By Chloe Marina Manchester
On October 11 and 12, an anti-abortion group known as the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform (CBR) was on Red Square mounting a display they call “The Genocide Awareness Project”. There were signs set up around Red Square by the group alerting students to the graphic imagery of genocide, as well as a “post abortion crisis line” supported by the group. Members of the group stood behind a fence surrounding the large display and wore GoPro cameras filming students on Red Square and those interacting with the GAP volunteers.
The display at Evergreen was made up of seven 12×15 foot panels that depict aborted fetuses, Holocaust victims, a confederate flag, and images of other historic genocides. These images were juxtaposed with other signs saying “All Black Lives Matter” refering to the belief that abortions saught by black women are a form of genocide against African Americans.
Students received an email from Jennifer Drake, Provost and Vice President of Student Affairs, on October 9. The email alerted students to the demonstration, provided information on Evergreen’s free speech guidelines for students who wished to protest the anti-abortion display. The email stated, “According to the Washington State Attorney General’s office, CBR has the right to peacefully present their views in Red Square.” This is because Evergreen is a state school and thus a public campus which outside groups have the right to be on, provided they have a permit. However, faculty had information about this for about a week prior to students being informed and Evergreen’s administration had been working with them for weeks on permit issues.
There were faculty and staff volunteers positioned around Red Square and other parts of the main campus alerting students to the display, providing information on protest guidelines, and informing students of routes around campus that would allow them to avoid having to look at the graphic images.
While the display was up, roughly from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day, there were students holding signs opposing the display. On the second day of the display, students brought speakers and played pop music through Red Square to lighten the atmosphere and give student protestors something to dance to. Some of the signs held by students included, “My body, My choice,” “Thou Shalt Not Mess With People’s Reproductive Rights,” “Just ignore them and dance,” and “Roe v. Wade didn’t mark the beginning of people getting abortions, it marked the end of people dying from them.”
One pro abortion rights protesto said that they were out there to show other students that they are supported and that there are people standing up against the bigotry on display. Explaining, “The shaming that’s going on here and the fact that they’re taking this space away from us, that’s why I’m out here. I don’t think anybody should have to come here and see these awful things, ‘cause you don’t know what people have been through.” The counter protestors set up donations for Planned Parenthood in response to the display, one student said, “Just yesterday we received in cash or check donations almost $300 for planned parenthood.”
On the evening of the second day the display was up, college president George Bridges sent a school wide email saying, “I am particularly proud of the students who vigilantly held signs around the display for many hours, in the cold and rain, lawfully and effectively expressing their own views on reproductive rights. This openhearted, grass-roots counter-demonstration stood in strong contrast to the anti-abortion display.” Bridges concluded the email with a warning that, “We can expect more non-college groups to visit our campus this year and in years ahead. Our thoughtful response to this exhibit sent a powerful message to many who watch Evergreen and those who hope to study here.”
The CBR was founded in 1990 as a privately funded non profit “educational group.” The Executive Director of the CBR is Gregg Cunningham, a Republican former member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.
The group has been touring this display on college campuses across the United States and Canada since 1998.
Following the final tear down of the exhibit Thursday, student Michael Penhallegon attempted to organize a gathering to reclaim Red Square as a space for students. Penhallegon said, “The official thing is that they were just touring. […] All of a sudden we have student protests and they were like ‘hey!’ you’re just baiting at that point. And it just happened to start on National Coming out day. Holding these signs and yelling at these protesters is the shame shit we’ve been doing for ten years. I think Evergreen did the best that they could with the President they have.”