“Abortion should be free, on-demand, and without apology,” Lizz Winstead, founder of the Abortion Access Front (AAF) and co-creator of The Daily Show, told a group of people assembled in front of a large inflatable garbage can at Red Arrow Park in downtown Milwaukee. Dozens began gathering in the park on a Sunday afternoon for Access Fest, the first of a week’s worth of events dubbed “Garbage Fyre Fest,” a counter-protest to a conference being held that same week by Operation Save America (OSA), an extreme right-wing fundamentalist Christian group.
Operation Save America, whose roots spring from Operation Rescue, is best known for holding protests outside abortion clinics. Its members frequently hold large signs depicting images of dead fetuses while shouting at those seeking services or consultation at clinics, who are often flanked by escorts to protect them. OSA is also extremely anti-LGBTQA and Islamophobic, has frequently attacked organizations and groups that fight for inclusivity, and its members have burned the Qur’an.
OSA believes abortion is never acceptable – even in cases of rape, incest, or medical necessity. “It has been the exceptions — rape, incest and the life of the mother — that has led to abortion on demand,” said the Rev. Rusty Thomas in a July interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “As far as I’m concerned, that door needs to be shut. Period.”
Organizers of the Garbage Fyre Festival – a take on the fraudulent “luxury music festival” that turned to disaster in the Bahamas in 2017 – worked together with local reproductive rights and other organizations on the week-long series of events “to let them (OSA) know their messages of intolerance are not welcome in Wisconsin.”
“Their vile imagery and chants of intolerance have inspired progressive activists from Wisconsin and around the country to gather and counter their bigotry and misogyny,” wrote organizers on the group’s website. “Through direct actions, comedy and burlesque shows, we want to put out the Garbage Fyre with messages of love and inclusion.”
“We were like, ‘You know who else promised a really amazing, transformative experience and then delivered garbage? The Fyre Festival,'” Winstead told the Sentinel.
By day, the group rallied reproductive rights demonstrators and directly confronted various gatherings of OSA members and by night they held comedy and burlesque shows. They drove a rented truck around town with information about OSA painted to its side, held counter-demonstrations featuring colorful costumes, signs, and umbrellas, and held an “ecclesiastical court” across the street from an OSA event on Thursday. The whole of the week was meant as a way to help destigmatize abortion, teach consent, promote tolerance, and grow networks that help those in need of reproductive services access them.
Polling shows that the majority of Americans favor legal abortion. A June NPR/PBS Newshour/Marist Poll showed that three-quarters of Americans favor keeping the landmark Roe Vs. Wade decision that made abortion legal in place. About a quarter of those surveyed favor keeping the ruling in place with more restrictions placed on abortion, while 21 percent want fewer restrictions.
Despite this, hardline right-wing conservatives – emboldened by the Trump administration which has helped pack the Supreme Court with a majority of conservative justices – have been making a hard push to restrict access to abortion and other reproductive healthcare. More than a dozen states this year have either passed or attempted to pass legislation that restricts, nearly outlaws, or criminalizes abortion.
Republican legislators in Wisconsin recently passed four bills that would’ve restricted abortion, all of which Democratic Governor Tony Evars vetoed. Wisconsin is also one of many states that have abortion bans on the books, which means the procedure would be criminalized should Roe Vs. Wade be overturned.
“We can’t afford to be complacent,” said State. Rep. Lisa Subeck at a Thursday press conference. “Right now it (abortion) is under attack,” Subeck said that attempts to restrict or ban abortion aren’t new and have been taking place for years, but those seeking them have been emboldened by the Trump administration.
“Now what we’re seeing around the country are all out or near-total abortion bans. That is what has changed with the new occupant of the White House. What has changed is that we’ve seen Supreme Court appointments of justices who have made no bones about the fact that they will overturn Roe Vs. Wade if given the opportunity.”
Winstead told the crowd assembled on Sunday that reproductive rights affect everyone.
“When we talk about reproductive access, abortion – I’m not gonna reiterate. It’s about everybody,” she said. “What it’s about is reproductive and pregnancy outcomes and valuing them all…We need to be a society that values that decision for you because we’re a society that values healthy outcomes. If someone says ‘I need an abortion,’ we should value that with the resources that it takes.”
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