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Young Climate Activists Warn Their Elders: Stop Destroying the Planet

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MUMBAI, India — 

After the cops showed up in an urban forest and detained Manisha Dhinde, one of them asked her: “What is this fashion of protesting for the environment?”

“It isn’t fashion,” Dhinde snapped back on that day two years ago. “It is my duty to save trees.”

She was opposing plans to cut down 2,700 trees in order to build a metro train car shed on tribal land in Mumbai. That moment galvanized the petite woman with the deep voice, and now she is aiming to work with marginalized communities across her state of Maharashtra to stop or at least reshape development projects that would harm the environment.

A construction project planned for an urban forest in Mumbai, India, awakened a young woman’s environmental activism.

(Punit Paranjpe / AFP/Getty Images)

“We don’t respect anyone more than we respect nature,” Dhinde, 22, said of the tribes living on shrinking green space in this traffic-congested, air-polluted city.

Dhinde is part of a surge of young environmentalists determined to stave off climate change by challenging the destructive ways of their elders. In Uganda, a climate activist who once worked in her family’s battery supply shop has found international fame for bringing Africa and the Global South into the conversation. In Scotland, a woman who quit college to warn of rising temperatures and a troubling carbon footprint is battling politicians and corporations she accuses of attempting to co-opt and distort the climate change movement.

“It is my duty to save trees,” Manisha Dhinde says.

(Amrita Bhattacharjee)

All three are part of the first generation to come of age at a time when the effects of the climate crisis are already being felt — foreshadowing a perilous future. Their fight is propelled by the technology they have mastered: unparalleled access to information and to one another — thousands of miles but only milliseconds apart on the social media platforms that have heralded their cause. Some, like Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, have become brands themselves, testifying at hearings and admonishing lawmakers and bureaucrats.

Their confrontational strategy is reminiscent of the young antiwar and civil rights protesters of the 1960s. But the existential stakes are much higher today. Disillusioned by economic and political designs that have long favored big industry and fossil fuels over the environment, this generation faces the prospect that entire regions of the world will become increasingly uninhabitable. Their TikTok videos and social media scrolls are a kaleidoscope of climate refugees, sinking cities, parched farmlands and endangered wildlife.

“The planet is warming, the animals are disappearing, the rivers are dying, and our plants don’t flower like they did before,” Txai Suruí, a 24-year-old Indigenous climate activist from the Brazilian Amazon, told world leaders on the opening day of the United Nations COP26 summit in Glasgow, Scotland, this week. “The Earth is speaking. She tells us that we have no more time.”

By any measure, the outlook is grim. Oceans are hotter than they’ve ever been and the rate of sea level rise has doubled since 2006. Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere haven’t been this high in 2 million years. More than 1 million plants and animal species are at risk of extinction. No matter what changes are made today, the young will inherit a planet that over the next 30 years will see worsening heat waves, droughts and flooding, according to a recent United Nations report. The effects of greenhouse gas emissions, it said, are “irreversible for centuries to millennia.”

The impact will be most profound for the young in poorer countries. In Africa, where the population is growing at twice the rate as in South Asia or Latin America, and is expected to double by 2050, the number of youths being born into a warming climate is booming. Almost half of the populations of many African countries, including Niger, Mali, Uganda and Congo, are under age 15. Those young are already living through the crisis. Cyclones have torn through the south; desert locusts have endangered the food supply in the east; the Nile River’s water supply is unsteady.

“It’s not the devastation that keeps us fighting. It’s what we see in our minds — the vision, the hope,” said Vanessa Nakate, an activist from Uganda. “Because if there’s no hope, what are we to look forward to?”

::

“It’s not the devastation that keeps us fighting. It’s what we see in our minds — the vision, the hope,” said Vanessa Nakate, a climate activist from Uganda. “Because if there’s no hope, what are we to look forward to?”

(Esther Ruth Mbabazi)

Nakate was having trouble falling asleep in her sweltering attic bedroom in Kampala. It was 2018, and so hot and dry, farmers had noticed their yields were suffering. Then came the floods. Nakate watched in horror as rising waters and landslides in eastern Uganda drove 21,000 people from their homes. More than 50 people died, including children buried in the mud of an elementary school.

