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Throwing Chairs at Phil Donahue

11:11 pm in Uncategorized by alabamagunn

Looking back, the felicity with which the media tracked down victims in a pre-internet world was unsettling. After my Dad’s assassination on March 10, 1993, my mom, sister, friends, and I huddled around the television watching news coverage of the killing, and it did not strike me as significantly odd when the phone started ringing with reporters on the other end. After all, there were phone books and news reports indicating Dad had family in Birmingham—how they knew our location is another mystery as they thought and reported, incorrectly, that we were from Pensacola for some time—and Gunn is a fairly uncommon name. So some persistent wrong dialing would eventually result in a match right?

A TV News Van

David Gunn, Jr, on encounters with the media after his father’s murder.

Yet, when we finally worked out the details of the funeral and opted to bury Dad in Tennessee next to my matriarchal grandfather, we headed out to Winchester on March 11, and I assumed that moving northward would lessen the phone’s incessant din and give us an opportunity to grieve before having to face any media additional media blitz.

The visitation was on Friday, March 12, and the funeral was scheduled for Saturday, March 13. Our planning was complicated by a familial dispute over where the actual funeral and burial would take place. Dad’s family wanted him moved to Benton, Kentucky so he could be close to them; however, after the apocalyptic Thanksgiving just four months prior when Dad cut all ties with his patriarchal family, my sister and I a) did not envision an occasion that would bring us to Benton so a burial there meant we would not be able to visit dad in the future, and b) we felt it best to keep him with the family that did not abandon him and Winchester, we felt, was the best location.

Secondarily, but no less importantly, getting the body from Pensacola, Florida to Winchester, Tennessee while simultaneously getting us and our friends from Birmingham to Winchester proved hazardous given an approaching winter storm unlike any experienced in the South. In fact, were it not for the blizzard in Alabama and southern Tennessee, the funeral would have truly become a national media circus.

Alas, just as they did in Birmingham, the national media found us in Tennessee. People magazine had reporters on the ground asking for interviews as we tried to organize visitation and funeral services. In fact, they caught us on the steps of the funeral home, wanted to interview us on the spot, and quickly snapped some photos outside the picturesque antebellum home converted to funeral parlor and chapel. Similarly, the visitation was punctuated by reporters from everywhere, looking to talk with one or more of us family to get our personal reaction to recent events. In fact, I have vivid memories of talking with a reporter in the funeral home’s basement breakroom while the visitation was ongoing. Having never experienced anything even remotely close to these requests, I tried to be accommodating and polite while silently wishing for some peace. I just wanted to be with my Dad.

The snow hit Winchester the night of the visitation after everyone staying with us made it back to my grandmother’s house. We wondered if the funeral service could continue given the weather developments, and for a few moments the incessant phone ringing abated. While my friends and I toasted my Dad with bourbon and Coors Light we shared stories, laughed, and forgot about the real for a few moments.

On Saturday, March 13 we buried Dad in a snow covered cemetery in Winchester, Tennessee. Of course, media were on hand and they obtained a number of grieving money shots to litter their pages the next day. Some reporters wanted to talk and asked for comments, but it was cold, we were listless, tired, and veritable emotional vegetables so we finished at the graveside, said goodbyes, and huddled back to my grandmother’s to eat, drink, and blunt ourselves so we could get some much needed mental and physical rest.

I’ve never attended anything but a Southern funeral so I do not know if the food avalanche which follows the graveside service is a regional thing or something which is region neutral, but we had a houseful of guests who all brought comfort food for the family. As on the previous night, my friends and I ate and then retired downstairs and engaged in some subdued grief laden mild debauchery. As the day progressed, alcohol flowed, pipes glowed, and I finally relaxed to an extent thinking the gadfly reporter circus moved on to the next American tragedy when the phone rang again.

Mimi’s downstairs phone was one of those old Ma Bell wall mounted affairs with the eight foot spiraled cord and rotary dial. Someone yelled from upstairs where the adults had congregated since I was six and told me the phone was for me. I hesitated before answering, not wanting to answer another question about how it felt, how it feels, what would you say to Griffin, and other questions designed to draw a tear or presage a breakdown.

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The Funeral

9:49 pm in Uncategorized by alabamagunn

Open or closed?  His question hung in my head, a mental metronome undulating. Open or closed?  It did not serve as a mantra used to focus the mind.  No, the attendant’s question precluded focus and only intensified mental molestation as it required an answer.  One would think we could agree upon an answer with relative ease.  For me, though, still reeling at the thought of another funeral, the question hung weightless.  I knew before asked I preferred closed; yet, there was my mother and sister to consider as well as those only a few months ago dad shunned after the nuclear Thanksgiving not yet four months past but who were certain to come, understandably, to bury their boy.  Open or closed?

An open casket

On burying an assassinated abortion doctor.

