Common Ground

 

On Twitter, there was a discussion about finding “common ground” with anti’s. An anti, who bills himself as a person who “helps pro-lifers be more persuasive and less weird when they communicate with pro-choice people” started this discussion.  

Some of the questions he was asking went along the lines of, “Is it right for boyfriends and parents to pressure women to have abortions?” and, “What do you think about abortion if the unborn has been diagnosed with Down Syndrome?” and, “Would you prefer that there were fewer abortions?”

Of course my response was, anyone who wants an abortion should have safe and legal access to it, period. His response, “Well, its hard to have a conversation about abortion if you start by assuming it should always be available.”

What?

Mr. Pro-Life speaker, you want to have a conversation on limiting abortion access and ultimately ending abortion. I do not.  We have no common ground.  We don’t have to have common ground.  It is OK.

More to the point, here are some pretty big reasons why we will never have common ground.

1. You want to make abortion illegal.  I do not

2. You want to put stipulations on abortion.  I do not.

3. “Counseling” is not a pro-active thing.  If you were really interested in counseling, a client would seek you out and come to you with questions and wanting to talk about options besides abortion.  We all know that isn’t how it goes. You chase clients down the street and shove flyers at them.  You yell at companions and (when applicable) insult their “masculinity” by telling them to “man up” and “bring your woman out of there”.  That isn’t counseling.

4. You want to make “pro-life people less weird”.  That is impossible.  Even if you rounded up all the anti-choice protesters and made them sit through one of your presentations, there would STILL be protesters that don’t listen and do what they want. There would still be protesters that get in people’s faces, stalk, and get physically violent. The harassment and the intimidation would continue, unabated. Therefore, common ground is pointless.

5. Something that may actually help “counselors” do some actual “counseling” on the sidewalk is a buffer zone. A buffer zone may discourage harassing behavior, while still allowing clients TO APPROACH YOU instead of the other way around when they want to talk about options.  That would be real counseling.  I wonder how many “pro-life counselors” would be ok with that type of arrangement?

At the end of this twitter exchange, the pro-lifer said “I’m just saying that on the night that the #abortionchat topic was on common ground, I found a ton of CG with @LouClinicEscort , but he or she couldn’t find one iota of common ground with me :-/”

My response was this “Anti’s like to make themselves victims on the sidewalk, even as they are harassing. But no, you are the victim here”.  Of course, it was all about his feelings.  Even as people that he supports push and yell and scream and don’t listen to constant, “NO, GO AWAY, LEAVE ME ALONE”. Of course, its MY fault that we couldn’t find any “common ground”

I don’t have any common ground with pro-lifers, much like I don’t have any common ground with rapists.  Stop harassing clients. Stop the guilt and shame.  Leave people alone to go to the doctor.  Period. Just go away.

(BTW, if you want to see some of the things we discussed on Twitter, I tweet @LouClinicEscort.  The “pro-life speaker” in this exchange was @JoshBrahm.  Or you can check out the hashtag #abortionchat)

Subtle, but not very….

Emotions can run high on the sidewalk, even though it may not always be outwardly visible.  If anything, escorts do our best to keep things “normal”.  “Normal”, at least in my estimation, is walking to the doctor’s office with as little drama or personal space violation as possible.  You  know, like walking down any other sidewalk on any other street would be. That is the goal.  Minimal nonsense and maximum expediency to the door for the client.

Enter the anti’s.  Their goal is disruption.  Their tools are harassment, shame, and outrageous statements, but their main goal is to stop the client from walking into the abortion clinic. The shame and nonsense that comes out of their mouths is their most obvious weapon. “Don’t kill your baby. That baby will look just like you.  Young man, we are called to protect women, stand up for her.”  The litany goes on and on. Their most subtle, and in my opinion the most insidious thing that anti’s do is they themselves get “emotional”.  Their voices rise and their voices break and they beg and cry and implore.  They also put their bodies in front of the clients and the escorts to impede walking down the sidewalk. “But this is a BAAAAAYYYBBEEEEEEE” is a favorite of the anti that we call “The Cryer”.  She often trails behind the clients and wails at their backs. As soon as the client is in the clinic, however, she and others are back on the sidewalk chatting with their fellow protesters.  It is so ridiculous for them to be so dialed in and emotional one second, then completely composed the next.  It seems fake and a pantomime of someone who actually cares.  Not only faking the emotion, but then throwing it into a strangers face.

