I Stand with Wendy on the Sidewalk ~ by Skeletor

Were you watching Tuesday night? The Texas Tribune ran a live online video feed of the Texas Senate chamber that nearly 200,000 people all over the nation tuned in to watch (while CNN talked about muffins). Twitter was abuzz with #IStandWithWendy and #SB5.

And then the clock ran out. No vote had been taken. Yet there was an attempt to ramrod a vote through by supporters of the law, a law that would close all but five clinics in Texas.

Problem is, the people were watching. We stood with Wendy from our homes all over the USA while one woman stood in defiance of the zealots, on behalf of the health of women.

When I stand on the sidewalk in my orange vest, I am standing with the women who have made careful consideration of all their options and have chosen abortion. I do not know their whys or wherefores, and it is none of my business. Neither is it the business of the antis who hurl their vitriol during the clients’ walk into the clinic.

Often the antis will shout, “Come next door where you can learn about ALL your choices,” or “The only choice here is death!” or “You were herded in here like cattle!” It never occurs to them, apparently, that these women have already considered all their choices; that they made a rational, well-reasoned decision, and it happens not to be the decision that the antis would have made. To my mind, the antis portray women as thoughtless automatons.

Wendy stood for twelve and a half hours, speaking the entire time. I think I can stand on the Louisville sidewalk for an hour and a half in silence. The way I see it, we are both standing up to the bullies who would denigrate our personhood.

The legislative battles over reproductive rights are far from done, but it was encouraging to see the actions of Sen. Wendy Davis. It was encouraging to hear the chorus of voices raised throughout the Texas capitol in support of Sen. Davis and her efforts. It was encouraging to follow it, moment by moment, on Twitter.

Thrilling though it was, it could have ended very differently. Governor Rick Perry has already called another special session of the Texas legislature to begin on Monday in an effort to push a similar bill through. We must continue to #StandWithWendy in our own states, keeping abreast of legislative actions being taken to restrict the rights of women to live as full, autonomous citizens.

The Strength in Silence ~ by Anonymous

When I tell people about escorting, I sometimes get told, “I don’t think I could do that.”  People often cite a reason that has to do with self-restraint.  They don’t feel that they could stand without engaging, or resist getting angry, or even resist hurting a protester.

Yes, it can take a lot of self-control and inner strength to hold back responses to the protesters.  They are very skilled in finding just the right words, just the right comments, to get escorts to respond.  The things that they say can range from surprising to absurd to infuriating.  It takes strength to not call out their illogical fallacies, to not voice a pro-choice perspective to counter their anti-choice perspective, or to not respond to a personal attack.

In addition to what we hear, we also see a lot of things that make it hard to stay quiet.  We see protesters harassing clients and their companions, we see protesters bringing young children with them to the sidewalk, and we see graphic visual displays mounted on posterboard.  The things we hear and the things we see can tap all the inner resources we have.  Sometimes it feels like an oddly adult version of the game that kids often play called “not touching you, not touching you!”  In this game, one child gets all up in another child’s face and taunts them, with the goal to get the other child to respond.

Silence can be exhausting.

I have also heard people express frustration at silence, and I think it is because they see it as a form of non-response.  Why not sing a peaceful song, to counter the endless “Ave Maria” from the protesters, or to drown out their yelling and preaching?  Why are we just STANDING there, why don’t we do something?  Why are we letting them get away with this?  Why are we doing nothing?

Silence can be frustrating.

But I have also come to realize that there is strength *in* silence.  This seemingly small shift in perspective has changed how I view my role on the sidewalk.  When I realized my silence on the sidewalk was empowering me to stand strong for clients, it suddenly became easier to keep my mouth shut and keep my stare distant.

I realized that as an escort, I am not standing on the sidewalk to represent my pro-choice values or any other values, nor am I there to provide a reality-check to protesters (as much as they may need one).  My job on the sidewalk is to provide space for clients to be empowered as they walk to the clinic doors.  Responding to protesters creates noise.  Singing, regardless of it being from protesters or escorts, creates noise.  By staying silent, the volume is kept down, providing a quieter environment for clients to walk through.