After mom decided we would have a “proper” funeral, after struggling with the patriarchal Gunns on the funeral’s location, and after, against my wishes, a cremation was vetoed, open or closed was the last pressing question.  We already viewed the casket show room, kicked the tires if you will, and settled on a practical and accommodating model.  We perused the menu of services and opted for the large chapel as we anticipated a crowd.  Though dad was not religious, I did not object too harshly when my maternal grandmother offered up her preacher to perform the service.  It was yet another peace offering of sorts to the other family who would most assuredly object to a more secular service.  Open or closed, though, remained unsettled.

My steadfast closed opinion was due to the ghost of funeral’s past.  I still remember the first time I touched a dead body, a husk of what was.  I was seven or eight years old at my great-grandmother’s funeral.  I was intrigued by death as the too young often are, and my cousins and I dared each other to touch her one last time.  I remember only cold.  Over the intervening years, I attended other great aunt’s, uncle’s, grandparents, and eventually friends’ funerals with some regularity.  Coming from a small town as I do, when a teenager dies, you know them even if you don’t, and you attend the funeral in any event as you would any other social or church function.  There is no question.  You go.

When I was 15 a friend shot himself with a .22 caliber rifle ending his relatively young life—he was 22, coincidentally, I believe—and I vividly remember his lifeless body and how obviously different he looked.  I cannot see his animated face for the memory of his death face and the obvious attempts to mask the bullet in the head.  Four years later after other suicides and drunk driving tragedies, at another open casket affair after my 20 year old friend killed himself and his girlfriend in a drunken single car wreck, I watched his father wrench his carcass from the coffin attempting to shake him back from Tartarus or wherever. I was a pallbearer and even at 19 understood this father’s grief at the loss of his son though I was unnerved by this large and strange man’s sudden grief-epiphany.

Closed.  I am decidedly closed.  My mom and sister both want to see dad, to say goodbyes, to grieve in their own way.  I am sure others want the same.  Who am I to selfishly deny others what may bring some peace?  We reach a compromise.  Visitation for family and close friends is open, but the funeral itself is closed.  I attend the visitation, but my last vision of dad remains the day he left my apartment three days before his murder, and I never see him lifeless and still.  Closed.

The visitation and funeral itself could have been one like any other but for the facts of dad’s death, the media frenzy which followed, and the freak southern blizzard of 1993 which significantly impeded what otherwise promised a SRO funeral.  In fact, many people I later met and subsequently befriended told me they fully intended to come to Tennessee for the funeral but were snowed out.

Before we even confronted the impish funeral director’s open or closed query, the media landed, a harbinger of the coming real storm.  Back in ’93 I still had some fairly strong illusions of privacy, and we were amazed at the speed with which the press located us in Winchester, Tennessee when dad was killed in Pensacola, Florida, and my sister, mom, and I lived separately in Birmingham, Alabama.  Yet, they sherlocked us down looking for the human interest angle to a controversial and promising long term story.  They started calling, obviously, the day the assassination occurred.  It did not relent as we prepared for a memorial and funeral.  Open or closed, indeed.

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A Family Aborted

12:47 pm in Uncategorized by alabamagunn

IMG_0459

Tombigbee River

Sudden violent death creates concentric ripples which spread ever wider washing and crashing over the immediate family on to extended family, friends, and colleagues. Those ripples ebb back to the deceased’s family. Sometimes, what rolls back is sympathy and genuine compassion. In other instances, a dangerous rip tide threatens to pull the family back into gothic familial deep water where the recently aggrieved find themselves struggling to maintain their footing and keep from drowning in those passive aggressive human voices whose motives are more self-centered than benevolent, more angry than comforting.

The men from my dad’s side of the family met each Thanksgiving weekend at a hunting cabin in Pickens County, Alabama. It is in actuality an old farm house adjacent to the Tombigbee River surrounded by grazing land for cattle and a combination of pulp and hard wood trees unique to the south. What started as a weekend of hunting and drinking two generations prior was now an occasion for the patriarchal Gunn family to meet, enjoy supposed fellowship, watch football, talk politics, and share a few meals—the drunken part of the weekend long banished once my grandfather became the family head. He and his eldest son, my uncle, devoutly subscribed to fundamental Christianity of the hair shirt variety so drunkenness was soon off the weekend’s agenda.

My history with my dad’s side of the family was strained at best due in large part to events prior to my birth. My grandfather expected his children to remain close in proximity and obedient to his will even in adulthood. Most of my aunts and uncles never left Benton, Kentucky a rural western Kentucky town that remained segregated as late as the 1980s which was the last time I had any reason to visit where they were born and either entered into the family insurance business or started other business ventures funded with grandfather’s wealth. Though his parents pushed dad to take up medicine as a career, I always felt they wanted him to return home to practice after meeting the right woman (meaning one they approved), marry, and live their idea of an idyllic Christian American lifestyle.

