this year was our fourth annual pledge a picketer fund drive. Each year i learn something, and am surprised by different things about these mass protests. Now, major protest holiday, or not, each escort experiences the sidewalk differently, and we are all surprised by different things and (hopefully) learning each time we escort. We also talk about how we must be careful to not become completely desensitized to the atrocities that folks accessing medical care must endure, lest we forget that clients do not experience this weekly, and have totally different perspectives than the escorts have. Keeping this in mind is important to allow escorts to accompany clients and companions in a compassionate way.
But, back to pledge-a-picketer, and specifically my experience with counting the anti’s on this special day…
on the large protest days we see many many antis that are not usually on the sidewalk. The protesters turn these days into family events and bring their little gaggles of kiddos to stand around in the wee hours of the morning. It saddens me (as a childcare professional, and auntie to many little ones) to watch these kids wiggle and bounce as they try to stave off boredom and be “good children” while their grownups use them as political tools to shame the clients who are making the best decision they can for their own families. I try to smile at the kids, but after 13 years of this, I have stopped trying to imagine the things that their grownups tell them about the escorts, and the people going into the clinic.
So, on Pledge a Picketer day, there are a few key moments that we pay attention to. The crowd starts gathering close to 6:30am, and is largely in place by 7, though protesters trickle in for the next 15 minute or so. Clients usually start showing up about ten til 7 (we encourage them to wait in their cars, but they can stand outside the doors if they really want to). The most anticipated moment is when the doors to the clinic open, usually about 7:15. This moment is followed by 10-20 minutes of extreme chaos where floating escorts signal each other and the clients and companions waiting in cars that the door is open and if they are ready, it is time to walk. The chaos emanates from the chasers (floating protesters) and the prayer gauntlet, which on days like this one stretches 2/3rds of the length of the long city block. Escorts strategize paths of least resistance, but the antis do their best to block our paths, and the unavoidable area in front of the door is always congested and aggressive.
That intense 20 minute period is when everyone spends their adrenaline for the morning. Once the client rush slows down, a number of us have the thought that it’s about time to start counting. This is a humorous process for a number of reasons (to me anyway).
This is where I admit that our counting process is anything but advanced, or even accurate. I ask 3-4 other floating escorts to count at the same time that I do. A few of us will count more than once, and we take the highest number (y’all are cool with that, right?)
Now, it’s really tricky to count them, as they move around a lot, and some sort of hide, like the guy who drives his flatbed trailer with the anti abortion billboard on it, but then he sits in his truck the whole time. Make sure to count him for sure. We also joke about how Mary and Angela should count as more than one, since they are hyper aggressive and pushy. And how about the fact that Terry isn’t just preaching from his soapbox, but he has a mic and a small PA today. Can we count that as extra too? (nah)
so, as i walk down the line trying to keep count, i also have to try not to react to the things the antis say and do while i count. some of them clearly know why we’re counting (sometimes we tell them, and for sure some of them read this blog) but some do not. as i count in my head i point at each person, you know, the way you would when counting a large number of anything. a few of them wag their finger back at me. i wonder if they realize how silly they look, and move on down the row. a few of them try to mess up my count (fifteen, twenty five, three, ten…) and two ladies tell me to be sure to count their angels. um, no.
of course we count the babies in carriers and strollers, and yes, i count the obviously pregnant ladies for two. afterall, they are displaying their big bellies as tools of shame, same as they are their toddlers.. and besides, they count them, right? (this is a LIFE!!) plus, i am that escort who will call a fetus a baby without shame, and still justify termination as a compassionate option, no matter what the reason is. of course i can’t have that conversation on the sidewalk. for one thing that would be engaging, which i try to avoid at all, but also the predictable next step (to call me a murderer) crosses the line of trying to argue logically with an illogical person, hence the non-engagement.
so, yeah, counting is interesting, and entertaining for me anyway, but far from scientific.
also interesting is the way that escort attitudes have been changed about these big days by the pledge a picketer drive. i remember dreading these big protest days, and in a small way, feeling defeated by their massive numbers. i guess in that sense the shaming was working on me too.
but now, bring it on suckers! bring the babies in strollers, and the elderly folks that can’t even stand for the hour and a half. this time they didn’t even make the old nun sit in the usual folding chair, they removed a seat from the van so she could be more comfortable. that’s right, they put an upholstered car seat on the sidewalk. what’s next, a recliner?
it’s interesting to feel excited as they roll up en mass. maybe that’s some desensitization creeping back in on me, but i can’t help being glad knowing that for each of them who turns out to shame people, our generous supporters are shelling out extra bucks to increase access in Kentucky (and surrounding states). these goof balls are effectively raising money that pays for rides to the clinic, language interpretation, escort vests, and even financial assistance for abortions that some clients cannot afford on their own.
So let’s keep it up, friends!
and thanks again to everyone who has donated, and joined us in creating space on the sidewalk for clients to feel empowered, no matter how circus-like if gets out there.
and now, another look at the madness of the morning…