Another “tactic” that the preaching protesters like to use is while crying and wailing for the unborn, they assign innocence or guilt to a fetus that deserves neither.  They plead constantly for the “innocent baby that you are going to kill” and in the next breath “God will judge you guilty of murder”.  They talk about the “innocence of the baby in the womb” then “At our birth we are bound for hell.” The double talk that goes on with the sidewalk preachers is constant and ridiculous.  Save the baby so it will be bound for hell unless it does what we say.  Yeah. Subtle, but not very.

Keeping Score

We published an article last September titled “Myths About Escorts.” One of the myths we examined was the one where escorts keep score of clients entering EMW and celebrate a “win” when a client leaves AWC (the CPC) next door. I pointed out D is the one who carries a handheld tally counter daily.

Hand Tally Counter

It still isn’t a sport where points are won depending on the count of clients entering a particular building. Reproductive rights are not a game. The decisions people reach about a pregnancy will impact their lives and the lives of their families. Abortion is just one of the decisions clients may make about their healthcare. Escorts try to make access to abortion easier for clients, but we do not try to persuade anyone to make a decision based upon our beliefs. This is a concept the antis never seem to grasp.

One day last month a client and two companions entered the clinic without incident. Shortly after 8a they all came back out. They walked to their car parked close by at the curb, but before they could reach it the anti MW stopped them. Then we saw MW put her arm around the client and talk to her. They talked for a couple of minutes before all three walked back up the sidewalk and into AWC.

During the approach by the anti and the walk back into AWC, the escorts did not interfere. We just observed what was happening without comment. We respect the client’s right to have a conversation without interference.

We left for the day shortly after they entered AWC. When I got into my car D yelled into my closed window, “You lost one.” Her look was triumphant and volume was loud.

This always gets to me. D had just dehumanized the client by converting them into a score in a game only one side is playing. Her unspoken message I heard was, ‘you lost by one point.’ Even though D keeps a counter at hand to tick off the clients going into the clinic and keeps her own score, it still isn’t a game.

We don’t know why the client left the clinic and neither does D. Maybe their mind was not made up and they needed more time to think about their decision. Maybe they didn’t have all of the paperwork they needed. Maybe….maybe….the list could be long. Only the client knows why they left.

I am not sure why, even though D has witnessed similar scenes many times, she doesn’t realize yet it is all about choice for the escorts. We support any client in any decision they make about their pregnancy. The last thing any escort would want to do is coerce someone into doing something they are not sure about. We realize clients are capable of making their own decisions, including deciding who to talk to about their pregnancy.

We respect and support whatever decision they make.

Sidewalk Snippet ~ {9/9/13}

“Mary, Mary, quite contrary…..” This nursery rhyme goes through my head frequently on Saturdays when I escort.

Another escort was walking with a client from the parking lot towards the door. M was pushed up against the client, talking the whole way as they approached. I attempted to place myself between M and the client when an opportunity arose.

M pushed her whole body against me, laid her arm across my chest and pushed hard. While she was doing this she was repeating words she has heard escorts say. “Give her some space. She needs her personal space. You are bothering her. Respect her space.”

My response was, “You are pushing her. She was talking to you.” M of course said, “No, she was talking to you. Give her some space.”I looked at the other escort and then the client. We all three chuckled and I moved to the side a little bit. Getting into a shoving match or verbal contest of ‘You did!’ ‘No, you did!’ wasn’t going to help maintain calm on the sidewalk.

The nursery rhyme still played in my head, but with different words than the traditional words of “How does your garden grow?”

Sidewalk Snippet ~ {8/26/13}

I met the client and companion on the corner close to the clinic, explaining to them the clinic wouldn’t be open for about 5 more minutes. As we talked I let them know they could stand by the clinic doors until they opened and the antis would not cross the property line, but they would talk to them. The client said, “Oh no. I don’t want them to talk to me. Can we just walk around?” I said of course, and suggested a bench about a half a block away and the opposite direction of the clinic; letting them know I would signal them when the doors opened.

They said they would do that, but as we were talking D was approaching us. They were waiting for the traffic light to change when D started. The client and companion crossed with the light in an opposite direction just to get away from D. “Just stop it! Leave me alone!” were some of the things the client shouted to D as they crossed the street. Watching them from a distance, I saw they did work their way to the bench we had discussed earlier.

When the doors did open, I walked to the bench and escorted them to the clinic doors. The client was crying and still upset. They said “This is hard enough. I can’t listen to them.”

