Saturday started out so beautifully. i rounded the corner to the clinic and saw a sea of orange vests, and no protesters. It was lovely.
Of course, i was there half an hour early, so it didn’t last. But it was a moment.
There were parking issues. Marathon season has started, so there were runners in their jogging outfits, numbers on their chests, often in groups. All those runners have to park somewhere. So a bunch of us got to the clinic early and took up almost all the on-the-street parking. Then, when clients started coming, we moved our cars to let them park. It was pretty effective.
It also kept the man with the anti-choice billboard on a trailer from parking right in front on the clinic. He found two spots across the street, but it still felt good.
I was down at the far corner again, and we walked quite a few clients up from that end. It was all going about as well as it can. Then ~
I was approaching the clinic and I could hear someone yelling about halfway up the block. As I got closer, I could see him.
He was shaking a fist in the air and yelling, “DO YOU KNOW THEY’RE KILLING BABIES IN THERE?? THEY’RE KILLING BABIES IN THERE!! DO YOU UNDERSTAND THAT?”
As we got closer, he turned and looked directly at me. “AND YOU – YOU’RE WALKING HER IN THERE!!” He turned away, as if disgusted, but continued to yell, pacing back and forth.
The woman and her companion made it onto the clinic property ~ which always feels like “home free.” I paused a minute.
Another escort said something to the super angry man ~ i’ll call him Sam ~ I think something about it not actually being babies. He responded with a roar, going off into another tirade.
He was yelling in my direction, gesticulating, fists clenched, face contorted. He was a little scary.
In some foolish moment of wanting to see if I could de-escalate him a little, I said softly, “Gosh, you’re really angry.” Believe it or not, sometimes that helps.
But not today. In fact, it seemed to make it worse, so I backed off and headed back down the sidewalk.
A little time went by ~ we walked another client or two up the walk ~ Sam was still there, ranting and pacing. He seemed so volatile, it made me really nervous.
“You know,” K said, “He’s the person that threatened the clinic before. Said he was going to blow it up.”
I shook my head. “I think we should call the police. He seems awfullly angry, and a little out of control.”
“Well, he’s not supposed to be here,’ said K.
So ~ long story short ~ when an officer drove by, K waved her down. She and some other officers talked to Sam, but apparently the restraining order the clinic had taken out against him had already expired.
Sam calmed down to talk to the police. When the officers left, he started yelling and ranting again. The other protesters were happily supporting him, giving him hi-fives and agreeing with him, glaring at us.
I had just left another client at the door and was heading down the sidewalk, through the gauntlet of Catholics reciting the rosary. Sam was standing at the end of the rows, directly across from a woman and her children, yelling and ranting.
K was talking to him, trying to get him to stop, I suppose.
The woman started yelling too, yelling that Sam was right, that they were killing babies in there. Her children listened, wide-eyed. Her face was contorted and angry too. And suddenly ~
I don’t know if I can really describe it ~
suddenly, I felt a heaviness in the air around me, as if their anger had weight. As if it were actually touching me.
I was shaken, and a little afraid.
Usually, I don’t feel afraid at the clinic. Most of the protesters have lives that matter to them and family and friends. I think most of them would not be willing to risk what they have to bomb a clinic or hurt an escort.
But Sam feels out of control, like he might act on all that rage. Like it might be worth anything to save those babies. AND ~
It felt like the protesters wanted him to. Like they wanted him to act out his rage. Like they wouldn’t do it themselves, but they kinda wanted him to hurt someone.
To hurt me, maybe.
And in that moment, i had a flash of knowing ~ some archetypal memory ~ or things I’ve read ~ a moment of sensing the force that led to witches burnt and sinners stoned.
A little afraid, I moved on down the sidewalk. Moved away.
Back in the safety of my everyday, I ask myself if my anger rages like that, if the escorts share that kind of mob mentality.
Do we want someone else to act out our rage? Do we secretly, points of unity cast aside, want to see a protester hurt?
I don’t want to be like that. I don’t want to be part of a rosary wielding crowd, waiting for someone to throw the first stone.
And then I remember ~ with great relief ~ no, we’re not like that ~ we really don’t want anyone to get hurt. We calm each other, try to calm companions when the anger starts to spill over, when violence threatens. If one of us is in a rage, other escorts don’t cheer them on. We don’t encourage them the way the protesters did with Sam.
For a moment Saturday, I felt the threat of a holy war. The Crusades, the Inquisition, the Salem witch hunts, or Jihad… they all end badly for the non-believer. I don’t care what people believe, I just want women to be able to keep their doctor appointments.