I Can Do Better

There are times, like these past two weeks, when I feel I’m just off. Like everything I say to the clients or do as an escort is not quite on target. It’s not burnout, but an overwhelming distractedness. I feel I am not as observant in sighting clients, or I am not as fluent with the things I say, or I am not asking the right questions. All of the clients manage to park and get into the clinic without incident during these periods, but I feel I can do better. I want to do better.

This morning we had a client and two companions pull to the curb early. I gave them my talk about when the clinic opened, where there was available parking and the difference between orange vests and the antis. They decided to park in the garage a block away from the clinic and I let them know we would come get them when the doors opened.

Usually, I look around and make eye contact with everyone in a vehicle at least once while I am talking. It helps to reassure everyone, but it also allows me to notice whether there are children in the vehicle or something else we need to advise the clients about before they make the trip to the clinic. What I didn’t notice this morning was the wheelchair in the back of the vehicle. I would have given them different directions for parking at the outset if I had noticed it. The block they would have to travel was uneven and difficult to walk on, let alone maneuver a wheelchair forward.

Instead, the clients parked a block away, had to pay for parking and then had to move their vehicle closer to the clinic. I moved my car from in front of the clinic to give them my parking space, but the inconvenience for them was what bothered me.

I feel I can do better. I want to do better.

It hasn’t just been one incident these past two weeks, so I am not chastising myself unnecessarily. There have been clients who escaped notice until they were close to the doors of the clinic. There were cars parked that weren’t approached before the antis were there surrounding the clients. There were words stumbled over with clients and even other escorts. It has been as if I was partially sleepwalking these weeks.

After I got home, I started thinking about what had me so distracted. Lack of sleep? Reading too late? Well, I do that most of the time on a normal basis. Is it burnout? No, I am just as passionate as ever about escorting and following the Points of Unity.

Finally, I think I have the answer. There have been a lot of articles I have been reading these past weeks about the new legislation in Texas, New Mexico, Ohio, Iowa, Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama, Kansas….the list never seems to end. Each day there are new articles about how access to abortion is being eroded in almost all of the states one piece at a time. Cities are even getting into the act with their own proposed restrictions. California seems to be the only state moving towards more access.

These articles take their toll on me. I read about the effects on those seeking abortions in other states, realizing the Zip Code you live in determines how accessible abortion is to you. The phrases, “It’s not fair,” “That’s outrageous,” and “Is there no end?” echo in my mind. Those echo with the determination in me to fight for access even harder. But while I am thinking and/or talking about each new issue, I’m not paying attention to what should be my primary focus: the clients.

I feel I can do better. I want to do better.

My new leaf being turned over this week is to focus more on the clients coming to EMW, read more articles on my state, read fewer Tweets and Facebook entries, read more articles and books for the fun of it (Sci-Fi is my weakness), and to make sure I get a little more sleep.

I can do better. I want to do better.

Letters ~ and More

In my last blog post, {not the last one posted, but the last one by me} I mentioned the letter that had been published in our local newspaper, and our response to it.  Kirsty wanted me to share the letters here, and I’m glad to do that.  Here’s the letter originally sent in:

CIVIL DECENCY

There may be no more contentious place in our entire city than on the sidewalk of Second and Market streets every Tuesday through Saturday morning. Before the sun even peeks out from the eastern horizon, locals begin converging in front of the EMW Women’s Surgical Center. There they take their positions in what has become a nationwide culture-war for over 40 years. They come at 7 a.m. because the abortion issue means more to them than sleep, convenience or blissful apathy.

But far too often, proponents on both sides arrive with scowls of anger and moods that in their younger days would have required extended periods of “time out.” Simply put, these principled agitators come cranky, and they often stay that way. I will readily grant them their right to act like spurned adolescents in public — even in the name of truth or justice; but I cannot pretend that forgetting the meaning of the word “civil” in civil society furthers either cause. Perhaps we didn’t really learn everything we needed to know about life in kindergarten…

http://www.courier-journal.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2013307130039

When I first skimmed through it, I really was convinced he was just talking about the protesters, but then someone pointed out that he says: “proponents on both sides arrive with scowls…”   AND he said that we come “cranky,” which ~ you know ~ being the author of The Cranky Escort, I sort of took personally.  Besides which, I don’t arrive cranky, if crankiness happens, it’s after I’ve been there for a while.