While an undergraduate at Vanderbilt, my dad met my mom. It was an odd relationship bordering on taboo in that they were distantly related and even shared the same last name. As if out of some stereotypical Appalachian folk tale, their father’s knew each other, had grown up together in rural Tennessee, and dad’s grandfather and father fucked my mom’s dad in a business deal which haunted my mom’s dad and tainted his relationship with his cousin/future in law for the rest of his life. I do not know when the respective parents found out about the illicit relationship, but I know neither side approved initially. My mom had to tell her parents when she found herself pregnant in the late 60s with what was to be my older brother. Her father, looking out for his daughter’s welfare, concerned what people would say (about the relationship generally and a child out of wedlock specifically), and distrustful of the paternal half of the relationship, offered her a way out of the pregnancy. Though abortion was illegal, he knew people and offered to arrange one for his young pregnant daughter to save her the embarrassment of single motherhood in 1968 and to prevent a stigmatized union with a family he strongly mistrusted.

Ultimately, mom and dad married and opted to have Chuckie. My mom’s parents accepted the marriage and though dad’s family feigned happiness, looking at how events developed over the years, I believe they never accepted or supported the marriage and looked on their children—and future grandchildren–as abominations. When my older brother died in a car crash as an infant, I think dad’s family secretly hoped it would end the shameful marriage that compromised their beliefs and socially embarrassed them. I also believe they felt it was the result of some divine justice for a sinful relationship. Chuckie’s death, though, kept my parents together, and as my dad finished medical school at the University of Kentucky, I was born in the fall of 1970.

After entering into what his parents considered an incestuous relationship, dad broke the unwritten family code by moving his family out of Kentucky via Nashville, TN to south Alabama upon completion of his residency at Vanderbilt University Hospital in 1977. For an old southern patriarch with deep religious convictions, this decision, I believe, solidified the rift between son and father: a rift my sister and I would suffer though we had no part in its creation but because we were the embodiments of dad’s sin and betrayal.

The Faulknerian twists of my family took years to unravel and now that most of the principals are gone, I still have only a fraction of what I can only describe as something resembling understanding; yet, I realized by early adolescence I wanted limited interaction with my paternal grandparents. After turning away from their faith at an early age and in light of their distance toward my sister and I, my summer visits stopped just before I turned 13 leaving the Thanksgiving get away my only regular contact.

By the Thanksgiving trip of 1992, I attended college in Birmingham and was dating a woman who asked that I spend the holidays with her family. Dad called me on Monday Thanksgiving week and asked that I go with him to the cabin. I refused and told him I had plans, adding that I did not want to see those people (his family) anyway. He asked again to the point of telling me I was going whether I liked it or not. Our relationship was strained, at best, since he and my mom divorced when I was 13, but we were making in roads toward piecing it back together. Due to his persistence and despite my reservations, I agreed to meet him in Aliceville with the intention of spending the long weekend with his family.

This year’s trip was mere days after Clinton defeated Bush 41 and with that victory came the hope that 12 years of harsh, trickle down conservatism was at an end. Conservatives nationwide were shell shocked and angry to the point of histrionics similar to what our current president experiences. Anti-Clinton propaganda and conspiracy theories were rampant even before he took office. The country was seriously divided then—almost foretelling how it is now, and the anti-big government conspiracy theorists’ tales only heightened a pejorative Clintonmania. In this atmosphere, my dad and I drove up to the cabin where our bathed in blood Christian Conservative moral majority relatives waited.
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A Man Can Have a Fine Voice, but This Does Not Keep Him From Making a Fine Corpse

8:34 pm in Uncategorized by alabamagunn

David Gunn, Jr. is the son of David Gunn, Sr., the first abortion doctor to be assassinated by an anti-abortion gunman.

Dear M and S,

I do not ask for understanding, but comprehension. You both have questions. Some I’ve answered, insinuated, or obscured for the normal parental reasons. I owe you, though, the story as I remember it so you may understand through comprehension how dangerous it is, even in the 21st Century, to contradict and undermine conventional thinking. I hope our family’s historical facts illustrate our ongoing obligation to confront fundamental Pentecostal thinking so we move forward, not backwards. I am now a mere four years younger than your grandfather when one blinded by fundamentalism and the hate it naturally engenders created a symbol of the man who you never knew.

I last saw my father on Sunday, 7 March 1993. We did not see each other often, but we talked with relative frequency and were repairing a fairly entrenched rift in our relationship that began 10 years prior when he left our family for another woman after moving us—your grandmother, aunt, and I—to a shit small hovel of an antiquated old southern town in Alabama split between the poles of old blue blood southern aristocratic antebellum money and dirt floor poverty. Dad came and stayed the weekend with me in Birmingham as he did infrequently. Three days before his visit, I’d had my wisdom teeth removed. He called, as he was want to do, late in the afternoon on Thursday or Friday and announced he was coming into town and would be staying with me. It was a conversation like any other and I don’t recall any real detail other than he was coming.

