GABE

‘I am really emotionally affected by the whole situation,’ Gabe (19) tells me. We are talking in an empty, graffiti-filled tunnel underneath a busy intersection, where the echoes of our conversation are accompanied only by the dampened noise of Warsaw’s unending motor traffic. There is still some smoke lingering underneath the fluorescent tubes from the flare they just lit: ‘I just feel angry all the time.’
They recall the first time they came out to a protest. It was March 2020: International Women’s Day in Katowice. ‘I went up on stage and spoke about my experience as a rape survivor. Afterwards, there was a long line of women who wanted to talk to me, who wanted to show their support. It was the complete opposite of the rejection I had experienced in my day-to-day life.’
The experience made them realize how important it is to speak out and show solidarity. ‘Especially when it comes to violence against women. Even though it is sometimes exhausting to constantly be aware of what is going on around you.’

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The recent wave of protests triggered by the abortion ruling targeted the ruling party PiS, but Gabe believes the issue is much deeper and wider than politics alone. ‘Getting rid of PiS will not suddenly solve the issue of women’s rights,’ they say. ‘After PiS there will just be the next party and it will be the same. The liberation of women will not come from politicians. There needs to be a broader societal change in attitudes.’
Gabe says that they are not only motivated by women’s rights, but also by LGBT rights. Standing in the tunnel, we are steps away from the Ministry of Education, whose current minister Czarnek has publicly stated that LGBT people are not equal to ‘normal people’. Former minister Piontkowski hardly fared better. In September 2020, after a twelve-year-old girl committed suicide over anti-LGBT bullying, the names Dominik, Kacper, Michał, Wiktor and Milo were spray-painted onto the ministry building by LGBT activists – names of other queer teens who killed themselves in recent years, often after being bullied in schools. In a response to the action, the former minister offered no words of solace for struggling LGBT youth, instead calling the spray-painting barbaric and drawing comparisons to the destruction of ancient monuments by the Taliban.
‘Just a few weeks ago there was a 17-year-old lesbian girl who commited suicide,’ Gabe tells me. ‘It struck me that she was only two years younger than me, that we were so alike. It upsets me to think about the young queer people that get so overwhelmed, about the lives that are being lost. We don’t even know how many others are out there. I think the least we can do is show them that they are not alone in this.’
‘I might feel a lot of anger, but I think I am a strong person. I just wish that I could give some of my own strength to others.’
They think the protests have at least led to small-scale changes. ‘If the protests achieved anything so far, it is spreading awareness about access to abortion. Because of the protests, everyone has heard about the options that are still available.’ But they also notice some slight societal changes as a result of the abortion ruling, with esepcially young people turning their back on the Church.
But the fight, according to Gabe, is far from over. ‘In a way, I think we should be more radical. We have always been asking nicely for our rights, but when the politicians got rough, it was like a slap in the face. I think that young people are finally waking up, and we should just keep getting louder and louder’.

For Wojna Kris Oosting spoke with several protesters and activists about their motivations, experiences and expectations for the future. On this website you find a selection of interviews from the book.