This past week, the clinic we escort at suffered it’s second act of property destruction within a three week span. People have used words including ‘insanity’ and ‘domestic terrorism’ when reacting to what happened. The pic below was taken by an escort on Thursday morning. More details about this and the previous attack (also resulting in a broken window) can be found in this article.
Now, as you might imagine, while police, clinic staff, and whatever additional parties have been filling out papers and watching surveillance footage, those of us on the sidewalk are going through our own reactions and feelings about this. Destruction of this property does not directly affect escorts. It’s not our window to replace. It’s not even our bosses’ window, as we are all volunteers and are only loosely connected to this clinic. That said, the indirect impact on escorts could possibly be more tangible than what the clinic staff has dealt with.
Five days a week, escorts stand toe-to-toe (often literally) with the people who encourage and enable this kind of extreme aggression to grow and thrive. We hold space and absorb hateful remarks day after day. We have been assaulted, and had our buttons pushed too many times to count. Escorts often harden themselves to the awful things that are spewed at us, but we can’t help but hear what is said, and we are often triggered by the terrible things that are said to clients and escorts: slut shaming, racism, low jabs about people’s physical features, bringing up personal details about people’s children, or lost loved ones. Remarks obviously meant to hurt us from people claiming to be there out of a love for life (and presumably people…) It is bullying. We know this.
The bullies who come to protest – to exercise their freedom of speech – come for many reasons. Many come for reasons rooted in some sort of morals they’ve been taught. Some come from a place of misdirected compassion. There are those who are truly peaceful and simply pray. As far as I am concerned, none of it is ok. The reason why not is clearly demonstrated by the photo above. As long as people are kneeling and praying, and showing up to make their statement that they believe what someone else is doing with their body and life is wrong, to me they are enabling these broken windows. I think that people who drag their young children out in the cold to stand on a sidewalk and shame others are contributing to a culture that encourages rocks through clinic windows. We know from history that it doesn’t stop at bricks. (Search Drs. David Gunn and George Tiller, plus clinic bombings, etc.)
Sometimes it’s easy to feel powerless in the face of such a sick and widespread culture, but as justice advocates we are never alone and we are powerful too.
The escort who snapped the photo of the broken door also talked about how on that very windy morning little pieces of glass kept clinking on the ground as the clients entered the clinic. I was not there that morning, but to me it sounds a little eerie, and maybe stressful. I was glad to hear that the glass was replaced that day, and even more pleased to read the encouraging quotes from the clinic director in the article linked above.
Something like violence at a nearby abortion clinic isn’t something to be taken lightly, and for those of us there regularly, it won’t be easily forgotten.
This week the impact on those who occupy both ‘sides’ on the sidewalk has been strong. Someone described the protesters there this Saturday as possibly giddy (sick, huh?) As escorts we create and hold space because we think sidewalk bullying is wrong. After such an incident, I think we all feel especially convicted to hold that space a little differently now; deeper, perhaps.
So, when I say we are doubling down in the face of these attacks, i guess you could picture a number of things. It’s got nothing to do with triple-meat sandwiches, despite us being in Kentucky. It’s got more to do with practicing what we already do pretty damn well, but maybe through a cracked lens, if you will.
Things we will continue to NOT do:
- Bring signs that add to visual clutter/chaos for clients and really carry messages more for the protesters, which might escalate tension. Signs are also often used to block and shove, and none of that is part of escorting.
- Swarm clients and obstruct the sidewalk the way protesters do.
- Start campaigns to recruit more escorts. We are constantly training new escorts and engaging interested people, but we don’t need to recruit. The protesters, legislators and media do that for us.
Things we will continue to practice (possibly with a little more depth now):
- Gain consent from every client before walking and talking with them.
- Keep de-escalation in mind at all times.
- Hold space as best we are able.
- Make client experiences our main focus. We are not there for antis.
- Limit engagement with protesters, because to do otherwise might justify their presence in their minds. (This is by far the hardest, and is almost impossible to practice all the time, but when we do the result is remarkable. Also, not all escorts practice non-engagement the same way, and that’s ok too)
Of course we will keep doing lots of other things too, like adapting to changes as they come our way and doing our best to not make assumptions about folks we see on the sidewalk. Most importantly, just like the clinic staff has promised, we will keep showing up.