The Cost Of Activism For Some Women Who Protest Has Been High — Here's Why They Still Do It

You've seen the images. Roads shut down by people making it known that black lives do matter. People with disabilities dragged from their wheelchairs by Senate security. Thousands of women marching in the streets. For many who have decided to protest injustice — again and again and again these past few years — there's often a cost to activism, both financial and otherwise.

But that cost "shouldn’t deter people from fighting for social justice and fighting for their beliefs," Stephanie Woodward, an activist who says she was arrested for the 22nd time this September, tells Bustle. "There's the saying that freedom isn’t free, and for us we truly understand that."

The costs to the city where a protest takes place can be steep, and it can take a lot of funding for an organization to plan one. Protests affect the economy. And protesting can cost someone their career, as was famously the case for former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who kneeled during the national anthem to protest police brutality.

Not much official data exists on how much protesting can cost an individual, though. So what is activism literally costing women who risk their health, careers, and bodies to make their voices heard?

Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Rachel Meeropol, senior staff attorney and associate director of legal training and education at the Center for Constitutional Rights, points out that beyond legal fees, court costs, and travel expenses, activists may rack up childcare costs or else miss a day of work. Then there's the "opportunity cost" of what else they could have done with the time they spent protesting for a cause.

Meeropol worries that penalties for protesting are getting harsher. New laws cracking down on protests have been passed or proposed since President Donald Trump was elected in November 2016. According to the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law, 31 states have considered such laws so far, while nine have been passed.

Many nonprofits offer resources to activists. The Center for Constitutional Rights is part of a coalition with the ACLU and other organizations that helps protesters find free (or cheap) legal help. Some organizations, like the Women's March or ADAPT, a disability rights organization, train activists or help fundraise their transportation costs. But most activists shoulder any financial burden on their own.

Ahead, eight women who've been arrested while protesting share with Bustle how much their activism has cost them, how they managed that cost, and why they continue to protest. Bustle has verified arrest fines through public records, while the legal, travel, and health costs as well as lost wage costs are estimated by the activists themselves.

Alejandra Pablos

Diane Ovalle
  • Fines: $8,000
  • Legal fees: $14,000
  • Health care costs: ~$1,000
  • Travel/lodging costs: ~$1,800
  • Lost wages: $15,600
  • Total: At least $40,400

Alejandra Pablos, a 33-year-old Arizona-based immigrant rights and reproductive justice activist, has lived in the United States since she was a baby. Her parents, who are naturalized citizens, came from Mexico. Pablos held a green card until she was arrested in 2011 (not related to protesting) and spent two years in detainment. She describes her current residency status as complicated, but she's essentially undocumented. She's currently fighting for asylum in an appeals court.

In January, Pablos was arrested at a peaceful protest against ICE raids and over-policing. She was released, but when she showed up for a routine check-in with ICE in March, she was detained for 43 days before getting out on a $8,000 bond. She says she lost her job.

Pablos has had difficulty keeping track of the cost of her activism, given all the lawyers and legal fees. While some of her costs might not seem technically related to activism — like, she's had to pay for a cancellation of removal (i.e. deportation), help applying for work permits, and other immigration legal fees — she says if she hadn't been arrested while protesting, the costs wouldn't be like this. If she loses her appeal and continues that legal fight, Pablos says she'll need to pay another $5,000. She's considering asking the governor of Arizona for a pardon, and a lawyer for that would cost $17,000, she says. "I'm a grown-ass adult, and I can’t afford to do anything," she says.

"Before that arrest, I was not living in fear. I had some court to go to, but that’s it," she says. "Now it’s like, I know that they’re watching, right?"

Pablos says she's "scared as f*ck" about being forced to go to Mexico and away from her family. She's willing to adjust the way she protests so that she feels safer, but says organizing and resisting is her life now. "I have no other choice," she says.

Anita Cameron

Courtesy of Anita Cameron
  • Fines: "Tens of thousands."
  • Health care costs: "Thousands."
  • Travel/lodging costs: "Thousands."
  • Lost wages: $2,000
  • Total: "At least $50,000."

Anita Cameron says that as a kid, "I was steeped in a lot of black history and black pride, and it made me feel guilty that I was reaping benefits but wasn’t old enough to help fight." She was first arrested at 17 for jumping the fence of a power plant during an anti-nuclear movement protest in Ottawa, Illinois.

