s just as well you didn’t—interrupting this wouldn’t be good.”
It’s hard to tell, but I think the speaker is praying through the PA system. Yes, he ends with “Amen” so he must have been.

A young woman holding a large hand-lettered, poster board sign, and waving a wire coat hanger, moves about the crowd, engaging anyone who’s willing. Her sign reads something like, “Roe wasn’t the start of abortions, it was the end of unsafe abortions.” We meander over and listen in while two men explain that “one of the early proponents of abortion has admitted that he made up all his statistics.”
“They were all lies,” affirms the other.
That eliminates all statistics from the discussion. Coat hanger woman listens attentively, rapidly chewing her gum. She moves on and I ask what he thinks about preventing abortions with contraception. He’s opposed to anything besides Natural Family Planning, which he assures us has come a long way and is very effective. I ask if he knows what they call couples who use NFP and it’s apparent he’s heard it too many times.
“Parents,” we both say.
“Oh, you know that one,” I joke. “Seems like a simple snip snip would take care of it.” I say. “Isn’t vasectomy better than abortion?”
“Sure, one takes a life, but it’s still wrong.” He explains it’s not right to alter our bodies from God’s intended design, though clearly that doesn’t include wearing glasses and shaving. He recites the “birth control disrespects women” line and Olivia tells him, “I’m a woman and I don’t think it’s disrespectful.”
I ask if he thinks abortion should be outlawed and he does. “The law is a great teacher,” he intones.

I see Bill Diss, who hosts the website “Precious Children of Portland” and organizes protests at Planned Parenthood. I know him as a teacher at Benson High. He moves on before I can break away and engage him in conversation.

On stage, a speaker with a feminist perspective tells how abortion is anti-woman because in India and China they abort girls. In one area of India, “out of a thousand babies only 50 were girls.” Imagine that. Lena observes that “Roe v Wade doesn’t extend to India.” I note that the speaker presents another potential slogan for uniting to prevent abortions: gender equality.

Everyone is encouraged to sing along as the band plays “God Bless America” and “America the Beautiful.”

Occasionally, a yellow balloon wafts away toward the river. I think about wildlife choking to death on a piece of plastic labeled “Life”.

A news videographer climbs to a high spot and begins to pan the crowd. Lena and Olivia subtly move to where their signs will show, and the lens pauses in their direction.


I notice a woman holding a Knights of Columbus “Defend life” sign in front of her, staring at Lena and her sign, She looks as if she’s thinking, “Tisk, tisk, poor deluded child.” In a few minutes she passes by us and says to Lena, “I’ll pray for you.” Maybe Olivia and I look too far gone to be prayed for.

A street is blocked off for the Walk for Life, and we mix into the crowd as the walk begins in a sudden, cold downpour. Olivia wraps her camera in a neck scarf. As I walk along, a woman comments matter-of-factly from under her umbrella, “You’re an infiltrator.”
“No, we’re on the same side.” I turn my sign to Unite to prevent abortion. “We all respect life and want to prevent abortions.”
“People need to save themselves for marriage.”
“Married people get pregnant too.” She isn’t interested in more dialog.

I engage a man with questions and try to find something we can agree on as we walk. He sees Bill Diss standing in the middle of the road facing the marchers, greeting them like a politician and reveling in the recognition. I shake his hand too, calling him Mister Diss, as I know her prefers. He doesn’t seem to recognize me.

A man sees my “Condoms prevent abortion” sign and says, “If your parents used condoms you wouldn’t be here, Dude.”
“No, I’d still be here. I don’t have 15 siblings because they used them.”
“But you wouldn’t be here, Dude.” We may have exhausted his talking points.

As the walk ends, we’re all soaked and cold—Lena is shivering. We turn around to head back, and a woman engages Lena in a very friendly manner, asking her name and offering hers. “You’re half way there, Lena.” She’s halfway to hypothermia and now we’ve missed the walk light. She wants to give Lena a flier promoting NFP and warning of the risks of contraceptives. Apparently halfway there is using contraceptives and all the way there means not using them.

