Abigail Reikow, the daughter of a Philadelphia Police officer, has been arrested three times.
The junior English and education double major is an active member of Soulforce, a national organization that is working to end sexual discrimination. As an equality rider for the organization, Reikow has been arrested for her civil disobedience
Since March 7, Reikow has traveled to conservative Christian colleges across the East Coast, where she nonviolently protests the schools’ discriminatory policies against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals. Paige Schilt, director of national media and public relations for Soulforce, said nonviolence
is the foundation of the organization.
“Soulforce is a national social justice organization that seeks freedom from religious and political oppression of LGBT individuals through relentless nonviolent resistance based on Martin Luther King and [Mohandas] Gandhi,” Schilt said.
Reikow started working with the organization when she protested the nation’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding homosexuals in the military at the Philadelphia Army Recruitment
Center, which is located at Broad and Arch streets. But Reikow said she is glad she stepped up her involvement with the organization as an equality rider.
“It has been an incredible experience,” Reikow said. “If you would have asked me a year ago where I would be today, I would not have said on a bus to demonstrate at Cedarville University. I’m really glad I did it though. It’s been awesome.”
The Equality Ride was composed of a total
of 52 riders. It was divided into two regions: East and West. Reikow, riding on the East bus, traveled to 15 Christian colleges, including Bob Jones University in Greenville, S.C., and Messiah College in Grantham, Pa. But of the 15 schools she and fellow her riders visited, Reikow said only five allowed the riders to enter the campus. One of the most resistant campuses was Mississippi College in Clinton, Miss., she said.
“At Mississippi College, the city tried to pass an ordinance that, if we got off the bus in groups of four or more, they would arrest us,” Reikow said. “We got the [American Civil Liberities Union] involved, and eventually we were allowed
off the bus.
“But they still had police surrounding the campus and wouldn’t let us enter. Students
then started coming down to us on the public streets to talk to us,” she continued.”
When the group left the campus, a police
officer pulled them over three times, telling them to leave the city and threatening to arrest the bus driver, who was not affiliated with Soulforce, Reikow added.
Reikow, who is heterosexual, said being
straight has helped her generate interest when talking to students on campuses.
“A lot of students assume that I’m gay,” Reikow said. “When they find out that I’m straight, they are interested to find out why a heterosexual is on this trip. It helps me connect with the students, especially young male heterosexuals.”
When not demonstrating on college campuses, Reikow and the equality riders find ways to occupy their time, such as having
dinner with students or writing postcards to their trip sponsors.
But even their recreational activities employ a heavy emphasis on activism.
“Sometimes we take day trips. In Birmingham, [Ala.], we visited the Civil Rights Institute. It was really cool to be in that moment and say, ‘Wow, I am a part of continuing this,'” Reikow said.
A self-proclaimed atheist, Reikow said she was surprised by how this trip changed her view of Christianity.
“It’s given me a much better perspective
on Christianity. There is usually a welcoming church at each stop where we have dinner and meet some of the congregation,” she said.
“These people don’t even know us, but are so wonderful, largely because of their faith. It has given me a better view of Christianity, even though I’ve also seen the worst of it.”
Reikow will return to Temple April 26, when the trip concludes. She plans to take classes during the summer before graduating next year.
“I’m pretty sure that a lot of us might not ever see each other again,” she said of the other riders on the trip. “It will be really sad. I’m thankful that I’ve known them in this situation, though, because this kind of thing really brings out the best in people,” she said.
Alex Irwin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.