Georgetown Day School has a long history of social and political activism among the students and faculty. Last year, when a case challenging the Defense of Marriage Act was brought before the Supreme Court, a crowd of middle-schoolers begged to be taken to a rally in front of the court’s chambers in support of marriage equality. In the 1990s, Lower School Principal Gloria Runyon led over a hundred GDS students to gather in front of the South African Embassy in a spirited protest against apartheid, an action for which she was actually arrested. This year, 30 students affiliated with the affinity group Feminisms for Marginalized Genders (FMG) and accompanied by High School English teachers Katherine Dunbar and Nadia Mahdi participated in a large-scale rally organized by Planned Parenthood at the Supreme Court. Senior Avi Brach-Neufeld actually camped outside the court for more than 20 hours to hear oral arguments beginning the next morning, and he was lucky enough to get in to see them. The case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, was brought on as a challenge to a Texas law that, under the claim of assuring proper medical care, would shut down over 75% of Texas abortion clinics that did not meet the elaborate new qualifications. The rally included a diverse selection of sponsored speakers who shared personal stories and powerful rhetoric, chants like “Stop the Sham!”, and a civilized face-off with a pro-life counter protest.
People often question the practical value of protests. Junior Maaike Laanstra-Corn, who participated in the rally, was asked by a close friend what effect she hoped to have by attending the rally. “It’s about raising awareness in the GDS community and showing support. More publicity and media coverage means more public awareness,” said Laanstra-Corn. “It’s not about the individual, it’s about the group effort. The issue is relevant to all of us and the whole community needs to gather around it,” she added. Thousands of protesters gathered in front of the Supreme Court, and not all were women. Brach-Neufeld said that he and his friend wanted to attend a Supreme Court hearing, and they decided that Health v. Hellerstedt was the most consequential at the time. Brach-Neufeld also believed that the issue was relevant to everyone, not just women: “It’s important for me, as a guy, to be an ally, and say, ‘I stand with you,’” he said. Brach-Neufeld added that his awareness about the issue of abortion emerged after noticing the recent trend of limits on women’s rights.
One chant, “Health is Physical, Not Political,” exemplifies GDS’s approach to social activism. Community members seek to act on a moral impulse, paying little mind to its correspondence to a political party. “We aren’t PC, we’re just morally correct,” said Assistant Head of School Kevin Barr. This is an ideal, one that both students and faculty actively shape and change through activism such as the rally at the Supreme Court this year.