by Diana Stoyanova
On the particularly gloomy Monday of October 3rd, up to 50,000 people gathered under the rain to protest for their rights. Dressed in black, the protestors huddled under a multitude of colorful umbrellas. The protest was peaceful, policemen observed from the side but there seemed to be a silent recognition that these people had the right to be here. For hours on end, the group stayed in the rain, raising signs and yelling for what they believed in.
Commonly referred to as “czarny protest” the demonstration aimed to protest the prospective new law giving women no right to abort a pregnancy unless their life is threatened. In the end, the hours spent under the rain yelling “my body, my choice” were a success because the government retracted the law. The controversy over the protest was widespread throughout the country from the protesters on Plac Zamkowy to our own school.
On that same day, Vitalia Vazheyevka woke up, doubting that she would be able to experience the protest herself. Vitalia, considering herself an activist on issues like the LGBT+ community and women’s rights, was invested in the possible abortion ban. Unfortunately, she doubted that her parents would allow her to join the protests so she went to school, slightly upset, but wearing black nonetheless to show her support. When she arrived, she was surprised by the swarming masses of students walking around the hallways clad in black from head to toe.
The protests took place on October 3rd, and the high school organized an all black day on October 4th. Over the period of those two days, a significant amount of students dressed in black to show their support. It seems that the amount of people who wore black to school was far higher than the amount of people who dress up for other spirit days such as red and black days.
Vitalia says she was surprised at how many people dressed in black on that day and describes at as being “a quiet solidarity amongst the student body”. The difference in the amount of students dressing up for this event most likely relates to the importance of the issue to the real world. According to Dominik, a junior, this is because as high schoolers we are “more passionate about supporting real life causes than we are about school spirit [because] we know these causes have a greater impact.” There is a significant difference morally between supporting a school sport and supporting something that could potentially impact your way of life. Thus, we are more inclined to participate in the latter as was the case on October 3rd.
That day, everyone around Vitalia seemed to be talking about the protests. In all of her classes, students were discussing the issue and whether they were going to be attending the demonstration later in the day or not. It seemed like most of the people around her were in support of the protest. In this respect, it may appear that our school is a closed of bubble from the outside world because most people share a similar opinion. However, it is natural that as a multinational and diverse community, there were varying views on the protest, just like in the outside world.
Vitalia is an example of someone who passionately supported the protest because it stands for her beliefs. She claims that the law “is a decision that [PIS] are trying to make about our bodies!”. Abortion is a fundamental right that women should have and other people should not be able to take that away from a woman. Therefore, Vitalia did everything in her power to show her support for the protest from wearing black to signing and sharing the online petition to finally, attending the demonstration herself. She agrees, also, that most people in our school, while perhaps not as passionately, share her belief.
There are some exceptions to this and Maria Karandyszowska, a senior, is one. In Maria’s opinion, human life begins at conception and she considers abortion as murder. Thus, she is “absolutely against” abortion. In fact, she was entirely opposed to the notion of the protest itself, and thus, did not dress up. She also voiced her opinions online and signed a petition. She agreed that there are not many people who support her viewpoint and feels like her opinions are undermined by the majority.
Similar to the outside world, it seems that the majority of the people at our school were moderately in favor of the protest. Dominik and Erik, a junior, are both examples of people who, even though they did not make it to the protest, decided to show their support through wearing black. Dominik admits that simply wearing black to school may not have had a major impact on the outside world, he still felt like he was able to raise awareness of his support within the school community. Erik went a step further by sharing the online petition and urging people to sign it. However, he was unable to attend the demonstration as he was overwhelmed by school work.
Vitalia, on the other hand, felt that it was more important for her to attend the protests and thus, got excused from play practice by her mom. Along with two friends and her brother, she headed towards Plac Zamkowy to join the protesting crowds. Vitalia was pleasantly surprised that her entourage was all male and that they were so invested in the issue. When the four of them reached the square, they were greeted by masses of people wearing black, holding up umbrellas and signs. The rain was pouring down heavily and soon they were soaked but no one seemed discouraged by it. Vitalia found an English-speaking group of university students who let her pose with their sign. The slogans on the signs ranged from witty and mocking ones to the standard “my body, my choice” but they all voiced people’s discontent at the possible abortion ban. In the midst of the passionate mob, Vitalia felt empowered. She found it endearing how so many ordinary people like herself had taken time out of their day to attend and that our school also played a part in this.
No matter what their opinion on abortion is, from Maria to Vitalia, everyone interviewed agreed that our school made an impact on the issue. We went to protests, we voiced our opinions online and we fought for our beliefs. Perhaps the right question to ask in this case is “why now?” PIS has been in power for around a year now and there have been multiple demonstrations for and against it yet this one has brought the most attention. This may be because abortion is an issue worldwide which makes us, an international community, a lot more aware of it. In a way, it impacts us all because even male members of the community often have a mother, a sister or a daughter who could be affected by it or it could be their own child in question in aborting a pregnancy. For women, the consequences of the law are a lot more direct. Even if we do not plan to live in Poland in the future, like Vitalia, some of us “were thinking of [our] Polish friends and what they would have to face in the future if the law was passed.” Of course, Polish women were those most directly impacted by the potential abortion law but almost all of us could connect to it in some way. It goes against our beliefs of freedom, personal choice and individuality, therefore, we felt that it was important for us to change it.
That is why we took action. We scavenged the back of our closets for black clothes, we made our opinions known internationally and we stood hours in the rain protesting for our beliefs. Most importantly, we went out to make a difference.