Silence is also strengthening to me when I am just standing on the front lines without any clients around.  The protesters want nothing more than to control the conversation, and they are astonishingly good at finding words that provoke angry and intense feelings.  Their goal is to engage, to start an argument, to raise both emotions and the general sidewalk volume.  But when I stay silent, I control the conversation.

Silence is not doing nothing.

Yelling at the protesters, holding up pro-choice signs, or engaging in our own chants might (on the surface) appear to be doing something, but not when I remember that my primary job on the sidewalk is to provide space for client empowerment. My job is to foster a sidewalk environment that is calm, peaceful, and quiet.

I cannot control what the protesters do.  But I can control my reactions to what they do.  And when I react by standing silent (instead of thinking about it as not reacting), I am doing my job.

Silence is an active choice that I make.

This shift in perspective doesn’t mean it is perfectly easy for me to stay silent.  I sometimes respond to the protesters in my mind.  It helps when I realize that their ranting would continue almost exactly the same if I said my response out loud (in other words, my responses would not change their dialogue!).  If something they say really gets on my nerves, I have found it helpful to lean over and whisper about it to another escort.  I also know that I always have the option to step away for as long as I need.  I do not want to imply that escorting is an easy walk in the park!

I also cannot speak for all escorts, as there are some escorts who are able to successfully talk to the protesters without voices and emotions escalating.  This is only my perspective. But for me, silence does not sap my strength.  Rather, I have found strength in silence.

Sidewalk Snippet ~ {6/24/13}

I have my own plastic fetus doll. If you read our blog regularly, you know how much these anti props bother me.

The car pulled to the curb and the companion opened the door immediately. This morning, The anti TM was at the door of the car before I could reach them. He started handing literature to the companion and talking to them. Then he handed them a pink plastic fetus doll. They looked a little confused, but politely thanked him and put it away.

When my opportunity to talk came, I explained about the orange vests and protesters not having them. The companion nodded and said, “I understand.” We continued talking, both ignoring TM.

We walked the client and the companion to the clinic door and I went inside to talk to them about the parking meters. While they gave me change to feed their meter, I asked them if they wanted the literature still held in the companion’s hand. They said, “No. Please take it.” I took it and then asked, “Would you like me to take the plastic doll he gave you?” The companion said they would throw it away later. Then I said, “I would really like to have it if you don’t want it.” They smiled and handed it to me as well.

Now I have to figure out what adventures I can send it on for a photo album article. Stay tuned.

Meet Mary

Meet Mary. She’s a protester, and a chaser.  If you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you’ve heard me talk about her.  If you’ve been reading a long time, you’ve seen videos featuring her before.  She’s the ones that likes to kidney punch the escorts.

I’ve transcribed it here, but it almost doesn’t make sense because the escort’s words come between the exchanges between Mary and the companion.  And occasionally, you can barely hear Mary talking under the escort.

Escort:  Mary get off of me.

Mary:  Let it live.

Escort:  Let’s go this way, guys.  We’re gonna go down and cross the street, across from these cars.

Companion:  Hey, see that ~ I’ve got kids ~ get away from me.

Mary:  You know this one’s alive too.

Companion:  I’m ~ bye now.   Go.

Mary:  You know in your heart it’s wrong.  Why does this one not deserve a chance at life?”

Escort:  So there’s a really large crowd up here…

{Mary: You know it’s going to end up in a trashcan…}

Escort:  …so what we’re gonna do is come in this way.

Mary:  It doesn’t make it easier when you walk away from this place.  I’ve seen it so many times…

Escort:  Watch out guys, we’re gonna cross.

Companion:  Yeah it does.  My day’s going keep on going,

Escort:  We’re gonna keep on walking

Mary:  Right, you’re outta here, right?  the heck with her, right?

Companion (indignantly)  I’m gonna be right there with her!

Anyhow.  That’s Mary.

Saturday Before Father’s Day

This is the tale of the circus that happens at the clinic on the Saturday before Father’s Day.  It’s a special day.  Angela’s church all turns out for a parade down to the clinic.  Ok, probably not ALL of them, it just seems that way.

