Clinic defenders take on the ultra-right

What can be learned from one Pacific Northwest protest

June 9, 2018, defense of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Kent, Wash. PHOTO: Freedom Socialist newspaper
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On June 9, abortion rights supporters defended a Planned Parenthood clinic in Kent, Wash., from hard-core misogynist protesters. It was a successful and invigorating outing, with the right wing outnumbered 10 to one. And the work done before, during and after offers important lessons for community organizers.

Build a united, multi-pronged response. The anti-abortion rally was called by Joey Gibson and his ultra-right Patriot Prayer group. Gibson’s demonstrations attract Proud Boys and other white nationalist thugs. Feminists and anti-fascists realized that a spirited, disciplined defense of women’s rights was needed.

With about two weeks to mobilize after learning of Gibson’s plans, three groups — Freedom Socialist Party (FSP), Party for Socialism and Liberation, and Radical Women (RW) — put out a call to left, LGBTQ and feminist groups.

An ad hoc coalition formed that included Seattle Clinic Defense, Organized Workers for Labor Solidarity, Seattle Gay News, Dyke Community Activists, ANSWER, Steve Hoffman Campaign for U.S. Senate, International Socialist Organization, and Workers World Party.

This coalition democratically adopted a statement of unity and built wide community support for a counter-protest to “Say No to Misogynists and White Supremacists.” When the day came, over 200 clinic defenders attended from across Puget Sound.

This collaboration of the Left, labor and people targeted by fascists and near-fascists is essential to building the strong, unified response that is necessary to face down these dangerous bullies.

Don’t talk to the FBI! The week before the rally, FBI agent Aimee Funasaki visited the Radical Women office and the homes of two RW leaders and a member of Seattle Clinic Defense. She only managed to reach RW Organizer Gina Petry, who refused to speak with her once she identified herself as an agent — although Funasaki tried to present herself as “Officer Friendly.”

Radical Women alerted the rest of the organizing committee about this harassment. Six of the participating groups cosigned an educational email that spelled out the legal right to refuse to speak to the FBI. The bureau has a history of harassing, infiltrating and destroying radical movements, like the Black Panthers, American Indian Movement and Second Wave feminists. Red Fawn, a Standing Rock water defender, is one of the latest victims: she was set up by a paid FBI informant who became her lover.

Petry asked the National Lawyers Guild, a fierce guardian of civil liberties, to assist in getting the FBI to back off, and NLG sent a letter to the bureau demanding an explanation.

Clinic managers don’t set the agenda. One day prior to the rally, Planned Parenthood sent an email asking defenders to stay home! Security Manager Linda Simpson wrote, “We do not support counter protests at our health centers. … We ask you to … avoid giving voice to the opposition by holding counter protests at our health centers.”

This is a terrible position. Staffers and clinic patients at women’s health clinics have made it clear they appreciate support. It is managers who operate under the false belief that ignoring the right-wingers will make them go away. Such timidity is not what won reproductive rights!

After discussion, the coalition decided to go forward. Abortion rights must be defended. Fascists must be confronted.

Following the protest, Petry responded to Simpson: “Planned Parenthood’s view that abortion is just health care, not ‘political,’ is sadly, dangerously out of step with the reality of attacks on the right to abortion and physical attacks on clinics and staff.”

Stand up to police abuse. On the day of the protest, cops cordoned off the area in front of Planned Parenthood.

Although a large number of counter-protesters arrived first, police held the space for the fetus fetishists, who were escorted into the area by cops. Several police were seen walking among the fascist types high-fiving them.

But clinic defenders were treated harshly. A Kent police officer, with his badge covered, said to one, “Put one toe on the dirt, and I’ll arrest you.” Cops used their billy clubs to shove a group of two dozen activists across a five-lane road. Another cop, offended at being called a bully, pepper-sprayed the crowd.

Later, two Proud Boys started a fight. The cops ignored them, but handcuffed their young male target. Thanks to NLG observers and the intervention of the head of rally security, the cops backed down.

Chris Smith, one of the people pepper-sprayed, later attempted to lodge a formal complaint with the Kent Police Department. He found that Kent offers no way for a civilian to submit a written complaint and follow it through.

To further complicate matters, the Kent police are part of the Valley Civil Disturbance Unit (VCDU). The VCDU includes police from Auburn, Federal Way, Kent, Renton, Tukwila, and the Port of Seattle. It was in charge of the 40-plus officers that day but there does not seem to be any process for calling this unit to account.

Organized by RW and FSP, 13 people went to the July meeting of the Kent City Council to expose the police abuse and demand justice. As a result, City Attorney Fitzpatrick promised follow-up. He met with the Kent mayor and chief of police, but interviewed no clinic defenders. Not surprisingly, his report found no fault with anyone except clinic defenders.

Radical Women and the Freedom Socialist Party, together with others, plan to continue the fight for accountability.

Tenacity, tenacity, tenacity. That is how to win battles, large and small.

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