They thanked me for walking with them and apologized for using foul language earlier. I assured them those words are ones that circle in my mind a lot, but I just don`t say them out loud when I escort. We chuckled a little over that and were almost to the door when D started again. “Don’t kill your baby. You need to be a real man and stand up for her.”

The client got into the door safely, but we could hear them break down crying as soon as they were inside. The curse words circled inside my head again.

Sidewalk Snippet ~ {8/19/13}

The client and two companions pulled up to the drop-off zone in front of the clinic a few minutes after 7a. Before anyone could get out of the car, I explained to them the orange vests, antis, when the clinic doors would open and parking with reassurances we would come get them when the doors opened. I explained the antis would approach their car or them and try to hand them literature or talk to them, but this was a place they could be rude and didn’t have to respond to protesters. The driver broke out in a big smile and said, “Thank you! I will just ignore them.” The companion in the backseat of the car said, “I am going to have to start escorting. You guys are such a help.”

They parked without problems. Other escorts walked them to the clinic doors when it was opened with no problems. A short time later one of the escorts who had walked with this client and two companions gave me a handful of change and two one-dollar bills. They said it was a donation for the escorts from the companion sitting in the backseat of the car. This gesture and support is so appreciated. Donations of change and one-dollar bills help us to pay parking for clients who do not have change or only have the exact amount with them that the procedure costs. Most  escorts during the week carry a supply of quarters to feed meters.

To this day’s anonymous donor, I would like to send out a big “Thank you!”

Sidewalk Snippet ~ {8/12/13}

Saturday mornings parking is at a real premium. Most of the meter spaces on both sides of the street are taken by the antis cars. If escorts get there early enough, we can get a few spaces close to the door of the clinic and then we turn then over to clients as they arrive. That’s what we did this Saturday morning.

A client and two companions stopped around 7a at the street corner and asked about parking. We directed them to parking about a block away, but they had one person who wasn’t able to walk that far. We had them pull around the corner and park while an escort moved a car for them. The escort had the space exactly opposite to the clinic door, so it was a very short trip to walk.

When they had their car successfully parked and knew what to expect from the antis, we went back to the street corner. We watched antis approach their car time after time. The client and companions did not roll down their window, but we noticed they pulled their car forward and backed it up several times.

I went around to the driver’s window and asked the driver if they were comfortable with where they were parked. They said they were okay. And then I commented we had seen them pull forward a few times, so that’s why I asked. “Oh, I was trying to run over their feet. Maybe then they will leave us alone.” I kind of chuckled and said, “Okay, just checking.”

Their plan seemed to work because after a few minutes, the antis stopped approaching their car. We were able to escort them in easily when the doors opened.

A Study in Sidewalk Counseling

Before I started escorting, I always viewed the word “counseling” in a positive light. The advice of a knowledgeable expert to assist in coping with life events is positive. Counseling to me implies an impartial, truthful examination of facts from someone with training to help.

Now, I always have a negative reaction as soon as I hear the word “counseling” because I think of the antis and their sidewalk counseling. Like so many terms, they were purposeful in their choice to describe their actions. They have taken a positive word and changed its meaning, like “choice” was made to mean something negative when they use the word. Instead of a positive outcome for the clients and companions “counseled” by the antis on the sidewalk, there is a heaping on of incorrect information, shame, blame and judgment. If any of the clients do not take their advice, the antis turn from gentle words to ones meant to hurt.

Sometimes escorts just watch and listen. We are able to pick up a lot of details without interfering with a client’s actions or decision. There are times it is hard to stand by passively, but when action would only add to the chaos surrounding a client, we wait for a signal they need our assistance. We do not interfere when clients or companions want to talk to the antis. Firm belief in every person’s right to make their own decisions helps us to be witnesses instead of participants.

There was a morning last month escorts were witnesses. The sidewalk drama played out before us for almost 30 minutes. It was a study in how “sidewalk counselors” work.

This story started with the client and a companion pulling to the curb around 715a. We approached and said our normal statements about going to the abortion clinic and explained our orange vests. The reaction from the companion was not friendly, but they listened and decided to park in the $3 parking lot. We let them know we would come get them when the doors opened.

Around 730a a companion parked in the AWC lot. An escort asked if this young man was looking for someone going to the EMW clinic. He answered yes and stopped to talk to the four AWC staff in their parking lot to greet him. An escort overheard part of their conversation and apparently the client and he were in AWC until 5p the day before. He hurried to the entrance of EMW saying, “She’s in there.” All four of the AWC staff followed him.