The rain finally lets up as we slog our way to the car. I’m thinking about 2013, the 40th anniversary of Roe vs Wade, which should generate a big rally: fertile ground for Respect for Life’s middle ground.

The next day: The Oregonian publishes an editorial advocating basically the same philosophy as Respect for Life. Remaining divided into two opposing sides leads to attitudes which allow potentially fatal restrictions on reproductive freedom.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Why I Favor Anarchy for Social Direction

“If you get three anarchists together you’ll have five definitions of anarchy.”

Defining anarchy remains elusive and contentious because it unifies personal, political, and social philosophies.

An excellent site on anarchy in the UK says it means simply no government. Of course being an anarchist I have to disagree—that’s what we do with each other. Volumes of barely-coherent text continue to flow out of this past time.

I see “archy” as dominance or ruling, rather than government, so I define an-archy as no rulers: no hierarchy. Anarchist governments could exist if everyone would be equally responsible. No one would enforce rules we all agreed upon by consensus. Yes, rules could exist, though “agreements” is more like it. We could agree to drive, bike, and walk to the right so we don’t run into each other, for example.

Collectively, we’re not quite responsible enough for an anarchistic society, so in the meantime I make do with personal anarchy: I subvert the hierarchy I’m placed within—both up and down.

Most of us have more control over our personal lives than we acknowledge or accept. Relegating authority to authority can be comfortable and convenient, but it’s also irresponsible and immature.

Taking responsibility for ourselves and our actions removes justification for controlling us. This applies from childhood through the rest of our lives. Parents, bosses, law enforcement, and so on sometimes abuse their petty power, naturally, but when we’re acting responsibly and maintaining ourselves, their rationale for doing so is diminished if not eliminated.

School system hierarchy is well-defined, but in my experience, very few supervisors go out of their way to assert their authority. They’re too busy and only do it when situations force them to do so. The unfortunate exceptions create a miserable feeling among teachers and staff, who aim for transfers if possible. I simply stop accepting positions at that school. (This isn’t intended as a value judgment against consensual S&M or Sub-Dom orientations).

The other half of personal anarchy involves the authority over others we are given by authority. Jesus is quoted as giving Pontius Pilot a stinging reminder that he wouldn’t have any authority if it weren’t given to him. Using the authority given to us by authority gives authority more authority, so I avoid it.

Teachers, especially substitute teachers, might assume that being in control of the class is job number one. It’s not. Getting the class in control of themselves lays the foundation for a positively productive time.

Chemicals in our brain make us feel good when we’re in control and not so good when we’re not in control. Placing students in the subservient position retards their mental abilities. Most are more easily controlled as well, so for teachers, dominance is tempting—maybe irresistible on a subconscious level. For “old school” teachers it’s a conscious activity, learned from their teachers.

Respecting students as equals enhances their ability to learn. A few are unaccustomed to behaving responsibly on their own, and need a reminder. An agreement concerning the value of behaving responsibly might be required. Ultimately, the choice to stay or leave is the student’s, though I have to be the one coordinating the choices.

When everyone is behaving responsibly in a classroom for which I’m the teacher of record, anarchy rules.

Beyond personal anarchy

I’m an evolutionary anarchist: I think society should evolve in the direction of anarchy, even if we’ll never get all the way there. It’s the opposite direction of fascism.

Revolutionary anarchists, on the other hand, prefer to promote anarchy now, and society will have to adjust. This difference seems to be divided by age for the most part.

At peace rallies in Portland, a contingent of anarchists dressed in black and known as the Black Block, makes a stunning appearance when followed by a line of bicycle cops wearing black and yellow.

They sometimes break away from the “sheeple” and the “peace fascists” who keep participants from breaking windows or provoking fights with opposing bystanders. After all, how can we obediently follow the route laid out by the authorities when we oppose that authority? There’s some validity to this objection.

