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Flint, MI— “We support women’s rights,” said Alta Parsons, one of about 150 attendees in Flint’s downtown flat lot on Oct. 2.
This year’s protest centered around reproductive rights in response to recent legislation in Texas banning abortions at about the sixth week of pregnancy.
“I started teaching in 1960 when women were half a human being,” said Parsons on why she came out to the march. “We weren’t allowed to do anything legally, financially, career-wise.”
Parsons said that joining a teachers’ union had helped her find her voice then, and she was at the protest to keep speaking up.
A friend of Parsons, Pat Emenyonu, leaned over from her adjacent folding chair.
“The only way that change is going to happen is for people to stand up–one person, every day, every minute—to this recent attack on women’s rights,” Emenyonu said.
Just then, the amplified voice of an organizer signaled the beginning of the event.
The crowd hushed to hear their instructions—walk south on Saginaw Street’s sidewalk to the courthouse and then back to the lot—before the youngest of the march’s five organizers took the microphone.
“Thank you so much for coming,” said Alexis Sollund-Lurvey, who co-founded the Women’s Coalition of Michigan with her friend, Priscilla Nazarijchuk.
“I’m young. I’m 18,” she began. The crowd of people, including toddlers in strollers and supporters in their seventies, cheered her on.
“The idea of me having to fight into my twenties, thirties, however long this goes on? No,” Sollund-Lurvey said. “We’ve got to get a grip on this now, ladies and gentlemen, because how far is this going to go?”
Afterward, standing atop milk-crates fashioned into a stage, Flint poet Jo Ikigai shared their new poem, “The Body with Conditional Rights and Respect,” before march co-organizer Sally Kagerer spoke about her lifelong activism on behalf of women’s rights.
“I’m old enough to be the grandmother of three young people in this audience,” Kagerer said. “When I was in high school in 1965, it was illegal for women to get contraception. I remember when abortion was illegal.”
Kagerer said during that period, pregnant women would sometimes commit suicide when their partner left them “rather than face that type of shame” which accompanied having a baby out of wedlock.
“I don’t want to see you face that,” said Kagerer. “I don’t want to see you go back to that.”
Shelley Spivack is one of the ACLU-cooperating attorneys for a 1988 case in which a Michigan woman was being forced to keep a pregnancy despite her pending divorce with an allegedly abusive husband. Spivack talked about the case, which moved up to the U.S. Supreme Court after weeks of appeals. Her client ultimately obtained an order that stopped her husband from being able to deny her an abortion.
“I can’t imagine what it was like for our client to have to—every day—get up and be faced with this order that says that you cannot control your own body,” Spivack said.
She added that she believed Roe v. Wade will be overturned before August 2022, citing the conservative-leaning records of six of the nine sitting Supreme Court justices and an upcoming hearing on a Mississippi abortion case in December.
Last to the microphone was Terry Gebhardt, the lead organizer of the Oct. 2 Flint women’s march.
Gebhardt asked the audience to imagine a 19-year-old victim of date rape who needed information and access to abortion before the 1973 Roe v. Wade case. She asked the audience to imagine that young woman going from San Diego to Tijuana to Mexico City on her first trip outside of the U.S., only to find a clinic she wasn’t sure would really help her and a bed in a cheap motel. She asked the audience to imagine that 19-year-old woman doing all of this on her pizza shop wage, afraid but desperate not to have her rapist’s child.
“Well, I don’t have to imagine,” Gebhardt concluded, as the audience stood in silence, some with tears in their eyes. “Because I am that 19-year-old.”
The procession of women’s rights activists then marched down Saginaw, chanting “Abortion is healthcare” and “my body, my choice” while honks from passing cars echoed around them.
Gebhardt said she wasn’t sure prior to the event if she would share her story that afternoon: it was a story she hadn’t told even some of her closest friends. But after the planning meeting she’d had with her fellow organizers and seeing the young people who stood to lose their rights at the march, she had changed her mind.
“We cannot go back,” she concluded, a tear still running down her cheek. “I have no regrets.”