I know he stayed over at least Saturday and Sunday 6 and 7 March 1993. I have no memories whatsoever of Saturday night; yet, I do vividly remember Sunday dinner, can still see the round wooden table and mismatched chairs I took from home when I moved away in 1989, and know we grilled cow protein of some form or another—it was probably a New York Strip as I’d not developed an appreciation for the rib eye yet. Due to the recent dental surgery, the steak, though cooked appropriately, was difficult to chew which made it more difficult to swallow. We enjoyed our meal, some more than others, while Billie Holliday gently but huskily sang in the background. Our conversation drifted from school, to my sister—she was 17 and in the final days of her senior year, to politics—President Clinton had just been inaugurated, to my progress in school, and to his work.

Dad explained the protesters were becoming ever more aggressive and confrontational. The few protesters I personally encountered a few years prior when I traveled the circuit with dad were the typical abortion porn sign holders and silent layers of hands. In my teen years, I found his weekly schedule nothing but normal though it took him from our small town hell to Columbus, Georgia then to Montgomery, Alabama, then to Mobile, Alabama, and finally to Pensacola, Florida only to resume anew the next week. Other kids’ parents traveled so what was so different about his schedule? I did not figure out until much later that he made this circuit because no one else would. I certainly never took it a logical step further and deeper to ask why no other local doctor in Columbus, Montgomery, Mobile, and/or Pensacola serviced these clinics. It was my normal and I was 14 when I first started driving him on some of his trips; yet, as we discussed the present situation, I noticed he seemed preoccupied. We finished our meal, drained a few more beers, and awoke March 8 and said our goodbyes.

I was aware clinics were bombed in the past and even asked him once if he ever worried about one of the clinics he serviced getting attacked. He reassuringly told me it did not concern him, and he went on with his day. Over the weekend of his last visit, though, I thought about the heightened protests, and the ever increasing threats of violence; additionally I remembered my mom calling me one afternoon about a year before this final visit to tell me strangers were in town passing out wanted posters of dad which included his weekly schedule. When that incident occurred, he again brushed off our concern and said he was not preoccupied with the actions of some crazies.

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Go and Tell the Grandchildren

7:29 am in Uncategorized by alabamagunn

A few days ago we were driving along the pine and oak dappled streets passing the brick and wooden houses we pass everyday on the way home. We saw ranchers, split levels, and A-frames as well as the odd gentrified monstrosity that was formerly a 50s, 60s, or 70s styled family home but is now some garish example of conspicuous consumption out of place among the two and three bedroom homes in our neighborhood. Those houses. Damn, they reek of pride and anticipation that soon, very soon, they shall overcome their common surroundings occupied by elderly holdouts and first time buyers as if they are a giant extended middle finger to those adjacent and across from their projected omnipotence.

a graveyard

Explaining the death of Dr. David Gunn to his grandchildren.

We rounded Teller Lane turning left as we passed the soccer and basketball goals in the yard of the family on the corner.

She was beside me in the passenger’s seat and had not said much since I liberated her from those dastardly day care teachers—she hates daycare because they only give plain chips for snack, and though I appreciate her sentiment since I’m no vanilla chip fan, I’m glad her primary school stressor is chips because the pending divorce keeps her sufficiently distracted, confused, and just plain sad.  Typically, she is abuzz with grade school drama or wiped out from hard play—she is a self professed tom boy after all; however, today she was a bit pensive and hesitant.  I could tell something was clearly on her mind, and it appeared she was working out how to unwind the thread of thought as if in some Theban labyrinth.  I prompted and prodded her about her day without getting overly interrogational.  She is adept at avoidance.

She could sense our proximity to home meaning dinner anxiety, homework, and distraction combined with parental tension.  Quickly, and in a sense angrily, she unburdened herself, “Why don’t I have gandpas?”, she asked.  Her shoulders slumped forward slightly but her eyes engaged mine—as if my eyes regarded themselves—in fixed, intense precision awaiting parental profundity.

I was not surprised by the question. She has asked it before and asks some form of it regularly.  Perhaps, after learning to live in two separate houses as opposed to the one she’s known for seven years, she hoped to immerse herself in the past longing for heritage’s familial fealty; or, she could have merely been curious. Who truly knows the motivations of others much less those of the ones we love, and I love her to the moon and back which obviously means I’m an utter failure at discerning her unstated motivations.

I navigated these waters when the man-boy—your grandson is 16, 6’5’’, is a brunette Pa, and I’d describe him as an old soul if I believed in one—was growing up, and I attempted to answer his inquiries with honesty as opposed to supposed soothing southern platitudes ending in “better place,” “God’s ways are…” and/or “you’ll reconcile one day.” Yet, he knew his mom’s dad, had a close relationship with him for seven years, and, therefore, knew life with a cantankerous yet playful grandfather.  Michael’s death was the first man-boy experienced and it shook him terribly just as the recent death of our traditional family shakes my daughter who’s now the Inquisitor.

