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There's a whiff of booze in the war room, but the fumes aren't wafting from the members of BACORR, the Bay Area Coalition for Our Reproductive Rights, eight warriors sprawled in black plastic chairs throughout a dim meeting room at the New College on Valencia Street.
The battle is too serious for coming in lubed. The group's self-denied mission is to protect women, defend abortion rights, and vanquish fat-assed hypocritical white male Christian fundamentalist facists: men who murder and firebomb and blockade abortion clinics in the name of Jesus Christ. So partying isn't on the menu, particularly on a May night as critcial as this one.
Laura Weide, 30, group member and tonight's coordinator, wears combat boots and a sling, thanks to dislocating her shoulder while hauling stuff into her new apartment. She scans the room - half men, half women - and takes note of four newcomers: me, two young guys, and an older man who says he's from New York. Origami dangles from the ceiling; art posters scab from the walls.
"How about if we all introduce ourselves?" Weide starts things off.
"I'm here 'cause I've been recruited to do anything that makes life easier to live," slurs one of the strangers. "'Cause this country is all screwed up, and , like, I don't even have my head shaved!" Mystery solved. He and his buds are political party-hoppers, and well toasted too. "We've gotta leave early and, like, get to the Revolutionary Brigade meeting down the street," the stranger says, and the trio totters out the door.
It's too bad, in a way. The seven-year-old abortion rights collective needs recruits. But even more, it needs strategy. Operation Rescue - the nation's premier group of anti-abortion activists - has planned two days of clinic protests in L.A. in May, and BACOOR must scrape together the cash so it can land in Los Angeles and mount the sort of counterdemo they have in Buffalo and Pensacola and Boston and Baton Rouge, wherever a clinic has been threatened or an anti has gone m>>urderous with a gun. Small and scraggly as the cadre may be - with zero cash flow and maybe 20 regulars - BACORR descended upon Florida last July after clinic doctor John Britton and his 74-year-old volunteer escort were shot and killed by a fanatic with a 12-gauge. BACORR was in Brooline, Mass., this winter after hairdresser John Salvi murdered two clinic receptionists with a .22-caliber rifle. And BACORR wasn't about to miss L.A.
"The OR group that's coming, they've got a bunch of antis from Milwaukee, from Missionaries to the Pre-Born," says Weide. "They do lots of lock 'n' blocks where they lock themselves inside junker cars or appliances. One guy locked himself to a washing machine and closed down a clinic in North Dakota.?"
"It was a clothes dryer," nods Tom Burghardt, a group intelligence expert who cruises the Internet and snags literature from the antis. "The guy told the cops it made him feel like he was in the womb," Burghardt says.
"Missionaries to the Pre-Born was formed by Reverand Matt Trewhella," continues Weide. "He's the one who brags about how he taught his 16-month-old son to find his trigger finger."
"It could be hard-core," says Burghardt.
The rest of the room sits quietly, soaking in details. They look at me, and I stop scribbling. What I'm hearing is lingo that takes me back to anti-war protests and other retro causes that mark me for what I am: a worthless liberal, in BACORR's eyes. A women who hasn't flirted with with arrest since 1978, whose closest brush with anarchy was a boyfriend who kicked a Los Angeles cop and was subsequently beaten till he peed blood.
"How many of you can go to L.A.?" Weide asks. Five hands go up, mine included.
The door opens; heads turn. Jean McEwen, 27, another coordinator - everyone in the group takes on myriad roles - arrives decked out in black from boots to shoulders. Below her beret sprouts a blond shave job that until a few weeks ago included two tufflike horns, spiked above a brain that speeds fa>>ster than sound and a mouth that almost manages to keep up. "Where we're at now, we need people to do props and signs for the demo and someone to find places for us to stay down there," McEwen brings everyone up to date.
The room fills with the happy buzz of impending drama, an energy buoyed, as is bravery, by a certain blindness. What McEwen and Weide, and the others don't know is that, by week's end, one of us will eat pavement. That another will be handcuffed and screaming in pain. That a handful will get on Mexican TV. That some will get dissed, and two will go to jail. That the trip for me will get way too personal. And that BACORR will accuse their fellow feminists of betrayal.
"I hope you don't think this is what BACORR is all about, because this wasn't real," McEwen will tell me after the Los Angeles demo.
But what L.A. shows is this: Nothing seems real when it comes to the war womb, the crucible for one of the fiercest battles in the nation today. An estimated 1.5 million women in the U.S. have abortions each year, and tens of millions more support that right. The "pro-life" movement, meanwhile, has successfully thrust its agenda into mainstream politics; the Republican party platform and, more recently, the "Contract With the American Family" call for a ban on abortion. Both sides, pro and anti, see lives at stake: personal, political, religious, sexual. And so ritualized and surreal is the core of the struggle that one group wears fetus replicas for necklaces, dumpster dives for stillborns, and claims that American fetuses are sold to China for "snack food" while the other sings the Flintstones theme song with pro-choice words subbed in. All in a day's abortion rally.