It seemed extreme weather events were becoming more frequent and lasting longer. She asked her Uncle Charles whether she was imagining things. He told her that the world was in trouble.

Nakate was shy and introverted — nothing like the Greta Thunberg she saw on social media. She worried she would be mistaken for a prostitute if she staged a one-woman protest at a busy Kampala intersection. But compelled to act, she enlisted her siblings and cousins and made posters: Nature is life; climate strike now; thanks for the global warming. So nervous she couldn’t feel her legs, she uploaded photos of their six-person strike to Twitter. Thunberg retweeted them, and Nakate’s act of defiance went viral.

A college graduate with a business degree, Nakate became a rare African voice in a chorus of young climate change activists. In early 2020, she was in Davos, Switzerland, sleeping in a tent despite subzero temperatures to prove an energy-efficient point during the World Economic Forum. But it was her skin color, not her environmentalism, that made her famous when she was trimmed out of a photograph with four white activists.

A landslide in eastern Uganda killed dozens of people in 2010.

(Peter Busomoke / AFP/Getty Images)

“They hadn’t just cropped me out, I realized,” she said. “They’d cropped out a whole continent.”

That moment of humiliation in the Alps steeled her. She quickly emerged as a leading critic on the disproportionate impact of climate change on the Global South, or poorer regions outside of North America and Europe. The average person in Uganda, like other African countries, emits less carbon dioxide in a year than a person in the United Kingdom does in just two weeks, she said, but are the first to face extreme economic loss and forced migration.

The rate of sea level rise in countries like Madagascar is above average; more than half of the coastlines of Benin, Togo, Ivory Coast and Senegal are eroding; and thanks to extreme heat and flooding, disease-carrying mosquitoes are inhabiting new altitudes of the East African highlands. In some regions of Africa, the number of undernourished people has increased by almost 50% in the last decade.

A boy walks past a destroyed tomb in a graveyard along an eroded coastline in Bargny, Senegal.

(John Wessels / AFP/Getty Images)

“For our country, drought means hunger, starvation and death,” Nakate said. “We see it as it is — not what’s coming in the future, but what’s here already, right now.”

During the pandemic, she saw it in real time, as Ugandan households under stay-at-home orders were flooded by the rising waters of Lake Victoria. Nakate’s frustration intensified as government officials urged people to follow science in combating the COVID-19 pandemic but, in her view, weren’t following science on climate change.

Vanessa Nakate, right, is comforted by Greta Thunberg at a climate summit in Italy in September.

(Associated Press)

Nakate wears a hoodie, listens to Taylor Swift music and, like others in her generation, has taken much of her advocacy online, communicating through a WhatsApp account tagged with a sunglasses emoji. She believes that social media have helped young people around the world, including in the United States, understand the immediacy of the crisis in her country. Like many of her climate compatriots she has the aura of a tireless prophet, logging thousands of miles to spread her message, most recently traveling to Scotland for the U.N. summit.

She’s published a new book and is keen with a sound bite: “Every activist has a story to tell, every story has a solution to give, every solution has a life to change.”

At home she knows all activism is local and deeds have quiet power. She has taken to installing solar panels in Ugandan schools and meeting with students. She believes girls in particular are the “first responders” to the climate crisis — and, given the current roster, she points out, that’s hard to contest.

“I’d have three children right now if I hadn’t gone to school and researched the environment,” she said. “Climate justice and gender equality are intertwined: If half of all the players sit on the sidelines, our entire planet is going to lose.”

::

It was the evening before the biggest day of her young life, and Lauren MacDonald was having a panic attack.

Her stomach was doing flips and her hands were trembling. Her friends, a group of other young climate activists from around the world, soothed her. Then they stayed up with her until the early morning helping her write and practice the speech that would make her a viral sensation.

“I just want to start by saying that you should be absolutely ashamed of yourself for the devastation that you have caused to communities all over the world,” MacDonald said the next day to one of the world’s most powerful oil men, interrupting an otherwise staid panel discussion on climate change with an all-out declaration of war.

