We talked to leaders about the lessons learned from recent protest movements in Spokane, and what’s next in the long fight to protect abortion access.
Within hours of the announcement that the Supreme Court had stripped Americans of the federal right to an abortion, hundreds of protesters gathered in front of the Foley Federal Courthouse in Spokane to send a message: "Fuck that."
Elsewhere downtown, pop music rang from light-pole-mounted speakers and echoed through the streets as thousands of people picked up their Hoopfest packets. On the corner of Riverside and Monroe, though, the celebratory energy hit a wall of anger and anguish at the loss of a right and the fear that more — gay marriage, contraception, maybe even interracial marriage — are now on the line. It's a rallying cry that could push protesters past a hopelessness and into action for what pro-choice activists are warning will be a long fight.
“It's important to know that many of the people leading our opposition are connected to a notion that doesn't just view women as less than people,” said Jac Archer, organizer with the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane, “but views trans people as less than people, views gay people as less than people, views black and brown people as less than people. What do we say to that?”
Among the responses from the crowd, "Fuck that!" and "Hell no!" rose up to Archer.
The mood carried throughout. Whitworth professor Elisabeth Kraus, speaking near the end of the rally, shared her story about surviving two life-threatening pregnancies that required late-term abortions.
"I know that had I gone through the kind of pregnancy demise that I did in a state where abortion care was illegal, I would not have survived," Kraus said. "I would've died bleeding out in a car trying to get to a state that would help me."
In the crowd, another guttural scream. "Fuck that!"
"Yeah,” Kraus said, pausing her speech, “Fuck that."
At flashpoints like these, the fire of resistance burns bright. People come out in droves with handmade signs and chants ring through the streets. Organizers say gathering in these moments is crucial to build community and plot resistance. But signs and slogans alone don’t make change. The forces that overturned Roe last week began mustering nearly 50 years ago, and weathered decades of failure before breaking through. Do leaders for reproductive rights have a similar fight in them?
We talked to leaders about the lessons learned from recent protest movements in Spokane, and what’s next in the long fight to protect abortion access in Washington.
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In the summer of 2020, Spokane joined communities across the country in a sustained protest movement after the police-killing of George Floyd. This response, sparked not just by Floyd’s murder, but a spate of police violence against BIPOC communities nationwide and in Spokane, led to weeks of street protests and large gatherings in Riverfront Park.
Organizers say that summer’s protests have had lasting effects in Spokane and across Washington.
“Back in 2020, the massive uprising for racial justice and against state sanctioned violence against Black people [generated] huge amounts of energy that poured into the push for changes to legislation,” said Liz Moore, the executive director of the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane.
In the wake of those protests, the 2021 Washington legislature passed a dozen police reform bills that addressed issues like use of force in police stops, mandating the use of de-escalation tactics and background checks of law enforcement. At the time, Gov. Jay Inslee said the reforms, “work in coordination with one another to create a system of accountability and integrity stronger than anywhere else in the nation.”
In the year after the police reform laws passed, Washington saw a significant decrease in police killings. From 2020 to 2021, Washington experienced a 60% drop in police killings, the largest percentage decrease nationwide, according to public data compiled by Martina Morris, a professor emerita of Sociology and Statistics at the University of Washington and member of police accountability groups Next Steps Washington and the Washington Coalition for Police Accountability.
And while laws are designed to govern behavior, there’s evidence that protests themselves make change, according to a study published in the American Sociological Review. Susan Olzak, a professor emerita of sociology at Stanford University, surveyed nearly 20 years of civil unrest (2001-2019) and concluded, “locally focused protests against police brutality systematically [lowered] the subsequent number of police-involved fatalities of race and ethnic minorities.”
While Washington’s police reforms had a significant impact on police violence in 2021, they also faced pushback from conservatives and law enforcement. In this year’s legislative session, major changes to the 2021 reforms were debated by the state legislature. Eventually, three laws were passed that modified the police accountability reforms of the previous year to the disappointment of both law enforcement who felt they weren’t enough and police accountability activists who argued the modifications undid important new protections. The rollbacks allow police to use force when people are fleeing investigatory stops and permit the use of force to detain and transport people experiencing behavioral health crises.
Still, Moore said she believes engagement from the police accountability movement formed in the wake of 2020’s protests helped blunt the wholesale repeal of police reforms that law enforcement groups pushed for. “The thing about all movement building, is that you have to be responsive in the immediate term and looking at the long-term at the same time,” she said. “You need to be engaging in a way that keeps [people] sustained.”
As the realities of the post-Roe era set in, abortion providers stand ready to implement contingency strategies they’ve been preparing since the court declined to review Texas’s anti-abortion access law last November. On the same day the SCOTUS decision was announced, Spokane’s Planned Parenthood clinic hired a patient navigator who will help patients traveling from out-of-state find accommodations and access services and posted several new job openings, said Paul Dillon, the vice president of public affairs at Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho. On Monday, a different Planned Parenthood affiliate sued the state of Idaho to block its trigger law.
In Washington, the state government has been preparing to protect abortion access in the face of ongoing assaults on healthcare access in other states. In March, Gov. Inslee signed the Affirm Washington Abortion Access Act, which protects abortion providers and people seeking abortions from legal liability.
Increasing access to abortion in Washington will be critical to pregnant people seeking medical care as the United States balkanizes into pro- and anti-choice states. Over the next year, Planned Parenthood clinics in Washington are expecting a 385% increase in out-of-state patients, Dillon said.
"We've already seen patients from Texas flying up to Spokane," he said. At Friday’s rally, Dillon told the crowd a person from Utah called to schedule an appointment within hours of the decision being handed down. Right now, one of the main ways to support women’s healthcare access is to donate to the local Planned Parenthood’s hospitality fund, which supports pregnant people who need to travel for an abortion by providing money for transportation and accommodations. Planned Parenthood will also be canvassing throughout the month of July sharing information about abortion access in the community, Dillon said.
Sustained public protests against anti-abortion actions by the Supreme Court and state governments will play a critical role in determining future healthcare access.
“It’s critical to send a very loud and clear message that communities stand for abortion access,” Dillon said. “We have seen an uptick in supporter engagement and volunteers. The rallies and actions have been a really helpful way for us to connect to patient stories, which really help fuel this work because we need to do everything we can to de-stigmatize abortion and the way we do that is through stories and coming together.”
At Friday’s rally, organizers urged the people gathered to use that moment to connect with each other so they could keep organizing and keep encouraging each other for the long haul in the fight for abortion rights and to build personal and organizational resilience once threats to other rights emerge.
Ahead of the rally, Moore said the challenges ahead require both perseverance and joy. “There has to be time for things like urgent, rapid responses, and there has to be time for things like picnics and celebration, and there has to be times for education, and there has to be times for ongoing committee meetings that meet every couple weeks and continue and continue and continue,” she said. “And there has to be time for people to say, ‘I need to take a break.’ It can’t just be foot on the gas pedal to the floor all the time.”
While they also urged self-care and keeping perspective in the long-term, Archer warned the crowd that overturning Roe was just the beginning.
“Cases that allow same sex couples to be married and have that marriage recognized across the country, cases that allow people to have marital intimacy when they're of the same sex, cases that allow married couples of all kinds to use contraception to plan their families: those cases were thrown into question with this decision,” they said. “Don't let anyone tell you this is just a small thing and one right. This is the beginning of dominoes that we are about to stop and disrupt.”
- One of the main ways to support women’s healthcare access is to donate to the local Planned Parenthood’s hospitality fund, which supports pregnant people who need to travel for an abortion by providing money for transportation and accommodations.
- We listed local resources and places to donate on the page of our latest podcast too.