Here they are:

They sang that song repeatedly for about an hour.  Singing about Jesus and how they have a victory.  It’s like a revival, without the preaching.

You’ll notice some very close-up shots of a couple of women.  I was standing on the property line when they got there, and they stood that close in front of me.    I’m not holding the camera out to get closer to them, that’s how close they were.

You can see that they bring some kids with them, and I was just glad that it wasn’t pouring down rain like it was last year.  I hate to see the kids standing in the rain.

There was a lot of stuff that was disturbing this Saturday before Father’s Day.  The couple who videotaped clients.  Just the size of the crowd, and their noisy enthusiasm.   Then there was this:

Yes, that’s me narrating it.  I don’t think she realized I was videotaping it until I started talking. She turned away then, but she didn’t turn away as clients and companions came toward her.   She was taking up most of the sidewalk, so they had to go around her.

And here’s the same woman demonstrating her dramatic talent:

Sometimes, after Father’s Day, she gets inspired and comes down for a few weeks to do that routine.   She’s not the first one  ~ pretending to be a child and pleading “Mommy, please don’t kill me,” ~ and she probably won’t be the last.  Ugh.

I amuse myself by reassuring her that it’s ok, she’s already been born, no one is trying to kill her.  That’s apparently not as helpful as it could be.

But none of that is new.

The thing that will stick with me from this year happened just as the parade was getting to the clinic.  A little girl ~ maybe 8 or 9 years old, maybe 7, got ahead of whoever she was with, at least I guess that’s what happened.

All I know is I looked up, a client had just crossed the property line and gone into the clinic and there was this little girl on the other side of the property line, behind the escorts, looking at me with big scared eyes.  I moved toward her and gestured for her to walk forward, trying not to scare her more, there was another couple headed that way and all the chaos and confusion that comes with it, and the singing and… she was just frozen, deer in the headlights.

It was kind of awful.

And then she unfroze.  She took a few steps and was back on the right side of the property line.   Angela stepped up and took the little girl under her wing – well, under her arm for real.  She kept her snuggled up close to her while she ranted at the clients going to the clinic.

I have some video of them ~ 7 seconds of them, the little girl clutching Angela’s shirt in the back.  I’m not going to post it, you’ll have to imagine it.  The little girl didn’t ask to be there, didn’t expect to be swept up in the chaos and confusion.   Poor child was just part of the parade.  That’s what will stick with me this year.

And we made it through another Saturday at the clinic.

New Escort Story ~ by CB

At the clinic today, two anti men decided to hang out with me on the corner and talk about their personal religious experiences in my general direction.  I ignored them and I guess they got bored with my non-reaction, so they started talking about other things.  Like the bar they own and weekend plans.

Then one guy asked if they had another anti’s phone number, and the dude whipped out his phone and gave it to him.  I heard the number and the name associated with it.  It made me smirk, because I was told (and have read on this blog) that the escorts have to be very careful not to talk about personal information around the anti-choicers, because they look up the information and harass escorts outside of the clinic sidewalk and look up personal information to use against them at the clinic (aka an anti looked up an escort’s mom’s obituary and tried to goad her with a print out of it).

I would NEVER EVER talk about personal info around them, but yet they have no issue doing it around the clinic escorts. I would never use their tactics, because that is harassment and not why I’m at the clinic.

It struck me as interesting how it would never even cross their mind that something like that would be unsafe and could hurt them personally.  Must be nice to live that world.  It’s sad that they can’t see that the reality they are creating with their harassment of women doesn’t reflect their world of carefree safety and security.

Newbies

“The escorts in the orange vests need to take off their vests, fall on their knees and pray for forgiveness from our Heavenly Father. They are accomplices in murder today.”

When summer comes and the weather is nice it is a little good and a little bad, just like rainy weather. We get new antis coming out to put their personal spin onto the judgments and harassing taking place on the sidewalk. We have extremely agitated new antis crowding clients, yelling and posturing before a ready-made audience of the other antis. I don’t know whether the cold keeps them inside during the winter, but they are usually so excited to share the news that “abortion is murder” they forget things like personal spaces, respecting the word “NO”, or just the fact that not everyone in the world agrees with them.