So we put together a response.

CIVILITY AND COMPASSION

In response to the July 13 letter about civil decency, we, who wear orange vests emblazoned with “Clinic Escort,” want to explain why we come to the sidewalk at 2nd and Market streets five days a week. We come not to agitate, but to provide safe passage for women and their companions who are seeking reproductive health services. We come to create a space on the sidewalk that is not blocked by people or signs. We always ask permission to walk with the women and never assume that they want us or need us beside them.

Our goal is to de-escalate the atmosphere on the sidewalk. In that spirit, we prefer not to engage in conversation with the protesters. We try to ignore the comments and taunts that are leveled at the women, their companions and us. Our goal is to be a calm buffer when the protesters yell at the windows and doors of the clinic, wave pamphlets in the women’s faces and broadcast their sermons on amplifiers.

We are not on the sidewalk to make a political statement. We are not there to engage in discussions of reproductive health issues. We are not there to change anyone’s opinion. We are on the sidewalk to support the right of women to access safe and legal reproductive health services. Our goal is to do this with civility and compassion.

Our hope is that one day we will not be needed on the sidewalk at 2nd and Market streets. Until then, we will be there five days a week, 52 weeks a year for the women and their companions who come to the clinic.

http://www.courier-journal.com/article/20130719/OPINION02/307190031/Letters-Civility-guardian-angels-Trayvon-Martin-case-Yum-Center

Thirteen of us signed it, although they could only publish one person’s name.  Interestingly, it  didn’t generate a lot of hateful responses, and it felt good to respond and see it published.

In other updates, I participated in FtbCon, the on-line conference, and think it went well.  Here’s a link to the part we were involved in, just in case anyone wants to watch it:  I have to tell you though ~  we had a technical glitch ~ Bree and I were presenting together, and so we met at my house for the actual event.  My microphone wouldn’t work right ~ which was really annoying, because I’d tested it ahead of time and it had been fine.

So in a moment of near panic, {on my part anyhow}  we realized that her mike was picking up my voice, and we just ran with that.  What we didn’t think about was that this strategy meant it looked like she was talking when it was really me.

But there were some interesting other panelists and I think our material was good ~ we were examining the protesters claims that abortion causes psychological harm or that “women always regret their abortion.”   I may write about that too sometime, it’s interesting research.  But not today.

Finally ~ the last post I wrote was right after the jury returned a “not guilty” verdict on George Zimmerman, the man who killed Trayvon Martin.    I didn’t mention that in my post that day.  And it might seem like it doesn’t have anything to do with reproductive rights or escorting.  But it does.

Misogyny ~ the War on Women ~ and Racism are a result of the same patriarchal power structure.   They are inextricably bound, and first of all, I want to acknowledge that ~ it’s the least I can do.  Those issues are part of a larger tangle of social justice that includes classism and  marriage equality and able-ism, cisgender privilege and a variety of other issues, all of which involve one group of people telling another how they “ought to” live, or one group setting the standard for what’s “normal.”

There is so much more I could say ~ about my own privilege, and how that contributes to the problem, about intersectionality and the importance of recognizing it, and about the ways we can take action.  But that’s way beyond my scope today, and maybe not ever for this blog.

Today, i just need to acknowledge that what happens to Trayvon Martin, and how we respond to George Zimmerman, affects us all.  And I want to provide this link for other white people who are also interested in using our privilege to stand against racism.  It’s the least I can do.

New Escort Story ~ by Anonymous

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:

 

 

*********************************************************

First Time Escort – by Tom

My wife has been a clinic escort for over a year. She has helped with new escort training several times, and she discusses with me her experiences as a clinic escort, telling me how various “regulars” among the anti-abortion crowd act and react and how escorts, clients, and client companions manage themselves in what can be a tense environment.