At the same time, escorts were walking the client and her companion to the door of the clinic. They met at the door. The young man grabbed the client’s arm and tried to hold her back from entering. The companion who had come with the client, pulled her other arm and got her into the clinic door. The young man followed them into the sign-in area. The entire time the four AWC staff were standing at the property line saying, “You don’t have to go in there. Your mother can’t make you do this. Come out and talk to us.”

After a short time, the young man came back to the AWC staff standing at the property line. All four of them were talking to him. “Pull her out of there. What they are doing is illegal. It is illegal to coerce someone into killing their baby. Go tell her they are breaking the law.” He went back into the clinic.

This was repeated four times with variations in the words, but the meaning was the same. The escorts watching were treated to “You say you are pro-choice, but you are only pro-death,” comments when they were waiting for him to come back out.  The last time he came back out, the clients had already gone back for counseling by the EMW staff. During all of this, the EMW staff allowed him to talk to the client and escorts didn’t interfere with his entrances and exits from the building.

The staff of AWC know, or should know, the trained staff of EMW counsels each individual client to make sure they aren’t being forced into their decision. They will turn clients away if they are not sure or if there are questions about coercion.

This morning will always be engraved by two snapshots in my mind of the people involved. The first is of the client pulling away from the young man, tears in her eyes and repeating, “No. I want to do this.” The second is of the young man, head down and shoulders slumped, facing the sidewalk counselors as they walked away from him saying, “You didn’t try hard enough.”

We need to call them something other than “counselors.”

New Escort Story ~ by Anonymous

I am a new escort. I cannot speak for all new escorts, but I hope that my post will give both potential future escorts and more experienced escorts some insight into what it is like to be a new clinic escort.

I first heard about the escort group when calls were put out for extra assistance on the day before Easter. My husband and I are very pro-choice, and decided to put our values into action by volunteering as escorts. The email said that you were expected to not engage/argue with the protesters and I figured I could handle it. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect in terms of the number of protesters (or their volume) but figured there might be people holding signs and yelling. My husband and I were given clinic escort vests and a brief rundown – ask people if they want to be escorted, walk at their speed, don’t engage with the protesters, don’t touch the protesters (or they’ll cry “assault!”), keep talking even if it’s just about the weather, to just keep the client’s attention away from the screaming.

In the chaos, I somehow found myself escorting from the $3 lot. (Please know that this is unusual! New escorts typically undergo a lot of shadowing before actually escorting). It was a quick frenzy of jaywalking (at the client’s request), shouting protesters, and emotion. My mind didn’t even have time to process everything that was happening. One protester ran up to me and bumped into me, trying desperately to reach the client. Everything in my mind cried out, “You will not hurt her!” and in a moment of intense (and selfish) need to feel like I could protect the client, I put my arm around her. The client, her face set with determination, yelled back at the protesters. Just as she reached the door, a protester wailed out, “Don’t DO it, darlin’!” and as suddenly as it had began, it was over. The client was inside the clinic.

It was then that I met one of the senior escorts, as she pulled me aside and helped me to realize that I had just broken one of the fundamental Points of Unity – asking the client’s consent (not just to be escorted, but also to be touched). My heart sank. With the panic of the crowd subsiding, I knew she was right. Logically I had known that, but in the chaos of the moment, there is no logic. As my husband and I walked back across the street to the parking lot, I started to get choked up. I hadn’t realized it was going to be so intense. The raw emotion felt too overwhelming.

We stayed a bit longer. I turned in my vest, thanked the other volunteers, got to my car, and started to cry as I tried to process my first escort experience.

I found myself at the escort training two weeks later. I think I oscillated between “I really want to do this” and “I don’t think I can handle this!” about ten times during the two-hour training.

The same experienced escort from my first experience encouraged me to try again, this time during a weekday morning when the sidewalk tends to be quieter.

My second time escorting was on a weekday morning. Now armed with non-sidewalk training and a deeper insight into the Points of Unity, I felt more confident. Being assigned the sole job of observing for that morning was incredibly helpful. I breathed more, forced myself to mentally slow down the events, allowed myself to process everything at a calmer rate.

In processing my somewhat unique start to escorting, I have realized that I (perhaps like many new escorts) was misdirecting energy during my first experience. In the chaos, I allowed myself to think that clients needed protection. This is not an unusual thought, I suppose, when you actually get a glimpse of some of the more vocal and hysterical protesters. The whole experience felt dramatic, frenzied, and full of helplessness. After the training, I saw clearly that the experience was about empowerment. We provide the space for clients to be empowered by always asking consent, by remaining calm and quiet, and by not engaging with the protesters.

