There were about 100 people, the vast majority of them women, lined up at noon on Tuesday, May 21 along Pacific Coast Highway at the base of the Huntington Beach Pier. A dozen wore red Handmaid’s Tale costumes, complete with white bonnets. Many held pre-made signs saying “Together We Fight For All” and “Don’t Take Away Our Care.” Others carried hand-drawn signs saying things like “America is a Democracy NOT a Theocracy.” All were there as part of a nationwide series of “Stop the Bans” protests designed to show just how outraged women are at recent legislative bans on abortion (similar protests were held at the same time in Mission Viejo, Fullerton, Irvine, and San Clemente).
“When Roe vs. Wade is under attack, what do we do?” the protesters chanted. “Stand up, fight back!” Later, they yelled other slogans, including “Our bodies, our choice!” and “Hell No Roe Won’t Go!”
Bethany Webb was one of those wearing a red cape. Though she’s been to many protests in recent years, she’s still in awe over just how many people were waving signs with her. “I don’t know 90 percent of the people here,” she said. “This is all organic. We’re protesting laws that are happening in red states, but we’re standing up for everyone. They want us barefoot and pregnant, and we’re not going back.”
Webb is part of HBHuddle, which organized the Tuesdays Without Dana [Rohrabacher] protests at the pier that were held throughout 2017 and 2018. And since then, she’s found no shortage of other issues to protest: attacks on abortion rights, kids in cages, offshore oil drilling. “Everything decent is under attack by the current inhabitant of the White House,” Webb said.
Standing a few yards away from Webb was Carey Jo, also of Huntington Beach and also with HBHuddle. Like many of those I spoke with at the pier, she’s been political active since the 2016 election. “What brought me here? Rage,” she said. “We’re organizing, doing everything we can, but we need more people to be outraged and acting.”
At the southernmost end of the line of protesters, Marguerite O’Brien of Huntington Beach stood with a small orange sign saying “Make America Sane Again.” No stranger to political activism, O’Brien marched on Washington, D.C. back in 1988, carrying a sign that said “Choose Choice.” “Here I am, 30 years later, still protesting this,” she said.
O’Brien dates her return to protesting to President Donald Trump’s election. “I just wanted to get off the couch and do something about the things that outrage me,” she said. “I’m hoping next November will be the end of our long national nightmare. As a middle-aged white woman, I know we’re responsible for putting Donald Trump over the top. We have to fix it.”
Near the center of the line stood Cathey Ryder, the co-chair of HBHuddle’s local elections team. She had noticed me talking with Maggie Williams, an activist who was carrying a clipboard with voter registration forms, and had walked over. “The ballot box is where we’ll make the biggest difference,” Ryder said. “Local elections are the driving force behind everything we do.”
A few yards away, near the crosswalks, Carol Churchill stood holding a sign showing a pair of gardening shears with the caption “2019 Rape & Incest Prevention Kit–Lorraine Bobbit [sp] had the right idea…” A Signal Hill City Councilmember from 1990 to 1994, Churchill knows all about the importance of political activism.
“I’ve been working on women’s rights for decades,” she said. “Women should have the right to control their own bodies. And I’m very heartened by all the young people I see participating now. They give me a lot of hope for the future.”
Anthony Pignataro has been a journalist since 1996. He spent a dozen years as Editor of MauiTime, the last alt weekly in Hawaii. He also wrote three trashy novels about Maui, which were published by Event Horizon Press. But he got his start at OC Weekly, and returned to the paper in 2019 as a Staff Writer.