In our discussions, I find that my first reactions to envisioned scenarios are sometimes good, and sometimes not so effective, in light of the primary mission in the Points of Unity the escorts agree to follow: It’s not about escalating. It’s not even about me, or any escort or anti-abortion protester. It’s about providing the space for clients to follow their decision through, with the underlying assumption being that clients have considered their options well enough to make their own decision. The hows and whys of their decision, just like the decision itself, is their own business, to be shared only with people they trust.

Of course, this also means that to focus on the clients, there is no time or space to judge the protesters. They have their own reasons for being there, most often based in their religious belief systems. That I do not share the specifics of their belief hierarchy is irrelevant. They are still people. As discussed later this morning, if calamity were to strike, I would do what I could to help them.

But I digress. Often. You’ve been warned.

I know myself well enough to realize that I would have to be VERY careful if I were to volunteer on the sidewalk. I am too ready to escalate in general. Even so, I have wanted to be there, to see first-hand the intensity, the individuals I hear of by nickname and actions only, and to help.

So, this morning, I went. It’s Easter weekend, a time crucial to the central belief of many Christians, so it was expected that there would be extra and extra-loud anti-abortionists on hand. As it turns out, the call went out via many electronic avenues, and we had students from the University of Louisville Medical School, other college students, and many other folks come out to wear orange vests. I don’t know how many orange vests were in use—one count was in the upper forties, and more people came afterward. I’ve seen posts claiming that sixty or more escorts were on hand—a reality commented upon by a couple of the anti-abortionists, who may or may not have cared that I heard them claiming to each other that our huge turnout was an indication of our concern over the power of their message. Delusions abound.

With all that extra staffing, we had the luxury of posting several volunteers across the entryway to the clinic. We were a moveable wall—tasked with keeping antis from blocking access to the clinic building, moving out of the way when clients and client companions arrived.

It was pretty easy duty, really. Stand there and let the preachers preach, let the antis spew their religious silliness. At times, move aside to allow passage by clients, client companions, and an occasional escort.

Yes, I was more than once reminded of scenes in movies in which drill instructors yell at recruits during boot camp, with the recruits required to stand at attention and all but ignore the verbal abuse. Some of the antis even tried to shame us, speaking derisively of our humanness, calling us names, telling us that their god was going to punish us for our wicked evil abetting of the abortion mill. And then in the next breath telling us that if we confess to their god, and ask forgiveness, we could enter heaven after all. Such hypocrisy. Such ludicrousness.

A couple years ago, I read the book, The God Virus: How Religion Infects Our Lives and Culture, by Darrel W. Ray. The base premise of the book is that an apt metaphor for religion is found in the study of virology. Others have used the expression “thought virus” to describe other applications of the analogy, and I find the expression apt. The idea is that once a thought virus gets into one’s head, it’s exceedingly difficult for a thought counter to the original to take root. It’s hard for someone indoctrinated in religion to see an atheistic viewpoint as even being an acceptable alternative to belief in his or her god. Scripture makes use of this, even without formally recognizing it, when it has passages that demonize those of us who don’t believe.

Of course, it could be viewed in reverse: Those of us who have been “inoculated” against the virus don’t get absorbed into it. Speaking from personal experience, I simply find the reliance on the religious person’s god to be speaking of some imaginary friend, like Santa Claus or the tooth fairy. It’s hard for me to imagine believing in what seems horrendously illogical to me. The hubris in saying that no matter what our sins, the Christian God will forgive if we but ask is astonishing to me. That some sidewalk preacher dares to condemn me to his version of hell, not having any idea who I am or what I do is an insult. It’s meant to bother me.

But, because I have the secret weapon of knowledge of the concept of thought viruses, I am able to let his vitriol go on by me. I am able to focus on keeping my place, keeping my awareness on my surroundings so that I can alert my colleagues that clients are coming our way and that we need to be ready to make room for them to pass into the building.

