Community members swap fireworks for protesting this Independence Day
Today marks the Fourth of July, a day many Americans take time to celebrate their independence. However, freedom isn't ringing as loud this year for those opposed to the Supreme Court's June 24 decision to overturn Roe V. Wade, restricting access to safe abortion across the country.
Arkansas is now among eight states where it is illegal to receive an abortion. In response, dozens of people in the Hot Springs community forfeited the annual Independence Day Fireworks Show held Sunday evening over Lake Hamilton, and instead came to downtown's Hill Wheatley Plaza, protest signs in-hand.
"This is kind of like a counter-protest going on," protest organizer Heather Farewell said. "We specifically set this time for while they were doing that (the fireworks show), because if they're going to celebrate a country that's dictating the rights of people and that's taking away their bodily autonomy, we're not going to go celebrate that. We're going to go against them."
Farewell said the protest is meant to show support for people who oppose the overturning of Roe V. Wade.
"Just getting somebody to come out and do something shows that there is support out there, and that's going to keep people who are typically quieter — they're going to start advocating for things like this as well," Farewell said.
"We're in the Bible Belt place that's got a trifecta of republicans that control everything down here," they continued, "and so if we can get people who are more liberal and more left finally fighting for what we believe in and what we deserve, things can actually change."
Representatives from the Democratic Party of Garland County also attended the protest with voter registration forms.
"While people are here, if they are upset about the Roe decision and are interested enough to want to vote and they haven't voted before or need to renew their registration, we have materials here so they can register to vote," party vice chair Donna Winchell said.
Winchell said she believes if more democrats are voted into office after the upcoming November election, there is a "better chance" of restoring easier access to abortion and even codifying it into law.
"I'm hoping that this decision about Roe will make enough people angry that the democrats have a better chance of winning seats in November," she said.
To check voter registration status, visit voterview.org. When election dates approach, the site will also provide voting locations and ballot information.
"The fireworks aren't important to me right now," Winchell said in regards to why she decided to be a representative for the party at the protest. "I don't feel like celebrating independence, because I think women's rights have just been taken away, and I think it's a step back by about 50 years.
"So I'd rather be here fighting for women's rights than celebrating a country that, to me, doesn't represent me right now."
Another person who decided to turnout for the protest instead of the firework show was Michael Honey, a community member who often leads local protests and rallies.
Honey, who led this protest with his megaphone, said the decision to attend was a "no-brainer" for him, as well for everyone else who came.
"You've got to have your priorities set straight," Honey said.
He said protests can serve as a way to educate the community, which is why he tells protesters to hold their signs still so passerby's can read them.
But protestor Lanie Carlson said it's going to take "a lot more" than simply protesting to implement a change.
"It's (the decision to overturn Roe V. Wade) definitely galvanized me to make sure I get people registered to vote, and I make sure people vote," Carlson said. "Because I really think at this point the only way we're going to have any kind of change is for we the people to take it into our hands and vote and make things uncomfortable for people."
In-line with everyone else, Carlson said she too is feeling less patriotic this year.
"Over 50% of the population has lost their freedom to body autonomy, and I'm frustrated because, like I said, this has been legal ... since 1973," she said. "Now, overnight, it's gone."
Carlson attended the protest with her daughter Lilie Lim.
"I decided to come out here instead of the firework show because I believe it is important to fight for people's rights," Lim said. "How can it be the land of the free and how can I celebrate Independence Day when I myself am not an independent person? I am still being held down by the government because I have a uterus, and that goes for my trans brothers, and my trans friends."
Lim said she finds it to be "ridiculous" to have to fight something her grandmother already fought and won.
Independence Day protests are occurring all around the the country over the issue. Today, Arkansans around the state will gather at 5:30 p.m. at the State Capitol for another protest against the overturning of Roe V. Wade.