Prior to having my own children, I seriously studied and in some way practiced how I would answer the inevitable questions. Unlike the deaths of other forbearers, details of yours are as loaded as the gun that killed you. I knew I had to tell the grandchildren the truth at some point, and, if nothing less, thought a written record would best address the problem of evil I had to narrate. In the event I croaked prematurely, I wanted them to hear the stories from me—or in my words, but never mustered the courage to write the answers until now. 

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Abortion Rights Are at a Crossroads: This Is NOT a Time to Lay Low – It Is Time for Massive Uncompromising Struggle!

11:53 am in Uncategorized by alabamagunn

By Sunsara Taylor and David Gunn, Jr.

July 12, 2013

Across the country, people are waking up to the state of emergency facing the right to abortion. As legislators in Texas push hard to close down 37 of 42 abortion clinics statewide, new laws in North Carolina would close four of their five remaining clinics. Meanwhile, Ohio’s recently passed budget could close as many as three abortion clinics. North Dakota, on August 1st, may become the first state to effectively ban abortion. Already Mississippi’s last abortion clinic is merely an appellate ruling away from closure. We could go on.

take women's rights forward, not backward

Take women’s rights forward, not backward

If we do not reverse this trajectory now, we will condemn future generations of women and girls to forced motherhood, to lives of open enslavement, terror, and life-crushing shame. Women will be forced to have children they do not want, trapping them in abusive relationships, driving them into poverty, forcing them out of school, and extinguishing their dreams. Women will go to desperate and dangerous measures to terminate unwanted pregnancies, once again flooding emergency rooms and turning up dead women in cheap motels with blood caked between their legs.

We face two divergent roads: Either we seize control of the debate and reset the terms and whole trajectory of this fight; or we continue down the road of “established conventional wisdom,” only to awaken before long to an unrecognizable and untenable situation for women. What each of us does matters,and matters tremendously.

It is in this context that we initiated an Abortion Rights Freedom Ride. Our echo of the Civil Rights Freedom Rides is intentional and fitting. Women who cannot decide for themselves if and when they have children are not free. On the contrary, they are mere child-bearing chattel whose purpose is to serve and not actively choose their destinies.

Volunteers on this Freedom Ride will caravan from both coasts to North Dakota, traverse through the middle of the country into Wichita, and head due south to Jackson, Mississippi. Our aim is threefold: one, we must move beyond localized fights and launch a national counter-offensive; two, we must radically reset the political, moral, and ideological terms of this fight so that millions understand that this fight is about women’s liberation or women’s enslavement; lastly, and of paramount importance, we must call forth the mass independent political resistance that is necessary to defeat this war on women.

As the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride evolved from conception to genesis, many have responded with enthusiastic and unequivocal support. Regular people from across the country as well as those who have been on the front lines of the abortion rights struggle are joining with us in demanding abortion rights without compromise and thanking us for daring to travel to where women’s rights face harshest threat.

However, some who share our passion for the cause have raised concerns and even opposition to this action. They fear the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride will be too confrontational, too vociferous for abortion, and may turn off avenues of support.

Some have argued that it is wrong for people to come into local areas from the outside. Others argue that mass political protest will endanger the chances of winning important court cases and that it is better to rely on official channels of politics.

Because the future of women is at stake, we feel it is critical to address these concerns head on. In fact, it is exactly the faulty logic at the root of these concerns that has contributed to all of us finding ourselves in such a dire situation.

First, while local ground conditions are different and unique in some ways, the fact that every clinic and every state is facing heightened assault is not unique nor is it local. We all face a national assault on abortion rights which requires a national counter-offensive. Not only is it utterly immoral for us to abandon the women living in the states most under direct duress, it is delusional to think that what happens in states like Arkansas, Mississippi, North Dakota and Kansas will not come soon to a theater near you. Our futures are bound together and we all share the responsibility to take this on and turn the tide where the attacks are the most severe.

Second, while it is true that a great many people – including many who support abortion rights – are defensive about abortion, they should not be ashamed and this defensiveness and shame is precisely something we must eradicate.

Among the reasons many are defensive about abortion are decades of propaganda by those who oppose women’s equality but posture as defenders of “babies”; meanwhile, supporters of abortion rights have too often been conciliatory, muted, and compromising. This must stop. This fight has never been about babies. It has always been about controlling women. This is why there is not a single major anti-abortion organization that supports birth control.

If we want to turn the tide, we have to tell the truth: there is absolutely nothing wrong with abortion. Fetuses are NOT babies. Abortion is NOT murder. Women are NOT incubators.

