Escorts try to follow our Points of Unity every time we are on the sidewalk. We aren’t perfect so sometimes we follow them imperfectly, but we always try.
FML has been writing thorough articles to break down what the Points of Unity really mean in practice. I have been thinking a lot about the explanations for the first two.
- Escort must gain consent from every client every time.
- On a concrete level, this means that every time I approach a car with a client in it, I say something like, “Hi, I’m a volunteer with the clinic. Would you like us to walk with you?”
- Escorts are present to support people and create space for them to be empowered while accessing reproductive healthcare.
- Whatever we say, with our physical presence, and with our words, we create space that helps put distance between them and the protesters.
- And the point of putting space there, the point of putting space between the client and the protesters, is not to protect, to rescue, or to defend. The point of putting space is so the clients themselves can be empowered.
The first one of gaining consent to talk and walk with a client is an easy one to always get right. It becomes part of the first things we say when we greet clients. When we are told, “No,” we walk away.
The second point is a little trickier for me. Our presence on the sidewalk creates space, but we try to find the words to say that empower a client. How do you empower clients in just a few minutes walking on the sidewalk past antis wanting to distract? In my opinion, it starts with little choices.
‘Where do we park?’ is met with two choices. ‘You can park here at the meter or across the street in the public parking lot. You can decide which you prefer.’ We follow up with details of cost and time.
‘The clinic isn’t open yet, but you can wait by the door or you can wait in your car and we will come get you when it is open.’
When we are walking across the street from the public lot, ‘Would you mind if we jaywalk across the street or would you prefer to cross at the light?’
When we are walking clients from the covered parking lot, ‘We can go two ways. We can cut through these buildings or walk around on the sidewalk.’
‘Will protesters hurt or touch me?’ This is always answered, ‘No,’ but then we give the client the choice to talk to antis or not. ‘They will talk to you and try to hand you literature. You can talk to them if you like or you can just ignore them.’
You will notice my examples all contain two choices. More choices become confusing in a stressful situation. If we gave clients five choices, they wouldn’t be thinking about the antis as much but they also would have too much information to process in a short period of time. This can add to their stress and confusion instead of empowering them.
Every little choice adds to the empowerment of the client. It is their appointment with the clinic and they are deciding the details of the visit. It is surprising, or not, how these little decisions will add to the client’s confidence. They add space and empowerment for them.
At the same time we are giving the client these little choices, we shouldn’t be asking them questions all of the time we are interacting. Smiling and talking about neutral subjects are a way to create space for the client. I have been known to talk about traffic, weather, sidewalk conditions, road construction, movies, how much I would like a cup of coffee, city events scheduled for the day, or anything interesting we see on the sidewalk as we walk to the clinic.
Like the article says, “The point of putting space is so the clients themselves can be empowered.”