This week we have been treated to one of these enthusiastic antis every day. Of course, he doesn’t know about non-engagement. He stands about one foot in front of us trying to talk to us, or if we do not respond he resorts to yelling at us from the same distance. Then he moves from escort to escort and repeats the process. By Thursday this week, escorts were telling him to stop talking to them and back away. This was said forcefully, but was also ignored.

“You need to hear what I am saying. What you are doing is wrong. You say you believe in a woman’s choice, but how about the babies? 50% of the babies being murdered today are girls. What about their choice? Explain to me the logic behind your belief in choice. It doesn’t make any sense.” An example of total math, science and logic failure.

This day he decided to try the same tactics on a companion. Just at the entrance to the clinic he stood in the companion’s way and said, “You are helping to murder your baby. Don’t commit murder.” The companion whirled around and bumped his chest against this anti’s chest, fists clenched by his side and said, “I had a family member killed last night. Don’t say that to me. You don’t know me.” The response, “Someone should have prevented that murder too.” The companion stood for a few seconds pressed up against this anti, then shook his head and walked into the clinic without saying anything else.

We will really be less anxious for clients and companions when this anti’s newness excitement wears off a little.

I find myself wishing the summer weather would draw these antis to Florida beaches instead of the sidewalk in Louisville.

The Pendulum Swings..

It is things like this from the Wisconsin legislature:

“Under penalties of up to $10,000 in fines for failure to do so, a physician performing the ultrasound must verbally describe the number of “unborn children” present in the image, the location of the fetus or fetuses within the woman’s uterus, and provide a medical description of the dimensions and visible characteristics of the fetus. They must also provide a means for the woman to visualize the heartbeat of the fetus, if one is detectable by the type of ultrasound chosen by the woman.”

that lead to things like this from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists:

Doctors’ Group Slams Anti-Abortion Laws For ‘Imposing A Political Agenda On Medical Practice’

The group’s Executive Board has issued an official statement opposing all laws that “unduly interfere with patient-physician relationships” and compromise patients’ health care for political gain.

“Given the relentless legislative assault on the patient-physician relationship that we’ve seen in the past few years — and unfortunately continue to see — we were compelled to issue a formal Statement of Policy,” the group’s president, Dr. Jeanne A. Conry, explained in a press release. “A disproportionate number of these types of laws are aimed at women’s reproductive rights and the physicians that provide women’s health care services.”

So the more of these extreme {ridiculous} laws we see, the more likely people are to push back.  We can even hope that eventually rulings like this one from the Colorado Supreme Court:

Supreme Court Lets Stand Order Blocking Graphic Anti-Abortion Signs in Presence of Children

The Supreme Court will not intervene in a Colorado dispute over barring anti-abortion protestors from displaying graphic images in places where they may be seen by and upset children.

will lead to less of this:

IMG_1806

at least during marathon season when lots of families with children are all coming down to watch the race.

It’s consoling to remember that the more extreme things get, the sooner the pendulum will swing back.

Sidewalk Snippet ~ {6/10/13}

One of the most difficult things about escorting for me are language barriers. I don’t speak any other languages except English. When we have Spanish-speaking clients and companions, I have a list of phrases and we can usually understand each other well enough. There are times when we hear other languages spoken by clients and companions and there is where I feel the most helpless. French, German, Russian, Korean, Japanese, Chinese and others are all languages clients and companions may be speaking. There are at least 90 different languages spoken in the Louisville schools.

We had a client this morning who pulled to the curb with two companions. One companion sitting in the back seat was interpreting what I was saying to the client and other companion sitting in the front. The interpreter didn’t speak English well, but we were communicating in a stumbling sort of fashion. I explained the orange vests and protesters, the clinic opening and the $3 parking lot.