A great many people are hungry for this message. They are furious and searching for a meaningful vehicle to make their outrage felt. It is only by asserting the positive morality of abortion rights that we can call forth and mobilize the tens of thousands who already share our resolve. Only through direct action and a polemical shift can all of us stand together and change how millions of others are thinking. Shouldn’t this emergency situation awaken us to the need tochange public opinion, not accommodate it?

History has proven that directly confronting oppressive social norms can be disruptive and scary; yet, it is a necessary and uplifting part of making any significant positive change. Many argued that it was wiser for LGBT people to stay closeted until society was more accepting; others counseled against the Civil Rights Freedom Rides out of fear that it would only rile up the opposition, but it was only when people took that risk and got “in your face” that broader public opinion and actions began to change.

We must create a situation where being anti-abortion is seen to be as socially unacceptable as it is to advocate lynchings, anti-LGBT violence, or rape (although, if you listen to some on the Right, rape advocacy is not necessarily off their table). When we reach that summit, we will be on our way to turning the tide.

Third, while court cases are important – even essential – it is only through truly massive independent political struggle that we stand a chance at defeating the truly unyielding and powerful foe we face. Every setback the anti-abortion movement experiences only makes them more determined and every victory only makes them more aggressive. They will not be appeased if we lay low. No court case or election or new law will stop them. Not only has the existing power structure proven unwilling or unable to do so, people who believe they are on a “mission from God” are not bound by human laws and do not yield to public opinion.

But they can be defeated. Forced motherhood is deeply opposed to the interests of humanity. If we get out there and tell the truth, if we resist, if we clarify the stakes of this battle, and if we mobilize wave upon wave of the masses to get off the sidelines and into the streets with us, we can win. There is a tremendous reservoir of people who can and must be called forth to join in this struggle. We have seen this vividly in Texas. Let us not underestimate the potential that exists in every state across this country.

We stand at a crossroads. For the future of women everywhere, let us refuse the worn pathways that have allowed us to lose so much ground. We must not lay low, hope these attacks will blow over, and allow women in some parts of the country to be forced into mandatory motherhood while hoping to preserve the rights of a shrinking few. We cannot continue to foster the attitude that abortion is the 21st Century’s Scarlet Letter while allowing abortion providers to be further stigmatized and demonized. We cannot recoil from the massive fight that urgently needs fighting at this moment in this time.

Now is the time for courage, for truth telling, for stepping out and launching an uncompromising counter-offensive. We have right on our side. We call on everyone who cares about the future of women to join with us in strengthening the national impact and influence of this Abortion Rights Freedom Ride. Join with us at our kick-off rallies in New York City and San Francisco in July 23. Caravan to meet us in North Dakota, Wichita, Kansas, and Jackson, Mississippi. Send a donation or a message of support. Reach out to individuals and religious communities that can provide safe passage to the courageous individuals who are giving up their summers and putting everything they have into winning a different and far better future for women. Most importantly, let us together take the rough road to victory. It may be less traveled, but only through struggle can we reap the benefits of love’s labor won.

To learn more about and get involved with the Abortion Rights Freedom Ride, go to:http://www.stoppatriarchy.org/

Sunsara Taylor writes for Revolution Newspaper (revcom.us) and is an initiator of the movement to End Pornography and Patriarchy: The Enslavement and Degradation of Women(StopPatriarchy.org)

David Gunn, Jr. is the son of David Gunn, Sr., the first abortion doctor to be assassinated by an anti-abortion gunman, and blogs for Abortion.ws

Photo from Steve Rhodes licensed under Creative Commons

Eternal Damnation

7:21 am in Uncategorized by alabamagunn

 

Sitting in Mrs. Croom’s third grade classroom during recess, copiously copying text from a random text book as punishment for some nine year old transgression I cannot recall or name, a girl sitting next to me on one of those round white tables with a black plastic border looked up from her science book, regarded me seriously and full of unmitigated and undeserved hate, and told me I was going to hell.  Here I was nine years old and condemned to hell wondering just what I did to deserve soul annihilation at the hands of an angry Satan and even angrier third grade girl.

It was quite an odd statement from a fellow classmate, and one that felt irrationally unjustified since my sin to innocence ratio at age nine, though I had smoked a cigarette, drank some beer, and had the beginnings of what would eventually become carnal thoughts (not hard to develop when you’re the son of a gynecologist and overly hormonal even for a nine year old), were nonetheless relatively new and certainly not worthy of eternal damnation in my estimation.  Being a damnation virgn so to speak, I asked her what justified my condemnation to everlasting suffering, and I recall she pointed to my T-shirt.

