Demonstrators dressed in red robes inspired by “The Handmaid’s Tale” protested Tuesday outside a DHS Cybersecurity Summit in Manhattan that was expected to be attended by Vice President Mike Pence and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen.
An estimated 100 women marched solemnly, with their heads down and hoods up, to the Alexander Hamilton Custom House from Bowling Green plaza around 12:30 p.m. to protest President Donald Trump’s since-rescinded family separation policy as well as a Religious Liberty Task Force announced by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The task force was created to “fully implement our religious liberty guidance,” Sessions said at a summit in Washington on Monday.
The attorney general also lauded Colorado baker Jack Phillips, who refused to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple in 2012. Litigation eventually came before the Supreme Court, which narrowly ruled in Phillips’ favor in a case that initially weighed whether owners of public accommodations can cite free speech and religious liberty in declining to adhere to certain nondiscrimination laws.
Protest organizers from Refuse Fascism, an anti-Trump/Pence movement, argue the religious liberty defense is geared toward “enforcing bigotry and discrimination against LGBTQ people, and forced childbearing for women justified as ‘expressing religious freedom.’ ”
Protesters dressed as Handmaids assembled outside the Alexander Hamilton Custom House for a short march and rally, where VP Mike Pence and @SecNielsen are scheduled to attend a Cybersecurity summit. Protest organized by @RefuseFascism pic.twitter.com/OCmRO7A78t— Rajvi Desai (@rajviedesai) July 31, 2018
“Based on everything they have shown while in power, all we can guess is that the most bigoted anti-LGBTQ, anti-women science people will be selected and they will be the think tank who will figure out how we will oppress minorities and women,” Sam Goldman, an organizer with Refuse Fascism, said of Sessions’ Religious Liberty Task Force.
Holding a sign that read, “Give back the children you stole,” Manhattan resident Sarah Bardin said she wanted to bring attention to Trump’s family separation policy.
“I think the costumes are a great way to draw attention to the changes that have been going on, to the challenges to our democracy,” Bardin, 47, said. “In the show, they show those flashbacks as how gradually people’s rights were taken away. I think that’s a wake up for people now that it can happen here.”
“The Handmaid’s Tale,” adapted from Margaret Atwood’s best-selling novel, depicts a totalitarian regime in the Republic of Gilead that forces women into sexual servitude and childbearing against their will. Members of the LGBTQ community, called gender traitors, are also punished in a highly militarized and patriarchal society.
Standing outside the Alexander Hamilton Custom House, the “Handmaids” each laid a pair of baby shoes at the entrance of the building, bringing attention to the some 2,500 children who were separated from their parents at the U.S-Mexico border.
Goldman instructed the women to take off their cloaks and bonnets, which they threw to the ground before repeating the following: “We pledge that we will not stand aside while there is still a chance to stop a regime that imperils humanity and the earth itself. Join us.
“Let’s stand together with conviction and courage overcoming fear and uncertainty to struggle with all we’ve got to demand this nightmare must end. In the name of humanity, we refuse to accept a fascist America.”
Also among the protesters was Therese Patricia Okoumou, 44, who climbed the Statue of Liberty on July 4, prompting an evacuation of Liberty Island and an hourslong standoff with police.
“I’m in the protest today because Pence and Nielsen are here and I want to build the momentum around my action on the Fourth of July, which was done to condemn the callous way in which the Trump administration is handling the migrant children and using them as political bait,” Okoumou, dressed in a red cape and white hat, said.
A similar protest was held July 23 to protest Pence’s visit to Philadelphia.