When the authorities set up “free speech zones” away from what the free speech is addressing, and then surround them with chainlink fencing, going along to get along undermines everyone’s freedom. Corralling people in this manner crosses the line from maintaining an orderly expression to suppressing expression. If one doesn’t get into the free speech pen, another pen awaits. Suppression quickly becomes oppression.

Choosing the manner of resistance to fascistic practices is a personal matter.

Perhaps the number one objection to anarchy is that it doesn’t work. The implication is that our hierarchical system does work. Seems to me it barely holds together and relies on brute force to work: we obey laws and pay taxes at gunpoint.

The threat of chaos and lawlessness—the dictionary definition of anarchy—motivates societies to relinquish liberties, while the consequences of fascism are usually underestimated or overlooked.

The Stanford Prison Experiment shows what ordinary people are likely to do when given excessive authority. The Milgram Experiment shows how easily we can be intimidated by authority into doing what we know is wrong. Mindless obedience is evil's great multiplier.

Responses to hurricane Katrina provide a harsh lesson on the difference between anarchy and hierarchy. Help came immediately from people who worked without authority to do so. When the federal and state authorities finally arrived, their dominance prevented rescue efforts, abused victims, and in the end billions of dollars of relief money was looted by private contractors.

Personal accounts from survivors make it clear that anarchy worked well: volunteers from around the country rushed in and saved lives without a chain of command coordinating the efforts. Grassroots groups like the Common Ground Collective formed to meet the needs of victims, and continue to do so. Relief workers with FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) were most effective when they ignored orders from above and joined volunteers.

Praise for authoritarian relief efforts only came from those in authority: they did a “heckava job.” Survivors of the storm, particularly poor and marginalized folks, seem to agree with that summation.

When we spontaneously gather to play sports in public parks, we all agree to established rules. No authority figure enforces the rules because all are equally in charge. Anarchy rules.

Most rules outside of games really are for fools, as they say. Only fools need, “Thou shalt not steal.” Do we have to be told that it’s wrong to take something that belongs to someone else? We need very few rules and, if we’re responsible, no rulers.

The vast majority of us are so accustomed to functioning in a hierarchy that we barely question it. However, observing what works and what doesn’t work in our society reveals the truth.

A teacher asked me rhetorically, “Why don’t they just get out of our way and let us teach?” “They” being those removed from the reality of classrooms who mandate policies and curricula.

What about your own situation? Are your efforts helped or hampered by those who make decisions about what you are supposed to do each day? Where do the most ridiculous requirements and procedures come from?

Communication, consensus, and coordination facilitate group efforts without hierarchy. Hierarchies are inherently evil and we should grow out of them... well, if we reach a consensus to do so, anyway.

Famous American anarchists

“If mankind minus one were of one opinion, then mankind is no more justified in silencing the one than the one—if he had the power—would be justified in silencing mankind.”
~John Stuart Mill

“In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem. From time to time we’ve been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people. Well, if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else?”
~Ronald Reagan, January 20, 1981

Republican candidate for US president in 2008, Mike Huckabee, explained to Jon Stewart how society could evolve to need less government if everyone “did the right thing” and followed the Golden Rule: evolutionary anarchy, basically. Stewart asked if there are unicorns in this mythical society.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Why I don’t pledge my allegiance to a flag, nor stand for the national anthem

I don’t pledge my allegiance to the flag of any geopolitical entity, nor do I stand for the US national anthem, singing praises for “bombs bursting in air.” I stand up for what I believe in by sitting down for what don’t believe in.

To begin with, why should we pledge allegiance to the republic for which it stands? The republic should pledge allegiance to us: we’re supposed to be the ones who decide what it does. We’ve created an artificial political entity and now we’re supposed to swear loyalty to symbols of it? I could pile a few rocks up and call it a venerated object, to which I swear my allegiance above all other piles of rocks. Most sane folks would consider that pretty wacky—harmless though.

Nationalism, a first cousin to racism, is not so harmless. It promotes a Them vs Us attitude. We’re all Earthlings, sharing the same air. We should be working together for the good of all.

