Earlier today, word got out that Jennifer Fox, a pregnant woman who was pepper-sprayed at an Occupy Seattle protest, had a miscarriage.
Police had insisted after the attack, which also resulted in the pepper-spraying of an 84 year old, that the chemical weapon is not more dangerous for some than others. Obviously, to anyone with common sense, this isn’t true. But even if you take this statement as true, if pepper spray isn’t more dangerous for some than others, it’s clearly dangerous for everyone. That’s why it’s, you know, a weapon.
In addition to being pepper sprayed, Fox was also kicked at least twice in the stomach–even though she screamed multiple times that she was pregnant.
But honestly, I expect this shit from cops, as much as it infuriated me. What was even more revolting–did you know such a thing was possible?–was the responses I saw from sexists across the internet. These were not pulled from dark corners of internet chatrooms. These were some of the comments I saw on Facebook, where my lefty friends had posted the story in a rage.
“I wouldn’t have even brought my dog to an OWS protest much less a child or pregnant wife/partner/girlfriend whatever…looking at responses to OWS in New York (pepper spray, use of batons), and Oakland (pepper spray, tear gas, batons), would YOU personally be ok with allowing a woman you know to be pregnant to put herself in a situation where there is even the slightest chance that the police would use force?…I see a trend and the trend would be one where if I was on either side of the demonstration I’d fear for the safety of women much less pregnant women. If its “wrong” or not for such people to protest is an erroneous point to me, I see danger to women and would act accordingly.”
“why hang around pregnant when shit’s hitting the fan?”
“Sure the police were unnecessarily violent. But it’s been going on for months now; it’s no surprise that something like that happened. It was totally irresponsible for her to be out there in her condition.”
“I don’t condone violence and I’m not saying what happened was a good thing. But maybe she shouldn’t have put herself and her baby in this situation to begin with. It’s called ‘responsible parenting’. Apparently this 19 year old isn’t ready for that…”
“I’m sorry but all these peaceful protests turn violent with the police…and she had to know and so did others that it would. I don’t go to “peaceful” protests because I am a mother and have to be whole for my children. I am all they have. Why didn’t she see that? Why couldn’t she have stayed out of it for her childs sake? I am disgusted with both sides on this one.”
(As a side note, if by chance you see something you wrote here, I’m not sorry. You should be ashamed.)
First, let me make something perfectly clear. Women are people. Women are human. And we have rights.
One of those rights is the right to self-determination. Fundamentally, women can make their own choices about their own bodies. Carrying a fetus doesn’t change that. This is not even close to being up for debate. It’s just how it is. Also, women and children should not be lumped together, though they so often are.
Why? Because children are dependent. Women are autonomous. Women can make their own decisions. The first comment above suggests that no women–no women at all–should be involved in the Occupy protests out of fear for their safety.
But there are other ways to defend Fox’s action–even though I shouldn’t have to.
The primary claim against her is that she should have stayed home from the protest to ensure the safety of the fetus. But how does one define safe? For most people, “safety” means having a place to sleep that is protected from the elements, having access to clean water, healthy food, and adequate health care. Fox is homeless, which means her safety was already severely violated–yet no one seemed to care about that. Her safety–and the safety of the fetus–only became a cause of concern when she challenged the very social structures that perch her on the margins of society. What is veiled as a “concern for safety” actually functions as a sexist form of social control, an attempt to frighten women into not exercising our constitutional rights. Glenn Greenwald wrote about this much more broadly on his blog earlier this week, but the fundamentals are the same.
Another argument against her is that when the crowd refused to disperse, the “action was no longer peaceful” (their words, not mine), and the police then acted within their right to pepper-spray and beat her. But there is no circumstance under which “refusal to disperse” legitimates violent attack–chemically or physically. Not for anyone. That the person who commits civil disobedience must accept their punishment as “right” is a legal fallacy. Fundamentally, when “unjust decisions are accepted, injustice is sanctioned and perpetrated,” noted Howard Zinn. “When unjust decisions become law, the government and its officials should be toppled.” The root question of it all is this: is the rule of law more important than the freedom of assembly?
The answer, quite clearly, is no. Laws, theoretically, are created to protect rights in the form of a social contract. In American society, laws protect class interests, and they are based on the domination of one (minority) class over another that constitutes the vast majority. This is not a social contract. It is social colonialism. The right to assemble supersedes the rule of law. Therefore, the police–and the people who gave the orders–were in violation, not Fox, not any of the protesters.
Instead, I argue that by participating in the Occupy Seattle protest, Fox not only acted within her human and legal rights, but she also acted incredibly responsibly–regardless of any pregnancy outcome she may have desired. Current austerity proposals would further undermine the safety she would be able to attain within society, and if she had chosen to carry the pregnancy to term (and not, you know, been beaten and pepper-sprayed) the level of safety she would have been able to provide for her child.
For many of us on the margins, at the bottom, we stand to benefit far more in the long term from a mass movement that restructures society, that ensures human needs and human safety come before the needs of profit and the protection of property. And I can think of no more moral or responsible action than fighting–at any pregnancy status–for a world free of exploitation, free of oppression, and certainly free of sexist bullshit like this.