Before I moved away from the car so they could pull into the $3 lot, an anti we call TM reached into their open window to hand them literature and started talking. Then he talked to them for almost 5 minutes, arm in the car window so they couldn’t roll it up. He ignored the fact the people who he was talking to couldn’t understand him and looked confused. It was uncomfortable to watch, but trying to insert myself into the conversation would have just added to the confusion.

In the end it all worked. The car was moved to the $3 lot. We were able to walk the client and companions to the clinic when it opened. TM didn’t even approach them again during the walk. Perhaps during the five-minute monologue previously he realized there was a communication issue.

Fifteen Minutes of Fame

“Everyone gets 15 minutes of fame.”  Andy Warhol said that, or something like it, back in 1968.  If that’s true, the escorts used up a few minutes of our allotted time this last week.

In case you missed the excitement, there was a post about the Crisis Pregnancy Center next door to the abortion clinic here that went viral.  Seriously.  You can read the post here.  And some of the comments here.

It was kinda cool – getting that much support, hearing all the indignation from the pro-access people out there.  Even though we know that most people support a woman’s right to make her own decision, the protesters tend to believe that most people share their beliefs and support what they’re doing.

Maybe they think that partly because there are generally more protesters on the sidewalk than there are escorts. That gives them the impression that the antis actually outnumber the people who support access to abortion.

Of course, the data doesn’t reflect that.  One in three women has an abortion in her lifetime.  Almost three-fourths of Americans trust her to make that decision.

But it was ~ I admit it ~ kind of fun this week to hear all these people being outraged about the protesters on the sidewalk.

Some people contacted us separately, wanting to take action.  They wanted to stage some kind of intervention to stop the protesters and the Crisis Pregnancy Center from doing what they do.  I imagine they pictured a dramatic confrontation that would put an end to the shaming and harassment, that would stop the deceit and lies on the sidewalk.

And we discouraged them.  Told them “thank you very much, but no, please don’t.”

Crazy, right?

But here’s the thing.   The sidewalk is not where the real battle is.

What happens on the sidewalk ~ and I’m still thinking this through, so hang with me ~ what happens on the sidewalk is like a symbolic representation of what is happening in the rest of the country related to reproductive justice and access to abortion.  What the escorts do is an immediate action that makes a statement.  What we do matters to the individual women coming to the clinic.

But the real battle is in the legislature and the court system.

We don’t need to outnumber the antis at the clinic.  We need to outnumber them at the polls.  We don’t need to intimidate them away from the sidewalk, we need to stop them from intimidating politicians into voting against appropriate health care for women.

We need to spread the truth about abortion and refute their distortions and lies.  {No, abortion is NOT linked to an increased risk of breast cancer.}  We need to demand medically accurate sex education in schools.  We need to demand that our politicians vote for reproductive justice in many different aspects, not just in relation to abortion.

I don’t think most of the 70% of Americans who support abortion access have realized that a powerful minority of fundamental Christians and Catholics are hell-bent on reversing Roe v Wade  ~ and that they’ve made enough progress to feel hopeful about it.  Dramatic moments, like the article on CPC’s going viral, help increase that awareness and move people to want to take action

But the sidewalk isn’t the place to act on that anger, not the right venue for that action.  If some people want to come escort, that’s great and we’ll welcome you.  But escorts follow the points of unity.  And big crowds of people at the clinic, no matter why they’re there, often just add to the intimidation factor for the clients.

So do something else.  Write your legislators.  Vote for people who are pro-access. Spread the word ~ talk about your support for reproductive health rights.

Join Voice of Choice.  Join the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.  If you go to this page of our website, there are other suggestions for actions you can take that will make a real difference.  If you want to do something quick and easy and fun, check this out.

I’ll try to add other links to things people can do that will make a real difference from now on.

The people on the sidewalk think they’re doing something important, but really they’re insignificant.  In the greater scheme of things, escorts are only a tiny piece of what needs to happen to keep abortion safe and legal.  You know, I’m not saying what we do isn’t helpful to the individuals who have to walk the gauntlet to the clinic, but the sidewalk isn’t where real change is happening.

So if you get angry about what’s going on at the clinic, support reproductive justice in ways that will eventually eliminate the need for escorts.  Please.