A flag pledge ritual begun early in life instills an emotional trigger symbol to be exploited later in life. It doesn’t matter that young children have no idea what the words mean. Standing together with hands over hearts, paying reverence to a piece of cloth, profoundly indoctrinates. It leads to mindless acceptance of unethical actions committed under the aegis of that flag. Emotional reactions to the flag by otherwise rational adults demonstrates the effectiveness of this conditioning. For example, some would likely experience anger at the words I’ve written here.

In public schools, the institution which mandates attendance also coerces pledging allegiance to it. Despite this conflict of interests, the pledge could be legally required of teachers and students in public schools before West Virginia's mandate was ruled unconstitutional in 1943.

These days, the legitimate options of not pledging and not standing are simply not presented. Many teachers aren’t aware that neither can legally be required. It may be rare today for a teacher to ignorantly coerce recitation of the pledge, but students are usually told they must stand and remove their hats for both the pledge and the national anthem. This isn't seen as requiring participation, merely courtesy to others. However, standing legitimizes this display of institutionalized mob mentality.

Another teacher once told me ”Stand up!“ as the anthem started.
I said, “Too much like religion for me.” He pointed at me and said, “I will report you.”
The next day I asked if he needed help with his report and he said he’d just done it informally, adding something about the principal being the commander and we should do what he says.
I slowly shook my head and he said, “I won’t debate it with you,” and left.

A security guard I was on friendly terms with asked me why I didn’t participate in the pledge and I said, “I’m not into nationalism.”
He seemed surprised by the simplicity. “That’s it?” He thought maybe I was a Jehovah’s Witness, and he knew they don’t pledge.

Pledging allegiance and standing for the national anthem, both often with hand over heart, look a lot like religious ritual. Our First Amendment forbids establishment of religion, which precludes a state-established religion of The State as well.

Patriotism and pride in one’s nation-state are promoted as positive attributes by society’s institutions, notably the nation-state itself. Attaching a positive feeling such as pride to a concept that serves the state drives indoctrination deeper.

Stating a lack of loyalty to the United States of America borders on heresy with serious consequences for those in public view. We still have freedom of expression—we won’t be arrested for most speech—but as many have discovered, seeming unpatriotic can be devastating to one’s ability to earn a living. Election to public office without pledging is highly unlikely.

William Penn said, “Right is right, even if everyone is against it; and wrong is wrong, even if everyone is for it.” I think each of us has a responsibility to determine for ourselves what’s right and what’s wrong.

I pledge allegiance to what’s right, and to the earth on which we stand, one planet, under siege, with liberty and justice for all life.

American public school students pledging their allegiance to the fatherland. This photo was likely taken at the end of the pledge when the hand was moved from the heart to the direction of the flag and then slowly down to the side. That part of the salute was discontinued in the early 1940s.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Respect for Life

It's Sunday, January 17th, 2010, and Right to Life Oregon is sponsoring a "Walk for Life," culminating in a rally at Courthouse Square, and Planned Parenthood of the Columbia/Willamette is holding a counter-protest for choice across the street. I have to attend.

Arriving in downtown, I lift my bike off the front of the bus and walk it past the pro-choice protesters behind metal barricades. One uses a bullhorn to lead chants and they're holding signs like "Keep your laws off my body" and "If you don't like abortion, don't have one."

They don't need me here. I cross to the rally where a huge covered stage with a black backdrop fills one corner of the block-sized square. A sea of umbrellas faces the stage where a live band plays upbeat rock and roll. Volunteers, mostly in pairs, surround the square, passing out literature in plastic bags. I take one to look at later. Now I can say, "I have one."

Directly across the street from the pro-choice crowd, a similar group holds signs and shouts back. I doubt either side can hear the other. This is where the Church of Euthanasia would unite them all: against them. In Boston, they would show up with a bullhorn, "God wants these women to have abortions! Abortion is a sacrament!" Plus a vertical banner that would dwarf all here, proclaiming: "Eat a queer fetus for Jesus." Everyone wanted them to just go away.