The crowd at the TED Countdown Summit in Edinburgh, Scotland, gasped and Ben van Beurden, the chief executive of Royal Dutch Shell, stared down at his feet. Van Beurden had just spoken at length about his company’s vow to cut its carbon emissions in the coming decades when MacDonald, an activist who had led TED officials to believe she would be giving a more decorous speech, went into attack mode.

“Every single day that you fail to stop making evil decisions is a day that the death toll from the climate crisis rises,” she said.

MacDonald criticized Shell’s continued exploration for new oil and its history of sowing public doubt about climate science, dismissing the company’s carbon-reduction pledge as nothing more than “greenwashing.” She then unhooked her microphone and left the stage.

“Every single day that you fail to stop making evil decisions is a day that the death toll from the climate crisis rises,” activist Lauren MacDonald told one oil executive.

(Alexander Hoyles)

Overnight, MacDonald became another outspoken star of a global movement. While she faced criticism from some corners for not engaging Van Beurden in dialogue at the event last month, many others rejoiced in watching a plucky 21-year-old berate a man whose company is one of the world’s largest producers of CO2 emissions.

Speaking over a video chat a few days later, MacDonald was dazed. “Being elevated to a world stage is very new,” she said from her bedroom in Glasgow, once a major shipbuilding town with smoke-heavy skies. “I feel really blessed, but also very overwhelmed.”

Born in a working-class family, she first learned about climate change in high school when a friend explained why she was vegan. Soon MacDonald had stopped eating animal products and was spending all of her free time organizing climate strikes. She dropped out of university after a few semesters, convinced that activism was more urgent than her studies.

She has confronted powerful leaders before, including Nicola Sturgeon, the head of the Scottish government.

Nicola Sturgeon, the head of the Scottish government, was confronted by climate activist Lauren MacDonald.

(Jane Barlow / AFP/Getty Images)

“I worry every day,” she told Sturgeon in video that went viral, demanding that she commit to opposing Cambo, a new oil field off Scotland’s coast. “I have genuine existential crises when I think about my future.”

Sturgeon appeared moved by the emotional plea. “I hear what you say, and I have a lot of sympathy,” she said. But ultimately she sidestepped the issue of the oil field.

MacDonald says her mental health has suffered — both from anguish about the irreversibly changing world and the feeling that she must carry more of that weight as others look away.

“We need more people to be taking on this burden to share it between people,” MacDonald said.

While people called her brave for challenging Van Beurden, she said the confrontation was painful. “The work that I do and that so many other people are doing is not easy. It’s heartbreaking,” she said.

She does the work for her little sister.

“I want to do everything that I can to mitigate like devastation for the people that I love,” she said. “I think that it’s so important to have the audacity to keep trying.”

::

The protest that led to Manisha Dhinde’s arrest in Mumbai just before the pandemic was to oppose a construction project in the Aarey Colony, an urban forest of some 32,000 acres. It is home to vulnerable species — leopards, sambar deer, dozens of types of butterflies — and consists of 27 tribal hamlets, or forest-dwelling communities, including her own.

“The authorities always keep tribals in the dark,” she said of the state’s plan to build the metro train car shed. “We weren’t even asked or considered, even though we live here.”

Even after her arrest — on the way to her school exams — she and others kept at it, attending public hearings and forming blockade chains until the project fell through. That was her first encounter with environmental activism. But the protest to save the forest in Aarey Colony introduced her to other environmental problems in India, a country of 1.4 billion people where some regions have seen temperatures of more than 123 degrees Fahrenheit in recent years.

India’s government officials always keep tribal communities “in the dark,” Manisha Dhinde says. “We weren’t even asked or considered, even though we live here.”

(Amrita Bhattacharjee)

One of those problems is Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s plan to connect the capitals of Maharashtra and his home state of Gujarat with a bullet train. It is supposed to run through the tribal district of Palghar — about 75 miles north of Mumbai — and displace 41 villages. Development projects — as they do in many countries — affect the poor disproportionately even as they fell forests, whose trees cleanse carbon from the air, and spoil the land for those who live off it.

Dhinde says that no matter how much the tribal communities resist, they are eventually coaxed into submission. “Tribals never benefit from these projects,” she says. “It is always the large corporations and the state.”