Psychologists often speak of learning as a process of using what you know to navigate the world. People use mental scripts to guide expectations of what to do in new situations. For example, a mental script for ordering food in a restaurant can help you learn how to order food at a drive through.

There is no script for escorting on the sidewalk. Nothing in my life had prepared me for the chaos from the protesters. All of the implicit, unspoken rules we use for engaging with people in our daily life (turn-taking, respecting personal space, not yelling at strangers) seem to be forgotten by the protesters. For new escorts, facing this bizarre situation with no mental framework for guidance is a disorienting and chaotic experience! The escort training (both formal and on-the-sidewalk training) has been helpful in providing guidance. Even so, as a new escort, it feels very unsettling to not have a mental script to help me process events on the sidewalk. There is nothing in my daily life that helps me relate to this bizarre occurrence of people showing up daily to harass other people who are just trying to make the walk from their car to their doctor’s office.

To the more seasoned escorts: I am trying, I am listening, and I will do my best. I will probably still beat myself up for mistakes, no matter how many times you tell me not to. I still feel anxious at times, even though you teach me the “thousand-yard stare” that gives me a serene face to present toward the protesters. I am still trying to manage my emotions in a way that will allow me to provide a calm presence for the clients and their companions. And despite all of this, I will still show up to escort, even though there is still a part of me that doubts that my money wouldn’t be more helpful than my physical presence. As one experienced escort put into words, “I don’t think I can do this, but I know I have to do this”. How very true.

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REMINDER: Our annual  fund drive Pledge-A-Picketer is NOW!

The Saturday before Mother’s Day is the biggest protester day of the year.  It also is the date  where we count protesters for donations to support the pro-choice effort and the escorts.  You can pledge a certain amount for each protester showing up that morning. If you prefer, you can also make a straight monetary donation.

Use this form to make your pledge:

 

 

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First Impressions ~ by Anonymous

I felt pretty comfortable today and as I reflected back on what I heard and saw, the best comparison I can seem to come up with is used-car salesmen and/or pushy shop owners in the cruise ships foreign ports of call.

Car salesmen are trying to sell you an idea/product/service that you have no interest in. They are using repetitive streams of words to overwhelm your senses and put doubt in the choice that you have thought over, researched, and know is the correct one for you at this time. Be it something as simple as XM Radio, alloy wheels and road hazard coverage, or something as personal as the decision to end a pregnancy.

The pushy shop owners comparison is when upon finding out that you are not interested in what they are selling and pass it up, they then attempt to heap words of guilt, shame, regret, etc. on you in an effort to make a sale of something that you don’t want because the sale suits their need, cause, agenda.  Hoping that the stinging words will have an effect on your emotions and override the hard thought you have put into whatever choice you have decided upon. Again, be it Mexican coffee, trinkets, woven blankets or a reproductive decision.

I have had shop owners shout “CHEAP LADY” at me in ports of call as I walked past and would not cave into to going to look at or buy something in their shops.  I have also had used-car salesmen try and talk me out of a standard shift car telling me that they can be too tricky to drive in city traffic, or that as a woman I would be better off with full-coverage roadside protection for my safety.  “Silly them,” I think laughing inwardly. They don’t know me at all.  I don’t buy overpriced junk made in China at tourist traps and I can drive a variety of vehicles, including a stick-shift Dodge dually-diesel pickup,  through city traffic, I see myself having no problem with a 5-speed Honda sedan. My Dad taught me how to change a tire, so covered there too!

The thing that sticks out in my mind as being at the top of my list is, “You have not seen my life through my eyes. DO NOT try to put yourself in MY shoes. Your feet and your views are not a good fit.”    As I remember back when I had an abortion, I am glad the few protesters that I encountered only held up signs and prayed quietly and did not approach me.  If they had, I am sure that I would have been more upset and scared then I already was.  I would have loved to have had someone like the escorts I have met to hold my hand and walk me to the door.

I am glad to have met a like minded, strong group of people like those who come out to escort in Louisville.

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REMINDER: Our annual  fund drive Pledge-A-Picketer is NOW!

The Saturday before Mother’s Day is the biggest protester day of the year.  It also is the date  where we count protesters for donations to support the pro-choice effort and the escorts.  You can pledge a certain amount for each protester showing up that morning. If you prefer, you can also make a straight monetary donation.

Use this form to make your pledge:

 

 

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