Surrounding hate and inviting it to surrender – updated

This machine...The head of Pete Seeger’s 5-string banjo famously carried the inscription, “This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender.” I thought of Pete yesterday when I saw the way two three young activist women responded the Ontario men who’ve been displaying gruesome (and possibly faked) images of aborted foetuses along heavily trafficked commuter routes in HRM.

The pro-choice women could have lashed out in anger. No doubt they were angry. But instead they chose to respond with a message of love—and of reassurance for women who face tough choices about sexual and reproductive health, and who may have felt frightened or intimidated by the anti-abortionists’ shocking imagery.

Allison protest Allison SparlingEvey Hornbeck, and Katherine Taylor festooned sheets of poster board with pink hearts and positive words like, “unafraid, unashamed” and “Have a really great day.” The makeshift signs also plugged a website their friends created,

Sparling told News 95.7:

We just want to provide a really positive message and let people know that they are safe to make the choices that are right for them in this city. There are many choices out there, whether your choice is to adopt, or to seek out other methods, or to go through and have the child. We wanted to make sure people are getting the best access to the information out there.

The YourChoiceHalifax website backs up that message with a list of what reproductive rights should include:

  • You have access to quality and non-judgemental resources that support your right to choose what happens to your body.
  • You have access to affordable and safe birth control.
  • You have access to clinical and social services that support your sexual and reproductive health (i.e. pap tests, pre-natal classes, parent support groups).
  • You are able to choose when and if to have a family, and the spacing between children.
  • You are able to live free of rape, assault, and harassment and free of sexual coercion.
  • You are able to access health care professionals and services that understand your needs regardless of your gender or sexual orientation

Social media sites showered the women with messages of gratitude and praise (while hate-filled sputum trickled into their email accounts from the other side).

What strikes me most about their counter-demonstration is that it proved effective not by matching angry slogan with angry slogan, but by staking out their own ground, and in the process, demonstrating something about their character that offered a stark contrast with their tormenters.

UPDATE: The repulsive image brigade moved on to Fredericton this afternoon, almost certainly oblivious to the damage they’ve done their cause—and to how much the charming response of young Halifax feminists multiplied that damage.

Protest groups of all kinds could learn a lot from this exchange: The purveyors of fear got smoked.

There’s a follow-up Pro-Love rally tomorrow at 8 am at South Park & Morris.