Paying Prolife Protesters
Back in August (or perhaps even earlier) I started to see in some Franciscan University student and alumni groups that a classmate and former acquaintance of mine, Ella Witt, had been hired by a prolife organization called the Susan B. Anthony List. She began posting in those groups, announcing that the organization was paying money to people who would attend their protests, usually offering $100-$150 dollars to each protester, transportation to the protests, and a provided lunch.
At the time, I messaged Ella about this and asked her for more information about the organization and the protest opportunities she kept advertising. I found this practice from the SBA List to be really disturbing and, to my mind, unethical. This organization was bussing individuals from out of state to attend protests, and they paid them, fed them, and provided transportation. No, paying protesters isn’t illegal and both sides do it, but it has always seemed underhanded and dishonest to me. It still does.
Look, I used to be deep in the old pro life movement.
Before I turned 16 I had helped a friend organize a 40 Days for Life weekly vigil protest outside our local Planned Parenthood (which, by the way, didn’t perform surgical or chemical abortions). I have attended the annual March for Life at least 7 times. I now no longer am able to align myself with this movement, due to the deep sexism and racism haunting it’s every move and it’s wanton embrace of our esteemed orange Leader, Donald Trump. And now I deeply regret my previous blindness to these issues that imbue the movement to its very core.
(I do, however, fully support the efforts and mission of the New Pro Life Movement. But that’s a story for another time.)
But that my current disillusionment is not why Ella’s “ads” for paid protesting gigs last summer caught my attention. Rather, her peppy posts irritated my past memories of my own pro-life days, of my ardently republican father and his family demeaning what they considered “weak” democrat union protesters who were paid to protest, as though they had no integrity. That was something we prolife protesters would never succumb to, they implied, patting themselves smugly on the back. And yet, here I was, seeing classmates of mine tagging along cheerfully, getting paid more than a McDonald’s worker would earn for a full day’s grueling shift, more than my mother makes in a day as en elderly caregiver, simply to stand and smile at some cameras.
This might sound like old news, but it isn’t.
About a month and a half ago, I saw Ella advertise again in those same FUS groups about yet another paid protesting opportunity. I rolled my eyes and scrolled by, but then a friend, a current student at FUS, pulled my attention back to it. He invited me to go along with him and his friends, since it was “easy money,” as I recall him putting it.
I followed up with him that day or the next. He had been paid $50 to get bussed to Pittsburgh (less than an hour from our home in Steubenville, Ohio), stand outside a courthouse for 15 minutes, and ride the same bus back.
$50 to stand outside on a clear spring day for 15 minutes and make an appearance for the cameras.
This struck me as very odd, so I went back and did some digging. I found the article that appeared last August from West Virginia reporter Jesse Wright about those original protests I saw Ella advertising in the Facebook groups. What I missed last summer was that those original protests were meant to pressure senators and other politicians into confirming Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Brett Kavanaugh. You read that right:
The organization has been touring several states during the past few weeks, urging democratic senators like West Virginia’s Joe Manchin to vote to confirm Kavanaugh.
Last week, about 30 people, including eight or so children, gathered outside Senator Manchin’s office in Fairmont. They held signs saying things like “confirm Kavanaugh” and “I Vote Pro Life.” Almost everyone who attended the rally was from out of state.
-Jesse Wright, WV Public
This pro life group, the SBA List, is named after woman’s rights activist Susan B. Anthony.
That woman, born in 1820, is best known for her activism in favor of women’s suffrage. While yes, she was opposed to abortion, she was most ardently in favor of the protection and empowerment of women. She is arguably a mother of the modern feminist movement.
I’m not the only one writhing under that grotesque irony, right?
That this group used the name of a famous, strong women’s rights activist as they paid people and bussed them to protests in favor of the man who allegedly sexually assaulted Dr. Christine Blasey Ford in a horrific manner. Whether you believe his victim or not (I sure as hell do), you must acknowledge the harm that his nomination and the ensuing shit show did to assault survivors everywhere, including myself and my mother.
This enrages me, as it should enrage anyone who supports women and their freedom, safety, and autonomy. You can call yourself prolife if you want, but it will mean nothing to me if you do not hold the same value for women as you do for their children.
If I had any shred of hope left that the old pro life movement supports women and their safety, it’s gone.
P.S. Lest you optimistically think this group has learned from their past, guess again. According to “SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser’s Remarks at 2019 Campaign for Life Gala”:
This election cycle, SBA List will spend 41 million dollars expanding to priority states. We will work closely with local allies on the most ambitious pro-life legislative agenda in history to aggressively challenge, erode, and finally, overturn Roe v. Wade.
We will do this on top of protecting our pro-life Senate majority, increasing our ranks in the House, and re-electing President Trump.
(Emphasis mine. In case you missed it. You’re welcome.)
Image Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/infomatique/5894923002