The 53-year-old is a national organizer with ADAPT, but she's participated in protests around everything from anti-apartheid to homeless rights to LGBTQ discrimination. She says she's been arrested 135 times with ADAPT. Over the past three decades, she says the arrest fines, medical bills, emergency room visits, and train tickets have added up — though she's been protesting so long that she can only estimate how much everything cost.

Cameron has also spent time in jail — once for 25 days, she says. But she believes being able to protest is a privilege, and she doesn't want the financial cost to prevent anyone from becoming an activist.

"It’s a matter of life and death," she says. "There are people out there that want us dead. I’m not being melodramatic. If we lose our health care, people will begin to die, and that includes me."

Tiffany Campbell

Alex Wong/Getty Images News/Getty Images
  • Arrest fines: $135
  • Legal fees: $0
  • Health care costs: $0
  • Travel/lodging: ~$2,400
  • Lost wages: $2,000
  • Total: ~$4,535

Tiffany Campbell, 42, says she was a straight-ticket Republican voter until a devastating diagnosis in 2006 forced her to abort one of a pair of twins she was pregnant with to save the other. Twelve years later, Campbell says she was arrested for interrupting Kavanaugh's confirmation hearing and yelling, "Abortion saved my child’s life, ask me how."

She was arrested while protesting Kavanaugh two other times; she took three separate trips to Washington, D.C. in total, and was generally able to cover the cost through donations she got from friends. "I'm definitely not being paid," she says. "I have to get online and beg for donations to get a plane ticket. Like, I don't know who George Soros is, but I need to find out so I can send him an invoice."

Campbell says she doesn't get paid time off at her job, though, so the time she took off to protest meant she lost a couple thousand dollars in wages.

Her activism has also strained her relations with her family. "I would say they’re not proud of me," Campbell says. But she plans to keep protesting because she feels like she's making a difference: "I think we're opening people's eyes to what horrible things are going on in this country."

LaShell Eikerenkoetter

Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images News/Getty Images
  • Arrest fines: $0
  • Legal fees: $0
  • Health care costs: $0
  • Travel/lodging costs: $0
  • Lost wages: ~$20,000
  • Total: ~$20,000

LaShell Eikerenkoetter says protesting cost her a job. The 28-year-old first took to the streets to clean up after the initial protests in Ferguson, Missouri, after Michael Brown was killed in 2014. A few days later, Eikerenkoetter was videotaping a police altercation with an elderly man. She was arrested, thrown in jail, and charged with "interfering with an arrest."

"It was just that eye-opening experience for me," she says. "I was everything society tells me to be — a college graduate working in her career. And in that instance, I felt devalued, dehumanized, embarrassed, and, I mean, literally afraid for my life. And that was just the first arrest."

Eikerenkoetter says it was 18 hours before she was released from jail, and since it was a weekday, she missed a day of work and says it was used as a reason to fire her later. She moved back in with her mother afterward and was jobless for six months. Eikerenkoetter was arrested three more times protesting police brutality in St. Louis; the charges were dropped.

Aside from lost wages, the biggest cost Eikerenkoetter says she suffered was emotional: spending hours in a "freezing cold" jail and seeing people there who couldn't bail themselves out or were behind bars for reasons beyond their control.

"To this moment, I cannot stand being a little bit cold," she says. "It takes me back to being in that place."

Hoda Katebi

  • Fines: $0
  • Legal fees: $0
  • Health care costs: $0
  • Travel/lodging costs: $0
  • Lost wages: $0
  • Total: $0

Hoda Katebi says being arrested while protesting didn't cost her any money. But she says the emotional and mental toll on her was so great that she decided she probably wouldn't use arrest as a protest tactic ever again.

Katebi, 23, was arrested with 14 others while blocking Michigan Avenue in Chicago to protest the Illinois Tactical Officers Association's conference in October 2016. Katebi calculates that there were more than double the amount of officers than protesters; she says it "was sort of a visualization of everything we were challenging: this overt militarization of local police forces, but also militarization at large."

As a hijab-wearing woman, Katebi says she was treated differently at the jail — "the way Muslims are seen by the state is as a terrorist type before anything else" — and the experience made her rethink what risks she's willing to take and what tactics would be more effective while allowing her to stay safe.