Dhinde is fierce and direct, if not exactly imposing. She’s thin with a deep voice and brisk walk.

She sees the connection between razing trees and the climate. Eccentric weather patterns in India mean consistent losses to agriculture and farmers, on whom India’s rural economy depends, or nearly 70% of the country’s population. Dhinde knows a thing or two about it. During the day she works on her family’s three-acre farm, where they cultivate rice and vegetables, as they have for generations.

Dhinde is part of the Tribal Rights Protection Committee in the Aarey Colony, where she and others research and share the potential consequences of construction projects, ensuring that “every tribal here gets the information that the authorities are trying to hide.” She is also pursuing a degree in social work, confident it will help fight for the most marginalized.

Young environmental activists demonstrate in India.

(Ndranil Mukherjee / AFP/Getty Images)

As the coronavirus continues circulating, the group meets in person only when necessary. But Dhinde keeps the communication strong: She takes pictures for the group’s Twitter page, @ConserveAarey, and Instagram account, @AareyForest, to help share information about the tribal communities across India to ensure their voices are heard.

“Times have changed,” she says of social media. “You realize you are not alone.”

Dhinde, like her counterparts in Uganda and Scotland, knows that, even if the razing halted and carbon emissions ceased today, the effects of past warming would still be felt for decades. She is not fighting a distant abstraction, but rather an altered world whose climate dangers will be with her until she dies.

Parth M.N. is a special correspondent. This is the fifth in a series of occasional stories about the challenges the young face in an increasingly perilous world. Reporting for the series was supported by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.

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Source: latimes.com

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Why Mexico’s President Is Promoting a Recall Against Himself

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MEXICO CITY — 

Standing before hundreds of thousands of cheering supporters in downtown Mexico City’s central square, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador saved his most striking comment for the end of his speech.

He urged the Mexicans packed into the Zócalo to participate in an April referendum to decide whether they want to boot him from office more than two years early.

“None of, ‘They chose me for six years and I can do whatever I want,’” López Obrador said at the rally Wednesday to mark his midterm. “If one who governs is not up to the task and obeying the people, revoke their mandate and out!”

The president, 68, likely believes he has nothing to worry about.

Recent polls show that about two-thirds of the public approve of his performance since taking office in 2018 on a platform that promised a radical transformation of Mexican society to combat corruption and inequality and to roll back free-market economic policies.

Families and marching bands making their way to the Zócalo passed vendors hawking gray-haired López Obrador dolls and posters with the hashtag #QueSigaAMLO, or “may AMLO continue,” referring to the president by his initials. Many said they view a referendum, authorized by a 2019 constitutional reform spearheaded by the president, as proof of his honest character when compared to decades of presidents accused of corruption.

“AMLO is the first president that dares to put himself to the test before the people,” said Debanhi Andrea Garcia, 22, who drove 14 hours from the state of Nuevo León with her boyfriend. “Because he’s like that, we support him.”

Supporters of López Obrador hold banners in support of the president at Mexico City’s Zócalo.

(Manuel Velasquez / Getty Images)

Mexicans have until Dec. 25 to sign a petition supporting the referendum, which can move forward only with the signatures of at least 3% of eligible voters, among other caveats.

So far, the initiative has received more than 703,000 signatures from Mexicans who have valid voting credentials, or 25% of the required total, according to the National Electoral Institute, an independent agency overseeing the process. (That tally includes signatures that will be discarded because they are duplicates or have other irregularities.)

Officially called the “revocation of mandate,” the measure follows other efforts by the president to increase citizen engagement in public policy. López Obrador has also backed referendums to decide whether former Mexican presidents should be prosecuted for alleged crimes, on the construction of a new airport near Mexico City and on the development of a tourism train line that would run through the Yucatan Peninsula.

“He does conceive his power as being a function of people reiterating their support actively,” said Francisco González, a professor of Latin American politics at Johns Hopkins University. “He wants it officially confirmed to give him that comfort of being the popular leader who is doing the right thing for Mexico.”

Since taking office, López Obrador has also expanded social welfare programs while introducing sharp austerity measures. He has halted renewable energy projects, promoted a constitutional reform to increase the country’s control of the electricity market, and given more power to the military — putting it in charge of projects such as the tourism train.

