Free Speech in Thames

Thames Time

I was once given a Tamborine and asked to join in what seemed to be a mass gathering of people with somewhere to go. I had nowhere to be so I took hold of the Tamborine and joined the march. I later learned that it was a demonstration against some of the oil giants by a left leaning environmentalists. Interesting because at that stage I was still a member of the Green Party.

After that I took part in what I thought was an all too peaceful protest as a response to the war in Iraq. The group seemed too content to stick to the footpath as we made our way from the centre of a city to the middle of a large and populous park. That time I was prepared with anti war slogans painted on my person and an over ambitious desire to walk in and into the flow of traffic.

These days I lean more to the right, though political ideology is very much in submission to theology. It’s been over ten years since I’ve been part of anything resembling a public demonstration but today it was rekindled as I shared a street corner with former comrades representing ALRANZ.

A much more peaceful demonstration, I stood holding a sign that refuted the notion that abortion is a matter of social Liberty. Featuring an image of what I guess was a 16 week old preborn human being, the sign said “Abortion is not my choice.”

But why was I there? Why I had I gotten up in the dark, kissed goodbye to my family to arrive in Thames at 7:15?

Once a week, every weeks or five years, a small but faithful group of men and women have stood near the Thames hospital offering those considering abortion another option. Organisational and independent voices converging around a common cause: to love and support women and their children.

Recently there has emerged a counter-demonstration. Calling for an end to the supposed harassment and judgement of women seeking to exercise their bodily autonomy, representatives of ALRANZ have begun to take their place alongside the faithful. Their claims suggest that the peaceful sidewalk attendants are contributors to the shame and stigma surrounding abortion. Their signs and banners reflected that with slogans like “Stop the harassment of women accessing abortion” and “Stop judging…” along with “Toot for choice”. And toot they did.

Thames Time

The counter demonstrators out numbered “us” but despite my satirical comments and news of previous weeks gatherings I felt neither fear nor intimidation. Rather, a spirit of peace was very much resident within my heart as I faced passing traffic with my sign.

In their attempt to politicise the situation, the ALRANZ representatives, one of whom is an employee of the local body council, have pushed for demonstration by permit only. And so the opposing groups have each applied and were granted permits to stand on the same corner one the same day at the same time. What I saw in miniature today has apparently been more aggressive as the ALRANZ group jostled for prime position. And unlike other weeks, today there were no chants, no slander, any noise coming in response to the “Toot for choice” sign.

There, on the adjacent corner, stood Daniel. Another employee of the local body council, it seems Daniel was there to ensure permit conditions were being adhered to. Boldly, wanting a panoramic shot of the action, Kate approached the adjacent corner and in addition to photos got into conversation with Daniel. Kate was able to question the lucidity of the situation, especially as it related to the councils issuing of permits and the alleged harassment. No sooner had the conversation become fruitful than Daniel’s coworker interrupted, gaining his attention and spouting some diatribe about having to call on some men after previously feeling unsafe.

Permitted our position until 9:30 am, the ALRANZ crew rolled up their banners shortly after 9, leaving the faithful to continue their quiet presence, before promptly disassembling.

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