You have to realize, I discovered rock music at an early age and developed what we might now call a man crush on Kiss at age six or seven.  I had most of their records by third grade, even the shitty solo efforts each member released of which Ace’s was my favorite.  In fact, I was a proud card carrying member of the Kiss Army, and my room was adorned with all sorts of Kissmobelia.  Of course, in 1979, Kiss was widely known as Knights in Satan’s Service in certain circles in America especially those in the Bible Belt where I now found myself firmly planted.  Even at nine I realized the proposition that four New York pop rockers who wore clown make up and sang incessantly about sex were not Pied Pipers to Hell’s gate; yet, my first taste of damnation stung and troubled me for longer than I wanted to admit.  In fact, though I’m loathe and embarrassed to admit, they served as an introduction to fundamentalism to which I later succumbed as a result of relentless pressure and more eternal damnations.    

Of course, this was not the first time I contemplated my immortal soul’s fate or experienced fundamental Christianity. It was, though, the first time I was damned to hell–and by a nine year old ne’er-do-well sitting in detention with me at that!  My dad’s parents were about as fundamental as fundamental could be in the late 1970s, belonged to the Church of Christ, and were absolutely committed to their perceived duty to God.  Fortunately or not, during my early years up until I was around 11, I, like many others of my generation I suppose, was shipped off to my grandparents’ house each summer for at least a two week tour of duty.  Looking back on it now, it is odd how I relished going to visit my paternal Kentucky grandparents yet was oftentimes dismayed at the prospect of reciprocal time with my mom’s more progressive parents.  

I believe my Kentucky preference was highly influenced by the fact I had other cousins who stayed at my grandparents’ home who were the same age as me, served the same sentence as me, and ultimately made the stay enjoyable.  While we spent much of our time exploring the woods surrounding my grandparents’ house, a standing expectation was we attend any and all church function at the local Church of Christ.  If there was a teeming casserole potluck, we were at church.  If it was Wednesday afternoon, we were at church, and if it was Sunday—morning and night—we were at church. 

Now a fundamentalist Church of Christ, for those uninitiated in their machinations was a fairly terrifying prospect for a young person, and I was there each summer from post toddler age up to prepubescence.  They landed somewhere on the continuum of Cotton Mather/Jonathan Edwards on one hand and Pat Roberts/Jim Jones on the other:  apocalyptic, hyper suffocating, and always damning us to hell for half thoughts, half deeds, and potential eventualities which never came to pass.  In fact, if you recall, the late 70s and early 80s was a boon year for what became the moral majority and I was there to soak it up in all its majestic and twisted intimidation.   My uncle was the church choir director which was an interesting proposition as music in our church was strictly verboten aside from the unadorned human voice.  I guess a piano, organ (it referenced a sexual organ as everyone knows), or God forgive, a band was simply too indulgent for the fundamental faithful.  Moreover, my grandfather was a guest sermonizer who could pound his fist and speak of the approaching fall of man with the best of them.  As I grew up in this community each summer, not only did it become somewhat normal, but it exposed me to adults I found influential as well as cousins and peers in the community who were as want to list off mortal sins as the third grader who damned me to hell for a wardrobe choice.  As a result of warm embrasure in this close knit and insular community, I continued to wonder what I was doing to contribute to my soul’s eternal torment in a hell of rendered human fat while simultaneously wanting to please those around me.  

By the winter or spring of 1980, I took to wearing three piece suits, carrying a Bible with me everywhere I went, and essentially succumbed to numbing fundamentalism:  one which is inclined toward judgment and condemnation as opposed to unconditional love and forgiveness.  I also questioned my every action and motivation and wondered how they would contribute to my eventual residence in Satan’s abode.  Coming home to deep southern Alabama certainly reinforced my newfound rebirth as Southern Baptists are kissing cousins of the Church of Christ, and I eventually tried to purge myself of sin by burning the symbol of my selfish and sinful indulgence, my Kiss record collection.  Though it was one of my most shameful acts, the neighborhood Christjihadists urged me on to destroy the symbol of my eternal ruin.  Once the offending records of my sin were burned in their own hellfire of my creation, I felt a sense of what I can only describe as orgasmic bliss though I had no referent for orgasm at 10 or 11.  What I did have was an enduring fear that nothing I did would save my soul and even my pithy attempt at a burnt offering would fall on God’s deaf ear.

Oddly enough, in the summer of 1981 I returned to my paternal grandparents’ house for my yearly pilgrimage full of religious zeal and commitment.  Where I had been a rock-n-roll hellion on the proverbial Highway to Hell to some, I now accompanied the church on an out of state missionary trip to Illinois where we were housed with strangers, impressed with the worthiness of our cause for the eight hour or so bus trip, and spent the next few days going door to door attempting to sell Bible sets for our lord and savior to the unsuspecting public in the non-descript Illinois town in which we found ourselves.  I found the missionary trip stifling and intimidating, and, in retrospect, I wonder what the fuck the church was thinking when they sent tweens out unsupervised in a strange neighborhood to sell Bibles without the slightest concern of abduction, assault, or worse.