President López Obrador gives an address to mark the midpoint of his term.

(Manuel Velasquez / Getty Images)

His critics say that he hasn’t done enough to reduce high levels of homicides, including many killings of women and attacks against journalists and public officials. Dozens of candidates across the country were assassinated ahead of last spring’s midterm elections for governorships and legislative and mayoral seats.

Critics also are concerned about López Obrador’s attacks against democratic agencies that could check his power, notably the National Electoral Institute. He has repeatedly disparaged the independent agency, which last May sanctioned him for making statements in at least 29 news conferences that it said could be considered government propaganda that could influence the midterm elections. In Mexico, such statements by public officials are generally barred during the election season.

But the president’s vision of transformational change continues to resonate among many voters who view him as a paternal figure. López Obrador is in constant dialogue with his electorate, holding press conferences every morning that last hours.

“The figure he has constructed of an honest man, an honorable man, an incorruptible man — that helps him in a society that is used to seeing terribly corrupt politicians,” said René Torres-Ruiz, a political scientist at the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City.

Even if enough signatures are gathered, hurdles to a referendum remain. The National Electoral Institute’s members have said that the agency doesn’t have the budget to carry out the vote and at least 40% of eligible voters must participate for the referendum to be binding. The referendum on former presidents last August fell far short of the 40% voting figure.

Ariadna Gomez, left, and another volunteer collect signatures for a referendum on whether Mexico’s president should continue.

(Leila Miller / Los Angeles Times)

Stephanie Brewer, the director for Mexico and migrant rights at the D.C.-based Washington Office on Latin America, said that winning a referendum would increase López Obrador’s perception that he could move forward freely with his agenda.

“What he wants is to come out of the vote, supposing there is one, politically strengthened with this renewed and amplified popular mandate,” she said.

Opposition parties have accused the president’s supporters of twisting the stated purpose of the referendum into a tool to promote López Obrador’s agenda. The 2019 reform called for a referendum to “revoke” a president’s mandate rather than “ratify” it and a complaint before the National Electoral Institute by the National Action Party referenced how volunteers have registered voters next to posters that advertise the referendum as a means of promoting the president rather than recalling him from office.

Luis Cházaro, a congressman from the Party of the Democratic Revolution, told The Times that the referendum “has been transformed into a promotional tool for the party.” He does not plan to participate.

In Coyoacán, a cobblestoned neighborhood in Mexico City known for Frida Kahlo’s home, volunteers last Sunday gathered signatures at a plaza in front of posters of the president that said “may AMLO continue.”

Ariana Garcia, a 24-year-old volunteer, said she uses the term “ratification” for people she senses like the president and “revocation” for those she thinks oppose him.

“People tell you, ‘But I don’t want my president to leave,’ so we tell them, ‘OK, then in this case you can ratify your support for the president,’” she said.

A supporter of López Obrador listens to his speech at a rally to commemorate the president’s midterm.

(Marco Ugarte/Associated Press)

Roberto Garcia, a systems engineer in Mexico City, said that he would vote against the president, uncomfortable that the federal government recently issued a decree that requires federal agencies to automatically approve infrastructure projects that are deemed to be of interest to the public or national security. He also sees the referendum as “a type of manipulation,” suspicious of why the president has contradicted the National Electoral Institute, saying it has enough funding to hold a vote he himself has fought for.

María de los Angeles Resendiz, a grandmother of 10 from the state of Mexico, will support López Obrador without hesitation.

Resendiz, 62, watches the president’s 7 a.m. news conferences each day with her husband while preparing breakfast and washing dishes. If she needs to skip one, she’ll track it down later on YouTube. She also listens to summaries in case she’s missed something.

Before López Obrador took power, Resendiz tried to stay as far away from politics as she could. She became disillusioned when she was a little girl after the 1968 Tlatelolco massacre, in which soldiers killed as many as 300 people at a student protest in Mexico City.

She called López Obrador a “simple” man who has won her confidence with his anti-corruption platform. She eagerly described how his government has set money aside for youth job training and expanded welfare payments to the elderly.