I too would like to unite the two sides, with something a bit more positive. I find a rack and lose the bike so I can work the crowd. I have a stack of bumper stickers to give away: "Vasectomy prevents Abortion."



For the next two hours, I meander around, holding the stickers in front of me and if someone reads it I offer, "Free bumper sticker."

Rally attendees seem to be either in high school or over 40. A dearth of young adults is evident.

I pass a pleasant looking man who holds a white plastic pipe with a large color photo of a mutilated baby, purported to be an aborted fetus, mounted on it. "Meet 'Baby Choice'" it reads. I nod a greeting as I make eye contact. He reads my sticker and slowly shakes his head.

I talk with a man who identifies himself as Catholic, says he has nine kids. "What do you think about vasectomy preventing abortions?"
"Statistically, in countries where birth control is available, abortion rates go up."
Maybe his statistics come from the American Life League. The opposite is true, but this fits his view that contraception devalues life, making abortions more acceptable. He says he doesn't think abortion should be against the law, although it's against God's law. I commend his tolerance and shake his hand, leaving him with, "Nice talking with you."

A young man passing out packets declines the sticker and tells me,"Natural family planning is 99% effective when used correctly, when you're in touch with your cycle. It's not that hard."
I resist using that old joke, "What do you call a couple who practices the rhythm method? Parents."

I arrive back at the man with the bloody baby photo. He says, "I'm sorry."
"It's not your fault," I assure him sincerely as I go by.
The next time my wanderings bring me around to him I stop to talk.
"A friend of mine is evangelical and he got a vasectomy, and..."
"He had it reversed," I butt in.
"And he had it reversed. I see his point."
"How many children we have is up to God?"
"Right."
A woman joins our conversation and I continue to offer the stickers to passers-by while we talk.
Another woman approaches and tells me in a disapproving paternal tone, "Don't pass those out here. That's not what we're about. We're pro-life."
"Don't you want to prevent abortions?"
"Yes, but not like that." She goes on to explain how men are just using women when the possibility of new life is taken out of sex. "It cheapens it." Apparently people are supposed to wait until marriage to have sex. "The purpose of marriage is procreation," she states emphatically.
"So that's why they do it." I slap my forehead. "I knew there had to be a reason."
She seems to be trying to figure out how serious I am. "Do you think there are some people who shouldn't be parents?" I ask.
"Where are you going with this?"
"Well, I don't think everyone is suited for parenthood."
"And who's going to decide if they are?"
"The people themselves."
"Do you think those people are going to make the right choice?" She points across the street.
"Yeah."

A preacher is on the stage accusing Planned Parenthood of eugenics, which is less inflammatory than genocide. I can't see him but he sounds like he's Black. "They're moving their headquarters from an area that's four percent African-American to an area that's 42 percent African-American." He decries the higher percent of abortions in the US being performed on Black women. I think about the irresponsible men getting them pregnant contrary to their wishes.

"There's a man behind every abortion," I say to a couple of volunteers and one woman replies, "Amen to that!"

A young woman with a "Volunteer" badge is standing alone, though almost all the others are at least couples. She's not passing out bags of literature or collecting donations, just standing there looking a little dazed, watching the two sides face off. I'd already said "Hi" and made eye contact a couple of times as I circled the crowd. I asked how she was doing. She wasn't sure. I tell her "I've had some mixed reactions, but most have been positive."
"Yeah, me too. I've even been spit at."
"No. That's rude. I'm sorry to hear that."
I wonder if that could be true because I've seen no maliciousness from anyone, except the rude shouts back and forth on the front lines.
"Some of those women are pregnant," she points across the street. "Don't they think about the life that's growing inside them?"
"But they want to be pregnant. Y'know, we really should unite both sides. We all have respect for life. Almost all abortions are the result of unwanted pregnancies. Some are for medical reasons, but if men would use condoms and get vasectomies there would be very few abortions."
I'm presenting this cheerfully, but I think this event can't end soon enough for her.

