I am sitting in a hot little upstairs room in Santa Monica, surrounded by television cameras and listening to an attractive young woman talk about how to guard the doors when the war starts.
“You link arms,” Robin Schneider says, “and you line up in three rows in this manner.”
She demonstrates to the assembled reporters by placing maybe a dozen trainees near the door to the room and showing them where to stand.
“The reason you face in different directions,” she explains, “is if their people try to crawl through, they can’t.”
Next she uses the trainees to demonstrate an escort strategy, moving someone from here to there safely. Arms are linked again. Words like “combat” and “skirmish” creep into her language.
Strobe lights pop. Television cameras hum. On-camera news personalities nod authoritatively, the way they’ve been taught to do when they’re still trying to figure out what’s going on.
Schneider is executive director of the California Abortion Rights Action League, under whose auspices this combined press conference and battle demonstration is being held.
“Any questions?” she asks at the end.
It is the first day of spring. There is a faint aroma of Giorgio in the room. The whole thing is surreal.
Talk of war has got me thinking. “Is there a possibility they have spies here?” I ask.
“That’s possible,” Schneider says, waiting for my follow-up question. I have none. It was a whim of the moment.
I think about asking if anyone will parachute behind enemy lines but dismiss the idea.
“Is it possible you have infiltrated them ?” I finally ask.
“That’s possible,” Schneider says.
“Well, well,” I say, writing furiously in my mauve notebook and thinking that we never had mauve notebooks in the old days of newspapering.
Welcome to the war.
Today begins three days of confrontation during which those who oppose abortion will try to shut down the abortion clinics in Southern California. They’ll crawl through the doors if necessary and sit in.
It is also the beginning of a three-day period during which those who favor abortion will try to stop those who oppose abortion from shutting down the clinics in Southern California. They’ll link arms and stand firm.
The anti-abortionists call themselves pro-life advocates. The pro-abortionists call themselves pro-choice advocates.
You are either for life or for choice. If you favor choice, you’re a whore and a murderer, which are terms employed by the attackers. If you are pro-life, you are a sexist pig and a religious nut, which are terms employed by the defenders.
During the Korean War I tried to engage a gunnery sergeant in the relative merits of Communist ideology. “It don’t matter what their merits are,” the gunny replied. “Shoot them.”
Wars are like that. We don’t expect any shooting during what the anti-abortionists call the Holy Week of Rescue. But there will be a kind of cultural violence unleashed upon us all. Hatreds will explode like missiles. Words will wound like bullets.
I talked to a woman earlier this week who couldn’t wait to shut down the abortion clinics. “God will prove us right,” she said, her voice rising. “He will crush them and bless us!”
“Shoot them,” the gunny had said.”
“We are here to prepare ourselves for the skirmish this week and to be troops in the battles ahead,” Robin Schneider says into a cluster of microphones at the press conference.
Behind her is a large poster: “Keep Abortion Safe and Legal.” Lady Liberty holds her torch high.
“You are heroes in defense of our civil rights,” actress Brynn Thayer says. She’s a regular on the series “TV 101.” No press conference is complete without a celebrity, however scant and temporary fame might be.
“We are not vigilantes,” Schneider says to the trainees. “We do not want to do anything to increase the level of conflict in the three days ahead. Do not wear dangly earrings!”
I write that down, but it occurs to me that I don’t know why the defenders of the clinics shouldn’t wear dangly earrings. “The pro-lifers grab for them,” a pro-choicer explains later. “Necklaces too.”
The gunny had said to me, “Write your mother while she’s still alive and don’t worry about the other side.”
Ah, war. Ah, spring. How strange.