A couple hours after things settled down, after the group breakfast, after some errand-running with another escort to collect her bicycle, and after starting to type out my thoughts, I realized that the antis were giving me a lot of power over themselves. Because I was able to let their words go by me without effect, they got angrier and more strident in their word choices.By giving me this power, they in effect empowered me to be a better volunteer, and do a better job for the clients and their companions.

I say this because one in particular spent some time in front of a group of us, deriding us, mocking us, telling us we must have been “real men” to stand up to a woman haranguing clients in front of an “abortion mill.” He went on and on, talking about how he imagined us being really proud that we were abetting the killing of babies and all the guilt-trip words he added to that. We mostly ignored him, until he called us weasels. One of our group piped up with “Can I be an otter instead?” which prompted me to chime in with “I’ll be a ferret! People treat pet ferrets quite well!” The guy walked away, disgusted that he couldn’t upset us. He came back a couple times, trying again to shame us, without success. He gave us the power to disgust him with our indifference to his snide remarks. Again and again.

Other of their ilk preached for a bit at us, or more accurately, at each other for my amusement, then moved on to preach at other vaguely-human forms wearing orange vests or clients or anyone who would listen.

A snippet, because I enjoyed seeing it happen: At one point, a fellow escort was standing beside me, and one of the more vocal preachers was haranguing people who had walked into the building. Because the preacher’s words were having less than the desired effect, he focused his attention on my fellow escort, who was at times smirking at the lunacy of the vitriol. “You mock me! You dare to mock me as I speak the word of God! You dare to mock me!” the preacher shouted.

The escort’s response? Indifference, in the main. An occasional chuckle. He removed his glasses to clean the spittle from them, put there by the preacher as he shouted his anger at having a less-than-desired effect on the escort’s mien. My fellow escort and I chuckled to each other soon after the preacher’s departure.

*********************************************************

REMINDER: If you are interested in escorting, don’t forget the training on Saturday, April 13th at 9A.  Training is not required, but it’s helpful. Please see our Trainings for Escorts page or email us for additional information

*********************************************************

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:

*********************************************************

Little Choices

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.”

About the Escorts – Point of Unity IX

*  Louisville’s clinic escorts are a non-hierarchical group of autonomous individuals.

I love the sound of those words ~ “non-hierarchiacal,” and “autonomous individuals” ~ in the same sentence.  It’s a mouthful to say, but it has a rhythm and a flow that I enjoy.

We’re not an organization. We don’t have memberships or pay dues. We don’t have people in charge. We’re a group of volunteers who come together to escort women past the protesters, chasers, and pray-ers  to their doctor’s appointment.

Having said that – we are a group of volunteers, held together by the Points of Unity. Putting on an orange vest in front of the clinic means that we are there to support access to abortion AND that we agree to follow the points of unity.

Figuring out how to apply the points of unity is a challenge sometimes, and our ideas about it have evolved over time.  We’ve spent hours hashing them out, exploring what they mean to each of us, and how to implement them.

Sometimes, we’ve gotten sidetracked during trainings and fallen into some deep discussion ~ maybe pondering what “empower” really means, or how to disengage when we’ve been triggered by something a protester said.  I like to say that for every statement I make during a training, two escorts will agree with it, two escorts want to add something or tell a story about it, three escorts have exceptions or a different interpretation, and one will just completely disagree.

This diversity makes for interesting conversations, and I’ve learned so much from the other escorts about non-hierarchical power structures and consensus building and many other things.

We often have people express an interest in volunteering.  If you’re interested, you’re welcome to join us any morning.

We provide support for new escorts by asking that you observe a couple of times before you start escorting. After that, we’ll connect you with a mentor to shadow for a time or two. We offer some trainings, but you will learn most of what you need to know on the sidewalk.

