June 27, 2023

After 22 years protesting for women’s rights, an activist continues

Denise Lang-Browne at Washington Park in Alamogordo in June 2023.

Denise Lang-Browne at Washington Park in Alamogordo in June 2023.

Denise Lang-Browne, 72 of La Luz, has spent 22 years protesting for women’s rights and against other issues including Operation: Iraqi Freedom and misinformation during the first waves of the AIDS epidemic.

“Because how I saw it was often so different from the people. So it took me that long. I’m so grateful for younger people who are not waiting (until) 50,” Lang-Browne said. “When I have a right to say, this is how I see it. Not that I’m right all the time.”

Now she is one of the Otero County residents protesting in support of reproductive rights, including abortion.

This can be challenging because Lang-Browne’s beliefs are not widely shared by her neighbors. Otero County is a heavily Republican County where many residents oppose abortion. 

Lang-Browne has lived in Otero County since 1976, she began her activism in the 1990s when she heard incorrect rhetoric about how AIDS/HIV was spread. She and some friends became certified educators through the American Red Cross so they could educate people about what AIDS/HIV really were and what was known about its spread.

“I ended up with a group of people who saw what was being said here in Alamogordo that you could get infected if somebody touched a fork and it wasn’t washed off. Just ridiculous lies,” Lang-Browne said. “I started getting involved in—we didn’t do any actual protests—but we organized and we got Red Cross training, so that we could give programs about AIDS and AIDS prevention.”

Years later, in 2003, Lang-Browne, inspired by her late husband who was a Vietnam veteran who had lost both legs in that war, began protesting Operation: Iraqi Freedom which she saw as unjust.

“The idea of an unjustified war was what started me on the first protest and connecting with people,” Lang-Browne said.

By 2008, Lang-Browne started noticing talk about a potential overturn of Roe v. Wade, which protected the right to abortion. This led her to start We Trust Women which held an annual Womens’ March and Take Back the Night rallies at New Mexico State University-Alamogordo.

“It was a rally, it wasn’t a protest it was more of a ‘we trust women. Thank you, Supreme Court for trusting women,’” Lang-Browne said. “So, was there an expression of joy and gratitude for the rights that we had, but it probably only came about because we were sharing, hearing almost like a drumbeat (that Roe may be overturned).”

The rallies and protests Lang-Browne either organized or was otherwise a participant in were relatively peaceful, with minimal problems.

That is, until about five years ago, she said.

“The last five years have been different from the years before that, because I’ve never heard anything like ‘the only good Democrat is a dead Democrat’ and then allowing time for people to laugh and clap and then backing off and saying ‘oh, I only meant politically’,” Lang-Browne said referencing former Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin’s May 2020 remarks at an event in Truth or Consequences.

Griffin was removed from office in September 2022 based on a 14th Amendment violation that occurred due to his participation in the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol riots.

“So that was something I hadn’t seen and just the sheer venomous anger at me personally,” Lang-Browne said.

Another time was on local election day, Nov. 2, 2021 when Griffin and a magistrate candidate allegedly blocked Lang-Browne in the Otero Fairgrounds parking lot for electioneering for mayoral candidate and former City Commissioner Nadia Sykes. 

Legally, electioneering can take place outside of 100 feet of the door to the polling place. The Otero County Fairgrounds has the area marked as to where that is.

The police were called and a report was filed.

According to the police report, all parties were outside of the 100 feet limit, therefore no crime had been committed.

Griffin and the magistrate candidate later backed off when a male Democrat approached, Lang-Browne said.

Lang-Browne said that the police had been called on her before for electioneering for Democratic candidates but she had never been in a position with “actual human beings trying to hurt me, intimidate or harass me.”

Despite it all, Lang-Browne continues her work and has hope since young people are stepping up.

“(I would like to say) just how grateful I am for young women stepping up and seeing what’s going on,” Lang-Browne said.

Lang-Browne was one of the protesters who demonstrated ab0ut the Alamogordo City Commission’s declaration that Alamogordo was a sanctuary city for the unborn.

This was just one of several municipal actions statewide that were put in place following the Dobbs decision that overturned Roe v. Wade last year.

Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains CEO and president Adrienne Mansanares told NM Political Report that, as a provider, she was not worried as the state is protecting abortion care; however, she worries about it from the patient’s perspective.

“The hateful, violent language, the shame and stigma, the perpetuation of false information, the emotional well being and fabric of our communities,” Mansanres said. “The way the ordinances are written, it’s all part of a national anti-abortion strategy playbook ostracizing women, creating a sense of hatred (and) distracting city officials. It has dangerous, long lasting impacts. But our doors are open. The state of New Mexico is very loud and clear and welcoming.” 

Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains maintains clinics in Las Cruces, Farmington, Albuquerque and Santa Fe.