As soon as a friend and I put out the word that we were recruiting 100 women to protest Mike Pence's visit by donning Handmaid's Tale outfits — the red cloaks worn in a dystopian world where women are reduced to breeders — people began commenting about the symbolic meaning of these outfits. To me, the cloaks and white hats didn't feel symbolic at all. Sure, we are not yet in a real-life Handmaid's Tale … but, isn't the whole point of the book and the TV series is to show how such a nightmare develops and warn us to act before it becomes too late? As author Margaret Atwood wrote, "Nothing changes instantaneously: in a gradually heating bathtub, you'd be boiled to death before you knew it."
The stripping of women's most basic right, the right to control when and if they bear children, is foundational to the Trump/Pence regime's vision for society. Should Brett Kavanaugh be confirmed to the Supreme Court, the right to legal abortion, which hangs by a thread in many areas, will be lost completely. One in three women has had an abortion. As I looked at the 100 women wearing the cloaks, I was struck by how 33 of these women would be considered criminal if Pence's theocratic program is cemented.
In Atwood's Gilead, the setting for The Handmaid's Tale, the press has been savaged and shut down, there are no courts for redress if your rights are violated, and anyone caught dissenting is hung on the wall. No, we are not there yet, but who can deny that it is extremely ominous to have the president repeatedly refer to the press as "enemies of the people," lead crowds to chant a demand for the imprisonment of political rivals, attack the courts when they rule against the regime, and simultaneously move to radically remake the judicial system. Whole sections of people have been denigrated by Trump as "animals" – then thousands of them have had their children torn from their arms and locked in cages.
In less than two weeks' notice, an outpouring of women stepped forward to don the cloaks, donate toward costumes, make costumes, and recruit their sisters. As 100 women in red cloaks and white bonnets joined me in front of the Union League on Monday, the vice president declared, there is "only one way to sum up a year and a half of action, a year and a half of results, a year and a half of promises made and promises kept." His words were chilling in their truth. But most chilling was Pence's next statement: "And we are just getting started."
In 18 months, we have seen the step-by-step hammering into place exactly the nightmarish vision Trump and Pence campaigned on.
This is why the costumes did not feel symbolic. One of the "handmaids," Michele, said to me, "I protest for any person that feels that this administration is gunning to strip them of their rights and who live in fear as to what's going to happen next.. I will not just calm down. I will not avoid what's going on just because it hasn't impacted my privileges…. yet."
Women came from diverse perspectives and life experiences, most of us never having met before that day. We broke our silence, helping each other de-cloak and raised our fist in a pledge to struggle with all we've got to demand the Trump/Pence regime must go. We are determined this won't be the last time you see us in the streets. Can we count you with us?