On the way back to Kentucky, as I thought over the experience, an older girl who accompanied us on the trip introduced me to what I can only affectionately call a dry hump but was probably closer to pedophilia.  I was certainly taken by her interest in me—and mine in her—while also absolutely terrified that her Eveish actions were ruining the yearlong soul searching salvation I so desperately sought to save me from the Lord’s rage.  As we pulled in to Benton, then separated into individual cars, and headed back to my grandparents, I was filled with awe and shame:  awed that a teenager would find an 11 year old the least bit interesting and attractive but shamed I let down God by acquiescing to bodily sin.  My misgivings were only reinforced when I heard my cousins talking about a girl they knew—or knew from a friend who knew—about a teenager who allegedly had sex.  I was rapt as they described how she would certainly go to hell for her sexual misconduct, and I thought about my brief bus arousal and was confronted again with damnation even in the face of blind devotion.

Later that summer, before heading back to Brewton, Alabama from Benton, Kentucky, how was I to know that a somewhat trivial accident involving a broken lamp would shake my youthful faith to its foundation?  You see, there were six of us staying at Mae and Pete’s that summer:  my six year old sister Wendy, our six year old cousin Kristen, my 11 year old favorite cousin Hannah, and her 13 or 14 year old sister Courtney.  Hannah, Courtney, and I were in my grandparents’ bedroom talking on the bed.  They did not particularly like us in their room as kids were supposed to be outside, in church, or in bed; yet, there we were on the bed dicking around as close southern cousins are want to do—nothing incestuous; that came earlier and prior to my birth yet colored my entire existence.  Unfortunately, our hefty cousin Kristen decided to run down the hall after my sister.  As she came barreling toward the bed, she attained what I can only describe as a miraculous airborne height similar to how Douglas Adams describes flight, “falling but missing,” and landed full force on the bed knocking over an antique—and sentimental to my grandmother—lamp in the process.  Of course, all parents and grandparents recognize the distinct sound of their shit breaking at the hands of their spawn, and swept in the room to lay final judgment on the potential damned.  Though the oldest of us were sitting still and my sister was hiding as Kristen took porcine flight, crashed, and created the necessary reverberations resulting in broken lamp, Wendy and I were blamed for the incident. 

As I listened to my elders’ harsh criticism and unfair sentencing, it occurred to me then that I was a vainglorious fool.  If ones as purportedly wise and Christian as my grandparents could erroneously condemn innocents, how could an ineffable wise grandparent to all be expected to unerringly pass judgment on the masses?  How foolish was I to believe salvation lie through denying flesh and indiscriminant art burning.  I do not know that I was familiar with past censorious art massacres, but I could not believe a creator God would condone such abhorrent and wanton destruction.   Though I was not philosophically acquainted with a free will defense, the problem of evil, and had certainly never heard anyone dare utter God is dead, he died for me that day just as my respect in my father’s parents suffered an irrevocable foundational shift.  To me, that summer of contradictions whose trajectory started roughly two years earlier when an unnamed girl damned me to hell for a T-shirt, ended in an unrecoverable loss of faith.  I realized, then, a loving, all knowing, and ever present god would not subject me to hell for my grandparents’ erroneous judgment, my choice of wardrobe, or my innocent almost dry hump in the church bus.  Yet, here were the so called redeemed acting as “purblind doomsters” readily strowing “blisses about my pilgrimage as pain.”   

Though I subsequently discovered many contributing and primary causes for my sister’s and my unfair persecution, I never regained the youthful exuberant blind faith I cherished for perhaps a year and a half.  Later that year, I almost joined my parents’ less radical (ie. Episcopal) church—they joined because it was expected that a doctor and his spouse in a small Bible Belt Alabama town conform to societal norms and join a congregation to fit in with the social elite–my many conversations with the priest prior to Christening or whatever could not shake my newfound conviction theism was a fraud and a tool used to manipulate and control.  Though I now think of myself as possessing some sense or form of individual strength and slight intellectual capacity, I am utterly ashamed at how easily fundamentalism seduced me as a kid; moreover, it is blatantly obvious that its survival greatly depends on fearful indoctrination of children; otherwise, it would wither and die as hatred and fear require careful and consistent cultivation which explains, to a certain degree, white flight, Islamaphobia, homophobia, xenophobia, and the never ending persecution of women. 

Also, looking back on those formative individual philosophical and political moments–though I could not name it as such at the time—I cannot help but question whether or not dad’s decision to embrace and perform a newly legalized medical procedure, a procedure misunderstood and unpopular six to seven years after it started to slough out from the shadows into the mainstream, contributed to my initial damnation since there are no secrets in a small Alabama town.  I know now, as I grew older and the 70s ceded to the 80s and Christjihadism and Reagan’s social conservatism spread, that dad’s profession darkly, if unjustly so, colored everything that came afterwards.  

PS.  Shameless plug time:   Please check out the following link for information regarding this summer’s planned Abortion Rights Freedom Ride set to kick off in late July:

 http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/abortion-rights-freedom-ride