"The experiences of people who are more at the margins and more targeted by the state are—" she says, before pausing, "it's scary." But even though her arrest took a toll on her, Katebi says, activism gives her "the freedom to imagine an alternative world and actively work toward building that."

Stephanie Woodward

AP/Shutterstock
  • Arrest fines: ~$500
  • Legal fees: $0
  • Health care costs: $1,000
  • Travel/lodging costs: ~$3,500
  • Lost wages: $0
  • Total: ~$5,000

When Republicans in Congress tried to pass their health care plan last year, Capitol Police pulled Stephanie Woodward out of her wheelchair, carried her out of a Senate building, and handcuffed her — all while she chanted, "No cuts to Medicaid!" A photo of her being carried away went viral.

"I found it really interesting that people were more horrified by the way police were treating us than they were about Congress’ intent to cut billions of dollars from the only insurance plan that is paying to keep disabled people alive," Woodward, 30, says.

Woodward has protested hundreds of times as an ADAPT organizer. While donations to ADAPT help subsidize hotel rooms and transportation costs — sometimes even arrest fines — Woodward has shouldered a lot of expenses on her own. She estimates that per arrest, she spends anywhere from $150 to $600.

After she participates in a protest, Woodward often ends up at the doctor. So on top of other costs, there's a $50 copay for the doctor's visit, plus the cost of medicine, and a twice-monthly $50 payment for the psychotherapist she sees to help her deal with all the resulting stress.

Outside of the monetary costs, which she says are very rough estimates, she worries about how the arrests could affect her license to practice law. But, she says, "I’m putting my career on the line because I believe in rights of disabled people more than I believe in my right to practice law."

Inhe Choi

Courtesy of HANA Center
  • Arrest fines: $100
  • Legal fees: $0
  • Health care costs: $0
  • Travel/lodging costs: $1,000
  • Lost wages: $0
  • Total: $1,100

For several months last year, Inhe Choi traveled back and forth between Chicago and Washington, D.C., where she was arrested twice for protesting. As a naturalized citizen from Korea and the executive director of the HANA Center, she was in D.C. to protest for a clean Dream Act, which would provide a path to citizenship for immigrants who came to the U.S. as kids, while leaving out legislative add-ons, like funding for a border wall.

Choi, 57, points out that while discussions around the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program often centers around Latinx communities, about 16 percent of undocumented immigrants are Asian, according to data from the Center for Migration Studies.

The two arrests cost Choi $50 each in fines. Factoring in travel, food, and other costs, she estimates each trip where she was arrested totaled at least $500.

The non-financial cost to Choi was even greater. When she was arrested, a photo of her in handcuffs showed up in a Korean newspaper. "The community members were calling here and freaking out about, 'Why is she getting arrested? What did she do wrong?'" she says. "That’s the cost, especially if you’re a person that the community is looking to for trust and some level of security."

But "you can’t give up," she adds. "If you don’t do anything and you watch. ... I think that’s too much to handle and bear."

Deborah Harris

Kristine Jones
  • Fines: $310
  • Legal fees: $0
  • Health care costs: $0
  • Travel/lodging costs: ~$5,500
  • Lost wages: $0
  • Total: ~ $6,000

Deborah Harris’ first time participating in a civil disobedience action was over the separation of migrant families earlier this year. The former Nevada state coordinator for the Women’s March says she was "ready to put my body on the line and raise as much hell as I could." After being arrested for the first time in July, she was arrested six more times in Washington, D.C. while protesting then-nominee for the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh.

Harris, who was chosen by the Women's March to be a chant leader during protests, says all the marching has left her in a lot of pain because of a previous knee surgery. She doesn't have any health care costs from her activism because she doesn't have health insurance, so she says she doesn't seek treatment.

But Harris keeps protesting because she says she's got a job to do. She says elected officials "have forgotten that they serve the will of the people" and vows that if the Trump administration's tactics against women escalate, she'll step up her activism in kind.

"It's like you have to look yourself in the mirror every five seconds and tell yourself, 'Do not move.' Tell yourself, 'Do not leave the front lines. Do not leave this fight,'" she says. "It’s an emotional battle every day."