We escort Tuesday through Saturday, 6:45 or 7 am to about 815 or 830.   We don’t have a schedule, you’re not “expected” to be there any particular day. You may escort once and never come back. You may want to do it every week, or more than once a week. We discourage escorts from coming every day, just because most of us find that overwhelming and lose perspective.

We don’t escort alone. If I’m the only person there at 7, I need to call the back up people. It’s better if I wait in my car until someone else gets there. At the end of the morning, we make sure no one gets left alone at the clinic. That’s for our own safety. Probably not physical safety, but it protects us from false accusations by the protesters or unpleasant situations.

We provide vests when you get there.

On Saturdays, after escorting, many of us go out for breakfast together. Everyone is invited, it’s a good way to debrief and give each other support.

Points of Unity ~ V

*Escort interactions with anti-choice protesters should be purposeful, focused and calm.

How can we be purposeful, focused, and calm in the middle of that chaos? In a situation that feels threatening? When the tension is heavy in the air and emotions are right on the edge?

Many of us can’t. Generally, we choose to disengage from interactions wit the protesters instead. Last Saturday, “the preacher,” up on his step-stool in front of the clinic, was proclaiming:

I HAVE LEARNED – THAT THERE IS NO POINT – IN ARGUING WITH – AN EVOLUTIONISTIC-ATHEIST.”

I’m nodding in agreement. He is absolutely right on that. The he adds:

TO TRY TO ARGUE – WITH THESE PEOPLE – IS TOMFOOLERY!

Which cracks me up ~ what a great word “tomfoolery” is! And I still think he’s absolutely right, in his own, slightly askew way. It is pointless for both sides.

{Evolutionistic-atheist is another great word, isn’t?  I’m not actually an atheist, but it’s a creative word, I think.}

Anyhow, tomfoolery aside, for most of us, the best choice is to disengage. Not talk to the protesters at all.

If we’re friendly with them, it encourages them. It gives them hope that they can “save us.” That’s not really helpful.

If we get angry and yell at them, it escalates the conflict. We don’t want to do that. That’s not helpful.

And if we make snarky comments under our breath, (my personal temptation) they hear us. And that makes them angry. They say mean things back. That increases the tension. Ultimately, that escalates the conflict too.

So we disengage. They don’t much like that either, but it helps me stay calm.  I feel like I’m doing my part in avoiding conflict.

Sometimes we fall short of the goal of de-escalation.   Sometimes, we get sucked into talking to them, sometimes, we have to remind each other to back away, sometimes it’s really hard. But we’ve discovered that for most of us, disengagement is the way to go.

*********************

There are lots of other aspects to de-escalation ~ other escorts are invited and welcome to add their opinions, thoughts and expertise here.

Points of Unity ~ IV

*  Our goal is to normalize and de-stigmatize abortion services.

Normalize and de-stigmatize.  Are we kidding?

There is just not much “normal” about walking past a bunch of protesters on your way to the doctor. Protesters who don’t want you to go to the doctor. Some weeks ~ like the day before Mother’s Day ~ there are maybe a hundred and fifty protesters.  It’s would be hard to make that feel normal.

But that’s why, on times like the Saturday before Mother’s Day, we need lots of escorts. Not to actually escort so much ~ walking with a client really just takes three escorts. Maybe four.  You know how it works.

The client and companion walk together. One escort on each side, one behind or in front, maybe one behind and in front, to deflect the protesters.  One of those escorts is the greeter and the talker. The other two, or three, are holding space, creating a cushion around the client.

But on the Saturday before Mother’s Day, Easter, the day before Father’s Day, we want lots of people in orange vests to create a strong presence.  We want to line the space in front of the clinic so that the clients aren’t blocked. So they don’t have to wait for a protester to move so they can get through.

We create a sea of orange vests. The client coming up the sidewalk can see the orange vests, and know that there’s support around them.

Ok. There is still nothing “normal” about walking through a gauntlet of pray-ers, preachers, and protesters to go to the doctor. There just isn’t. There is no way to normalize that.

