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.
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: