White for Purity, Purple for Dignity, Green for Hope”: Standing for Reproductive Rights in the Adirondacks

On May 14, the day of Bans off Our Bodies rallies around the country, my friend Judi and I decided to ditch our plans for a morning hike and headed north up Route 28 to Long Lake New York, where a rally had been planned. We had given some thought to heading to Albany, where no doubt there would be a big crowd and lots of media coverage. But there was something appealing about seeing what presence Long Lake, a town of 700, would muster.

May 14 rally in Albany, the capital of New York State

In a fit of sartorial activism, Judi and I decided to honor the suffragettes. We knew about the suffragette’s white clothing, but Judi took it to the next level, informing me that they wore white for purity, purple for dignity, and green for hope—colors she wrapped herself in with a bright scarf.

White, purple and green

I’ve been thinking about how to keep dignity and hope alive since May 14. Later that day there was a massacre of Black people in Buffalo, and of small children in Uvalde barely two weeks later. Hope feels in very short supply and dignity feels under attack from all sides. I have felt paralyzed. So now, almost three weeks since the rally, I’m thinking about the three young women I met on the beach at Long Lake.

Long Lake is one of those vintage Adirondack vacation towns that comes alive in the summer and more or less shuts down in the winter. The Adirondack Hotel, built in 1899 and reminiscent of an era when tourists arrived to the Adirondacks by train, dominates the view. The town seems not to have changed all that much.

The Long Lake Bans Off Our Bodies rally gathered a little before noon on Saturday. About 35 women and a few men assembled on the Long Lake Town Beach, where a speaker and microphone had been set up. Nearly everyone carried a hand-lettered sign: “This Won’t Stop with Abortion Access” “Wombs are Not State Property”, sentiments seen around the country that day.

the two organizers of the rally

Three young women, not yet old enough to vote, won my personal prize for the most inspirational signs. It thrilled me to see young women– the ones who will be most affected by this reactionary Supreme Court—coming out and making their voices heard in a small town.

One of the organizers, Steph Campbell, welcomed the crowd. I imagine that her fiery speech was similar to speeches delivered from Maine to California that day. But one thing she said struck me as particular to such activism in a rural community like Long Lake. She began by acknowledging that for perhaps many in the crowd, coming out and being seen in a reproductive rights rally might have been personally challenging, and offered gratitude and welcome for those who appeared despite that.

Like many rural areas, the Adirondacks are far more conservative than downstate New York and certainly than New York City. Trump won all of the region in 2016 except for Clinton County (which has the City of Plattsburgh and a State college), but, then again, Biden added two more counties to the Democratic side in 2022. That doesn’t tell the whole story though. In the 2016 primary, Bernie Sanders garnered far more votes here than Hillary Clinton- a testament to a sense I have that a kind of anti-establishment character runs deep in the Adirondacks, whether from the right or the left. [For a fascinating study of a tradition of political tolerance in the Adirondacks despite its conservative leanings, check out this article in the Atlantic.]

Steph handed out fliers from an organization called Adirondack Voters for Change, dedicated to promoting progressive politics in the Adirondacks. As the flyer noted “We are privileged to live in a safe state…Traveling to a state that protects abortion rights to receive care requires a lot of time, resources, and support. Assets many people do not have. We cannot be complacent in our safe space; we do not have that luxury.”

Our group then fanned out over a bridge crossing Long Lake and stood for about 30 minutes, displaying our signs. I had worried at first that, given the politics of this place, there might be a counter-demonstration or some ugly words hurled at us. There were none. Rather, many of the passers-by honked their horns in solidarity. After a little more than an hour in Long Lake, Judi and I made the trip back down Route 28 to North River. I was, for the moment, energized. For a moment, I felt that in every community there are more things that bind people than tear them apart, whether here in the mountains or in a teeming hot city or rolling exurbs.

When I first moved to the Adirondacks, from deep blue Philadelphia, I wondered about finding people with whom I would share my sense of the world. Today, as I write under a clear and warm sky, surrounded by forest and listening to only the calls of birds and the whisper of a breeze, in a place where I can be myself, I realize that having my Adirondack refuge is indeed a blessing, but it isn’t a place to hide from world.

my place to find tranquility

The young women, the ones who took the time to make signs that expressed their deepest fears and challenge their elders, the ones who took the time to show up, they are our future and they are here too. I sometimes despair that we have left them a mess of things.

Purity, Dignity and Hope- a clarion call of 120 years ago that still resonates, reminding us of what we must seek.

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