I recognize a couple of brothers as they arrive, one a former student and the other still in high school. I give them stickers and they head over to the pro-choice rally.

A woman under an umbrella catches up with me and asks what I'm doing. I don't know if she identifies as pro-life or not, but I explain that I'd like to see both sides get together and prevent unwanted pregnancies.
"I've had two abortions," she tells me.
"You're not unusual."
"My ex-boyfriend and I had problems with condoms, because of the rubber plantations, it's not good for the people who work there."
As we part I say, "I hope your next boyfriend has a vasectomy."

A few times a passer-by realizes what the sticker says after they pass and then turn around and ask for one with a smile.

I exchange pleasantries with a woman in a baseball cap reading something like "Jesus is love". She's wearing a large placard, "Science proves creation" and giving away DVDs.
A solemn-faced man passes us and turns around with a grin, "I'll take one of those."
"Here you go."
"For my daughter's boyfriend!" he shouts back over his shoulder.
"Did you hear what he said?" I ask her.
"What?"
"He said it's for his daughter's boyfriend."
She gets a hearty laugh out of that.

I talk with a young man standing with his girl friend, looking over at the pro-choice side disapprovingly until the train blocks our view. "I'm from the country and I'm sorry, but if someone gets in my face..." He looks down at his boot as it stamps the pavement. No government is going to tell him and his girlfriend they can't have an abortion. He's pro-choice but can't see himself standing with those Lefties, chanting, "Hey, hey, Right Wing, abortion rights are here to stay!"

The rally goes silent as a bell tolls ominously. I hold off on encounters as there's a prayer-like mood. Maybe each one represents thousands of abortions or something. The other side of the street continues their cacophony.

A man talking with bicycle police officers turns down my offer of a free sticker. "There's only one bumper sticker I've seen that I'd consider putting on, 'Wise men still seek Him.'" He remembers the female officer next to him and adds, "And women too."
"Yeah, gotta be inclusive," I kid him
"Wise people," She says. We agree with her.

Preachers take turns between tearful testimonials by women who had abortions. "If you ask a three-year-old if it's okay to kill a baby in its mother's womb they'll say 'No!' recoil in disgust. But ask them 10 years later after they've been to public school and they'll say it's okay. Where are we going as a society when the values we cherish are forgotten?"

A female Tri-Met officer working the barricades smiles and quietly tells me, "I think you've got the best thing going here."

A young man asks what group I'm with. "Respect for Life" I point to the url on the sticker.
"How do you identify your group?"
"We're anti-abortion and pro-choice. We want to unite our efforts to end unwanted pregnancies."
"I'm gay so I don't need a vasectomy."
"Ya never know, a weak moment..." His lip curls and he leans back. "Sorry to paint a horror picture for you."

I see the brothers again walking outside the square. They're depressed by the disparity of the two sides, which is about 10 to one. "They've got churches to draw from and we don't. You ought to go in and mingle, get a feel for the crowd. Just don't step on any toes." They aren't up for that.

A woman passes by without stopping, "Vasectomies let men sleep around."
"They don't prevent STDs," I call after her.

As the rally ends and people stream out to the sidewalks, I find myself standing between two volunteers holding donation milk jugs. I make the most of it and a few accept the stickers I offer.

I go over to the pro-choice side and they enthusiastically take the stickers. By the time I get to the other end of the group, they're chanting "Vasectomy prevents abortion!" I go back in front of the middle and hold up stickers. "Cue cards! Get your cue cards!" Some take a second one to share with friends.

They decide to use some of their remaining energy to have a little Walk for Choice, though it's not official. I join them for a few blocks and a man tells me he's not comfortable with "prevent abortion" in the sticker's phrase.
"But don't we want to prevent abortions?"
"Sure, but it should be there."
"The choice women really want is the choice to not need an abortion in the first place."
"True, ideally, but..."

Disagreement and agreement from both sides. I call that success. The rain picks up from the drizzle we've been enduring, but all the rain in Portland can't dampen the good feeling I have about this day's ministry. Time for a beer.