And their purpose, the protesters’ goal, is to create stigma. To instill shame. All we can do is be there. Our best shot at “normalizing and de-stigmatizing” is to create space.

And we do know how to do that.

****************************

There is lots more to be said here ~ and I invite other escorts to add their thoughts and opinions.  I barely touch on “de-stigmatize.”  Servalbear’s post “Let’s Talk About It” demonstrates one way to reduce the stigma associated with this medical procedure, but there are lots of others.

Also ~ the astute reader may notice that i went from Points of Unity II directly to Points of Unity IV, bypassing III.  That is because being a new grandmother, being on the verge of early retirement, and starting a private practice have limited my time to write, and Points of Unity III is my favorite ~ de-escalation.  Maybe next week…

Points of Unity ~ II

Escorts are present to support people and create space for them to be empowered while accessing reproductive healthcare.

What does that mean?  “Support.”  “Create space.”  “To be empowered.”   What does that look like?

It may be a little bit different for different people.  Here are some ideas.

We support with our presence.  The orange vest.  A relaxed, calm appearance.  An air of confidence.  These are ways we support before we say a word.

We create space by walking with the client and companion.  Some of the space we create is physical.  If I’m walking next to you, the anti following  us down the sidewalk can’t get quite as close to you as he or she could if I weren’t there.

More of the space is ~ I think ~ emotional.  I often use the term “to accompany,” when talking about being with the client on the journey up the sidewalk.  We are not there to protect, or to guard, we are there to accompany.  So we try to be in tune with the client, pay attention to their body language and other cues.

Some clients want to talk, or want us to talk to them while we walk. Some may be listening to music or talking on their phone.  We follow their lead in deciding whether to talk with them or not.

When we do talk, we keep it simple.  We may remind the client and companion that they both need their IDs in the clinic.  We may tell them that most of the protesters will be gone when they come out.  We may tell them the sidewalk gets a little “wonky” up ahead.  When I run out of other things to say, I sometimes say, “And really, I’m just babbling now.  I’m pretty good at that, in fact, I can pretty much keep talking about nothing the rest of the way there,” which sometimes makes them laugh.

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.

So we trust the client.  If the client wants to stop and talk to the antis, if they want to take the literature, if they want to go to the fake clinic, we trust that they know what they’re doing.  If they want to cover their whole head with a towel, borrow an orange vest, or scream “fuck you” to the anti’s all the way up the sidewalk, we trust that they know what they’re doing.

Sometimes, the client doesn’t want us to escort them in.  Sometimes, when we ask, “Do you want us to walk with you?” they say, “No.  We’re fine.”  If it’s the companion who says no, they don’t need an escort, we ask the client again.

But when the client says no, we trust them, we believe them.

Now, even then, we may follow along behind them, waving off other escorts coming toward them, so they don’t get asked again.  And we may stay not too far away, because sometimes they change their minds.  Sometimes, they suddenly look around with that deer in the headlights look of panic, and then we ask again.

But we try to remember, this is the client’s choice.  The client’s experience.  We’re there to support.  We’re there to create space so they can be empowered.

**************************

This is, of course, from my perspective, and there’s lots more that can be said.  For example, I was trying to research the concept of “accompanying” which I think is beginning to have a particular meaning, and wish someone would speak to that.   I know that at least one other escort is writing some thoughts expanding on the points of unity ~ I hope they, and any of the escorts who are so motivated, will share those thoughts here.

Points of Unity ~ Part I

Escorts are a group of individuals who volunteer to accompany patients and their companions to the clinic.  The Points of Unity define what we do and hold us accountable.

We’re not an organization.  The clinic doesn’t train us.  We don’t sign up to escort and we aren’t scheduled for particular days.  People start coming when they feel the urge.  They come when they want to, for as long as they want to.

If someone quits coming ~ gets too busy, moves away, has a work schedule that interferes ~ they may still “be an escort.”  They’re just not spending time on the sidewalk right now.  If they don’t want to “be an escort” anymore, then they aren’t.   It’s that simple.