“He’s given us back our dignity,” she said. “I am proud to say that I am Mexican and that he is my president.”

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Original Post: latimes.com

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Op-Ed: the U.S. Shouldn’t Ignore Mexico’s Ongoing Human Rights Catastrophe

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On Dec. 1, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador reached the halfway point of his six-year term. Since his election in 2018, López Obrador has not only failed to improve the country’s disastrous human rights record, he has worked to undo many of the hard-fought gains in transparency and the rule of law that rights groups, activists and campaigners have achieved since the end of one-party rule in Mexico in 2000.

The United States has been noticeably silent regarding the Mexican president’s accelerating attacks on democracy. President Biden has instead chosen to focus on enlisting López Obrador to prevent migrants from reaching the U.S. border.

López Obrador, a prominent anti-establishment figure in Mexican politics for decades, is the kind of populist leader that has become increasingly common in Latin America. He was democratically elected in a landslide on a promise to “transform” Mexico by taking back control of the country from the elites whose policies he blamed for economic inequality, social breakdown and growing violence.

López Obrador inherited a human rights catastrophe. When he came to office in 2018, 12 years of a military-led drug war had led to horrific abuses. Homicides hit staggering numbers. Thousands of people disappeared every year. But he has not addressed these problems. Soldiers continue to kill civilians. Homicides remain at historically high rates. And according to the government’s figures, more than 25,000 people have gone missing on his watch.

Even so, López Obrador has remained immensely popular with his base. He appears to believe that his continued popular support gives him the moral authority to concentrate as much power as possible in his own hands and to attempt to control every part of the state to bring about his promised transformation.

He labels anyone who criticizes him or stands in his way as a “neoliberal” or “conservative,” nebulous groups of supposed adversaries whom he describes as corrupt and morally bankrupt. Leveling this charge allows him to avoid responding to genuine concerns raised by journalists who question him, women’s rights campaigners upset at his lack of action on gender-based violence, Indigenous communities who oppose his megaprojects, environmentalists who disagree with his coal and oil-focused energy policy, and press freedom campaigners concerned about his government’s harassment of journalists, among others.

He has eliminated or proposed eliminating many government agencies not under his direct control, including the independent energy and telecommunications regulators, funds for protecting journalists and responding to climate change and natural disasters, the independent transparency agency and the independent electoral authority. He recently decreed that his government’s construction and infrastructure projects would be automatically granted permits without any review and that as matters of “national security,” would be exempted from transparency rules.

He has also gone after the judicial system, which has delayed or blocked a number of his projects and proposals as abusive or unconstitutional. His efforts to intimidate the judiciary have grown brazen. López Obrador has publicly singled out those whose rulings he dislikes and called for a judge who ruled against him to be investigated.

In April, his coalition in Congress passed a law — since overturned — to extend the term of the Supreme Court chief justice who has ruled in favor of the president. And in August, López Obrador held a referendum on whether the government should put five previous presidents on trial for alleged crimes such as “neoliberalism” and the “privatization of public goods.”

The U.S. policy of ignoring López Obrador’s attacks on the rule of law came into stark relief in June, when Vice President Kamala Harris visited Mexico and met with him. At the end of the trip, a journalist asked the vice president if the United States was concerned about López Obrador’s hostile attitude toward the media and civil society.

Harris initially responded that she had urged the Mexican president to respect the independence of the judicial system, the press and civil society. However, hours later, her spokesperson issued a correction to the Spanish wire service EFE, saying the vice president had been confused; she and the Mexican president had only discussed immigration and the economy, nothing else.

López Obrador will be in office for another three years. His coalition still controls both houses of Congress and he has made it clear that he is willing to amend the constitution if necessary to remove obstacles to achieving his goals. Unless the circumstances change, there are no signs he intends to alter his course.

José Miguel Vivanco is Americas director at Human Rights Watch. Tyler Mattiace is a researcher at Human Rights Watch.

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Source: latimes.com

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Photos: As Roe Vs. Wade Challenged, Demonstrators Gather Outside Supreme Court

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Juanito Estevez, of Freeport, N.Y., holds a cross as he and abortion rights advocates and anti-abortion protesters demonstrate in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.

(Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times)

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