Resist STL protesting in anti-abortion fundraiser, partying and waving rainbow flag.

Pro-Choice Activists Played the Long Game for Impressive Takeover of Forced-Birth Fundraiser

The protest is coming from inside the house!

On occasion, grassroots organizers and protesters pull off something truly spectacular. That’s what happened in late July when pro-choice protesters from Resist STL crashed the annual benefit dinner for “Coalition for Life St. Louis,” an anti-abortion group seeking to end all abortion in Missouri.

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On July 27, Resist STL disrupted anti-abortion group Coalition for Life’s annual benefit dinner in St Louis. Activists took the stage during the keynote address and created “gayaos” (gay chaos) by chanting, noisemaking, dancing, and distributing information about reproductive justice. All protestors were escorted jubilantly from the building.

“This revolution that we are trying to build must be built on joy and celebration,” said Lisa, a member of Resist STL, in an exclusive interview with The Mary Sue. “For a long time … the vision we put forth was doom and gloom and not appealing at all. But really what I wanted is for folks to have more—but more of different, more fulfilling deeper things—like connection, relationships, work that feels meaningful, joy and celebration! I want folks to imagine being part of what we are doing and be excited by that idea … joy and celebration and building power, are antidotes for how folks feel in the society as it is—disconnected, isolated, overwhelmed, sad.”

The other interviewees, Ishmaiah and Jessica, agreed.

“When you’re queer, cis straight people want you to be quiet and tone it down,” Jessica said, “but we deserve to take up space … There were kids at the event, and when we took the stage that night, we wanted to show them queer joy and show that this community exists, and they too can be themselves and be free.”

For Ishmaiah, it was also about the heritage of resistance like Act Up. The joy is also an excellent counter to the violent, hateful rhetoric of conservative organizations.

ResistSTL protestors at the St. Louis Coalition for Life's fundraiser dinner
(Facebook/Resist STL)

What’s most interesting about this protest is that the resistance members managed to get into the event by volunteering for the organization. It had the triple effect of 1) allowing protestors access to the event, 2) sowing chaos amongst the benefit dinner organizers, and 3) destabilizing the organization’s trust in all its volunteers. It got to the point where all of the volunteers were asked to leave because Coalition for Life couldn’t tell who was and was not a protester. The disguises worked so well that one covert Resist STL member even convinced the police that Coalition for Life didn’t want to press charges.

In many ways, this harkens back to many other instances of using convervatives’ events against them; some people may remember one of Trump’s pandemic campaign rallies that was overinflated by TikTokers pretending to reserve tickets.

But it also helped that the Coalition for Life seemed very polite and distant with their volunteers. Jessica explained that, as part of their undercover training, Resist STL members talked at length about creating identities and backstories for their undercover personas, which was especially difficult for her, not coming from a religious background and therefore not knowing “rituals” associated with it. But what made it easier was the fact that conversation was more pleasant discussion rather than personal connection.

While the group acknowledged that both Resist STL and Coalition for Life are two groups that are passionate about beliefs, willing to give time, energy, and money, outside of that, they highlighted the world of differences between them, not only in the politics but also in the closeness of their organization. “I personally live with two [Resist STL] members in a four-family flat, and see other members on a weekly basis. It’s like a found family situation for me,” Ishmaiah said. “Organizing is my life; it’s the only thing that makes sense to do with my time.”

Resist STL and its members certainly show the value in grassroots organizing, not just in making change, but in building community and enthusiasm for demonstrating.

One thing that caught my attention in the Riverfront Times article covering the protest was the talk of armed conflict: Both Coalition for Life and Resist STL members seemed to be gearing up for potential violence, the former equating to the pro-choice vs. anti-abortion fight to the fight over slavery in the Civil War. However, the members I interviewed seemed to have different views on the severity of the threat.

“I haven’t given a ton of thought to it. I think about the fight that’s happening in courts and schools,” Jessica said. “But the ways that things disproportionately effect queer and trans people of color is very real, and removing access to healthcare is 100% a form of violence. As a white woman, I acknowledge my privilege on that front.”

“When you move outside of the metropolitan areas of the state, the physical threat is real,” Lisa said. “I do not know if things will move to an armed conflict or not … [We’re] trying to figure out how to provide resources, sometimes basic, like shelter, food, and such, to mitigate the damage that is being done.”

When I asked what they would say to major politicians on all sides of the aisle, Jessica said the first word that came to mind was “Ugh.”

“We’ve had to hold our nose and vote way too often,” she said. “Even before the decision was leaked, we knew this was coming, so when politicians acted shocked, it was maddening.”

isconcurred: “It is their job to serve the people of this country, not to uphold oppressive power structures.”

“As far as talking to the Republicans, I would say two things,” Lisa said. “1) Your children and grandchildren are watching you. They see and feel the effects of what you are doing and they will judge you harshly as you are building a world they can’t live in. 2) We will not sit by and watch these things happening. We are rising, we are training and we are going to create a world that works for all of us. You may make it harder, but you will not be able to stop us.”

Jubilant protestors waving pride flags and banners that say "abortions are holy"
(Facebook/Resist STL)

Despite their disillusionment with the politicians, the group is overall hopeful for the future.

“Don’t write us off. Folks are standing up and fighting in big and small ways in our communities,” Lisa said. “Missouri has not always been a red state. Racism, gerrymandering, and bad legislation has dropped us into this world we see now. And if it has happened here, it could happen in your state, too.

Jessica also seeks to inspire others. “You can do this. Whatever city, state you live in, you can do this. Takes organizing and planning, but it is joyful and effective. Take this and run with it.”

(featured image: Resist STL)

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Kimberly Terasaki
Kimberly Terasaki is a contributing writer for The Mary Sue. She has been writing articles for them since 2018, going on 5 years of working with this amazing team. Her interests include Star Wars, Marvel, DC, Horror, intersectional feminism, and fanfiction; some are interests she has held for decades, while others are more recent hobbies. She liked Ahsoka Tano before it was cool, will fight you about Rey being a “Mary Sue,” and is a Kamala Khan stan.