The Points of Unity are what hold us together.  In any situation, if we’re not sure of the “right” thing to do, the Points of Unity guide us.

At the training we’re doing May 9th in preparation for Mother’s Day, we’re going to review the Points of Unity.  I love doing this in a group of escorts, because they mean something a little different to each of us.  We’re not going to get into all that at the training ~ I promise ~ but it did get me started thinking about  how I interpret them.

So I’m going to do a series of blog posts unpacking them, exploring what they mean to me.  I invite my fellow escorts, who will see shades of difference, to share their thoughts as well, either in comments or a blog post of their own.

The first point of unity is:

* Escorts 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?”

Different escorts have their own variations on that, for well-thought-out reasons, but we each say “Would you like us to walk with you?”  And we wait for a response.

We ask the client rather than the companion whenever possible, and we look to the client for the response.  Sometimes the companion will say, “Nah, we’re fine,” and the client will be frantically nodding her head “Yes!!!”   Guess what we do when that happens.

Yes, of course we walk with them, unless the client takes the consent back.

But if the client says, “No, we’re fine,” then what do you think we do?  Yep.  We step back so they can walk without us beside them.

Sometimes we have to follow a little bit behind them, waving off other escorts who would otherwise step out to accompany them.  So it can be an interesting sight.

The client and the companion walking with several chasers attached to their sides, us a little bit behind them, and a series of escorts who walk toward them, see us waving them off, and step back to leave them alone.

Sometimes, part way up the sidewalk, the client or companion change their minds and ask us to join them.  It may be just a panic stricken look and a quick, “Yes, we do!”  Of course, then we step forward and join them.

Other times they walk to the door apparently quite comfortable, clearly unscathed by the scolding, shaming strategies of the chasers.   That’s kind of a warm-fuzzy moment for us.

Those are the technical aspects of getting consent.  On a more abstract level, “consent” is what most separates us from the antis ~ and from rape culture.  We’ve written dozens of blog posts about this because it is at the heart of who escorts are and what we do.

Most of the stories we tell involve the lack of consent from clients to the approaches of the protesters.  If the clients wanted to be lectured at as they walked to the clinic, if they welcomed the protesters, if they said, “Oh, yes, please share your religious beliefs with me during this part of my life journey,” then there would be no need for escorts.

{And I have to pause a moment to laugh at that mental image.  Wouldn’t that be fun?  if all the clients one day, as the chasers approached, greeted them, welcomed them, let them babble on, and strolled into the clinic untouched by their poison ~ can you imagine?  How baffled the protesters would be!

Ok, never mind, I’m sorry.  That was a moment of complete insanity on my part… now back to our regularly scheduled blog post.}

But you get my point, right?  I  won’t tell more stories about consent here ~ all of our stories ~ what we do ~ is based on the fact that the antis interact with clients in intrusive, invasive ways without their consent.  Otherwise, we wouldn’t need to be there.

Now ~ because pictures are powerful ~ here’s another image from the Saturday before Easter.  At this point, most of the clients were in the clinic.

The woman holding the sign, who’s a regular, kept saying, “Be careful, don’t block the whole sidewalk, you can’t block the whole sidewalk or they’ll call the police.”  You can see another, smaller prayer circle gathered under the awning up the sidewalk.

I’m reminded of the morning a new anti approached us and announced that he wanted to pray for us.  He wanted to know if there was something we wanted him to pray for, for us.   It kind of amused me, like I would ask him to pray for me?  But I guess that was his idea of getting consent.

We said no.  But in retrospect, I guess I could have asked him to pray that all the antis left the sidewalk and went to do something truly helpful for humanity.  Or would that have been one of those snarky comments that I’m better off not saying…

Anyhow, if you’re interested in escorting, particularly if you’re willing to hold space on the Saturday before Mother’s Day, don’t forget the training on May 9th at 6:00.  It’s not required, but it’s helpful.

REMINDER: Our annual  fund drive Pledge-A-Picketer is NOW!
The Sunday 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: