Monday’s Senate Committee hearing will be kind of a circus, y’all. A lot of things will be different. (Jessica Luther has the rundown on what to expect).
But the biggest difference is that this time, THE ANTIS WILL BE OUT IN FORCE. Just like us, they are bringing in stars and having a big rally. Unlike us, they are busing people in from all over the country to protest.
The antis have a long history of deliberately antagonizing our folks and trying to incite us to act out so they can make us look bad. They’re specifically organizing to document any aggressive behavior on our part on Monday. See the Twitter hashtag #prochoiceviolence (and feel free to use it for pro-choice messages, too!).
I have heard reports of antis getting aggressive with folks in orange. Sadly, we have to anticipate that it will happen again – if not on purpose, just because Monday will be a long, tough day. Emotions will be high. People testifying at these hearings often share some of the most intimate moments of their lives. That takes a toll on their nerves. Simply witnessing all that pain and anger is hard, too. It costs. That much stress plus big crowds = volatile situation. So please be aware of how you’re doing and take care of yourself.
Also, we need to think about the visuals we present to the media. We need to be careful about our image. It can be tempting to vent at antis. But they are actively trying to portray us as bullies and baby killers because that’s good for them. If you yell at an anti in public or step in front of a camera and say, “Hail Satan,” even if you’re kidding, you are literally helping them raise money. They take those pictures, put them into fundraising letters, and make money off them. So please try to keep your cool, and remember why we’re there: to protest and protect access to reproductive health care for thousands of Texans who can’t make it to the Capitol.
TL;DR – Let’s stay focused on the goal, NOT take the bait, and remember that we’re the good guys, so we need to act like it.
Several of us in the Stand With Texas Women coalition have worked together to assemble resources to help you stay safe and calm on Monday. Here’s what we came up with. (FYI, we will have a safety tips and self-care handout available on site, too.)
What we mean by “Don’t Engage” (adapted from Planned Parenthood Federation of America guidelines):
- Don’t make eye contact
- Don’t respond to comments they make or signs they carry
- Don’t accept any literature from them
- Avoid physical contact of any kind
Some resources to help you plan/get ready:
- If you’re in Austin, check out Rise Up Texas’s de-escalation training followed by non-violent civil disobedience training TODAY, Sunday, July 7, at 5:00PM.
- Tips on how to stay calm and “de-escalate yourself”
- ACLU Know Your Rights brochure
- Did you know that you don’t actually have to touch someone to be charged with assault? That a verbal threat or “offensive” physical contact can be enough? This local law firm has a great FAQ about what constitutes assault in Texas, what the penalties are, etc.
SOME BASIC SAFETY TIPS
- Be alert and stay aware of your surroundings.
- Stay with the group. Stick with our folks. Try to minimize your contact with antis.
- Avoid going anywhere alone. The buddy system works. It discourages harassers – and also gives you an instant witness if anything happens.
- If you have a smartphone that can take pics or videos, keep it handy. And I mean charged and in your pocket or hand. Documentation can be very helpful.
- If you’re in a group, don’t use each other’s names where an anti can hear you. Taunting by name is one tactic they like to use to catch your attention and make you angry enough to respond.
IF YOU FEEL UNSAFE/IF AN ANTI GETS AGGRESSIVE WITH YOU:
- Try just ignoring them. They might get more upset, but you can just walk away and continue on with your business.
- Don’t back down. Name the behavior and walk away. Most sources on harassment agree that neither escalation nor inaction is effective. In other words, don’t yell back and don’t just take it, because that gives the harrasser tacit license to get more out of hand. Try firmly saying, “You’re making me uncomfortable and I’m leaving now,” and walking away.
- If it feels safe to do so, document the event. Take a picture of the harasser. Please do NOT tweet or Facebook it – that’s perilously close to the antis’ “hit list” tactics. Show it to one of our security team.
- If the aggressive person won’t leave you alone, you can look for one of the Stand With Texas Women coalition security team. They’ll be in orange shirts with Support Staff badges on lanyards, and they are trained to de-escalate situations and help you get safe.
- If you are assaulted, please seek out law enforcement. At the Capitol, that’s the Department of Public Safety officers – the folks in khaki and cowboy hats. I understand that there will also be some Austin Police Department presence. I understand that it’s easy for me to say, “Just go to the cops,” since I’m well-off and white. I know some of y’all, particularly people of color, will not be comfortable doing so. Coalition security staff will do their best for you, but if you feel that a crime has been committed, we encourage you to seek out law enforcement.
IF YOU SEE SOMEONE BEING HARASSED:
- Try to re-direct the harasser’s attention. Much like a toddler, sometimes an angry person can be distracted. Doing something simple and neutral like politely asking them for the time can distract the harasser long enough for the harassed to make their escape. (Hat tip to Hollaback! for this tactic)
- Alert our security team. Again, look for people in orange shirts with Support Staff badges on lanyards.
- Document it. Take a picture of the harasser. Please do NOT tweet or Facebook it - that’s perilously close to the antis’ “hit list” tactics. Show it to one of our security team.
- If you don’t know the person being harassed, don’t touch them. Your intentions may be good. But some folks find stranger touch more harmful than helpful. You can offer your hand or a hug, but take “no” for an answer.
- Be sensitive to the needs of the person being harassed. For survivors of relationship and/or sexual violence, having a big anti-choice dude screaming in their face can be not just scary, but triggering. Pandora’s Box has some great tips for supporting survivors; scroll to the bottom for how to support someone who is triggered.
LEAVING THE CAPITOL LATE?
- Stay on the paths and/or where it is well-lit. Just good common sense.
- Partner up for safety. We will have a “Partner Up” area in the north lobby (1st floor of main building – see map below) where you can get a buddy to help you get home safely. Some ideas: if you and your buddy both drove, walk together to whichever car is closer or in a safer location, then drive the other person to their car. If you have a car close by, you can partner up with someone who needs to get to a bus stop or a hotel – y’all can walk together to your car and then you can drop them where they need to go.
TIPS FOR SURVIVORS OF VIOLENCE: (from the wonderful María Limón of the National Domestic Violence Hotline)
- You know yourself better than anyone. Decide what your participation is going to be based on what your threshold may be.
- Don’t go alone. Go with a friend. Make a plan ahead of time and consider these questions: When do I know it’s time to retreat and hang out some place safer? When do I know it’s time to disengage from any conversation or dynamic? When do I know it’s time to go home?
- Don’t just sit with any of the feelings that can come up. Plan on meeting up with friends after the event to take turns listening to each other about what came up for them. There is strength in numbers; there is power in numbers; there is sisterhood in numbers. Avoid the tendency to isolate because it feels safer. It really isn’t. It’s far safer to surround yourself with people who are loving and supportive, even if they don’t understand everything that’s going on for you.
Survivors and others who need safe space during stressful, crowded situations: please know we are working on getting a quiet room. I will post the location as soon as I have it. It’s been hard reserving rooms at the Capitol lately, and we may not have a quiet room until later in the day. Another option is to go outside with a buddy and find some relative quiet on the Capitol grounds. Just keep in mind that the antis are having their rally from 7:00 – 9:00PM on the south steps.
Y’all take care of yourselves and each other. And as always, thank you for continuing to stand with Texas women and fight for reproductive justice in Texas.
BIG DISCLAIMER: I am not a lawyer, a cop, a shrink, etc. None of this constitutes legal advice, and I can’t guarantee that any of this will work. I’m just sharing some resources we collected and making some suggestions. Wherever possible, I have pointed you at professionals.