After the horrific bombing in Boston in April, there was much talk about how there hadn’t been a single act of terrorism on US shores since the 11 September attacks in 2001. More than that, there was much talk about how no one in the United States lives with the daily threat of terrorism: not like people who lived through the Troubles, not like those enduring constant threats in Iraq and Afghanistan today, not like those in other nations struggling with sociopolitical threats (some created by the United States itself). There was much talk about how this was another wakeup call and a destruction of innocence for the United States.
I understood what people were trying to get at here. But it was factually wrong, and more than that, it was offensive. While many were attempting to point out that the United States as a player on the global stage needs to own up to responsibility for the way its actions have destabilised other nations and created climates of terror, to the fact that we drop bombs and other devices on innocent populations, to the fact that many people live in fear of us, it erased the very real fact that terrorism is alive and well in the United States, right now, and there absolutely are people who live in fear of terrorism every day.
Meet reproductive health providers, like those who provide and assist at abortions, work with birth control, and educate populations about their rights in regards to their reproductive health and family planning choices. Oh, except that you can’t meet some of them, because they’re dead. Shot down in church. Killed in clinic bombings. Or they’re harassed and living deep underground, going to work in bullet-proof vests and living in fear every day. Genuine and legitimate fear, because they know what has happened to their colleagues. Fear that makes them nervous around new people.
Have you ever been to a family planning clinic in a major urban area? Because I have, and what I encountered was a building that attempted to look as innocuous as possible. Not always possible when it was surrounded by protesters screaming at you and making it almost impossible to fight your way through to the front door—if you were lucky, there were clinic escorts on duty that day and you could cling to them as you attempted to get through the crowd for routine, private medical care.
You had to look up at a camera to be buzzed in, and when you took the elevator up to the main clinic floor, you had to be buzzed through two sets of doors. By people who scanned you carefully, who weighed your words, who had to make a split-second decision. People trained in making those kinds of decisions because their lives depended on it.
Is this person really just here for an annual exam? Does that bag hold a gun or explosive device? Is this person carrying a camera with the intent to record and out our staff?
Reproductive health providers, and abortion providers in particular, are heroes, because they go to work every day even though they are fully aware that people want to kill them. And not in an abstract way, but in a very immediate and real sense: they have received death threats, they may have been intimidated by protesters and organised groups. Maybe they’ve experienced bomb threats and other dangerous situations, maybe their colleagues died or were seriously injured in incidents of, yes, terrorism.
This is domestic terrorism and it thrives in the United States. Groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center have identified a troubling rise in domestic terrorism, and a corresponding lack of interest in addressing it. White supremacist groups are growing in number and force, intimidating people of colour. Anti-abortion groups are growing more and more virulent. People are sending envelopes with toxins to the Senate and the White House.
Tell me again that no one in the United States knows what it is like to live in terror. If we regard terror under the strictest of definitions, there are absolutely terrorist groups active in the United States, and they are actively engaged in campaigns intended to intimidate and threaten people with differing political and social beliefs. Terrorism is a thing and it is real in this country and it is not going away unless the government is ready to do something about it.
And let’s talk, too, about police forces that beat, molest, harass, intimidate, and torture people. Let’s talk about cases of corruption and tales of blood-curdling horror from cities like Chicago and New York, where young men of colour live in terror because they know what awaits them from law enforcement, let alone the white people around them; talk to the family of Trayvon Martin, shot because he was alive while Black and a white man didn’t like that. Tell me that’s not terror, and tell me these people do not live in a state of constant, heightened fear.
The United States does atrocious things abroad, and it contributes to, supports, or promotes other atrocious things. You are not going to find me arguing with that assertion. But I take exception to the claim that terrorism is not something people in the US experience, to the idea that no one in the US knows what it is like to live with daily fear, fear so intense that it is literally sickening, contributing to mental health problems, ulcers, migraines, and other medical issues. Because that claim is blatantly untrue, it erases the experiences of people living (and dying) in the United States right now, and it turns the lens away from the terror within our own borders and the fact that we need to deal with it.
We can, and should, be reining in our actions on the international stage.
And we can, and should, be addressing terror within our own borders, because no doctor should have to wear a bulletproof vest to work unless the office is the battlefield.