He was tall and slender. The video camera hid most of his face. I noticed the camera first as we came down the sidewalk with the patient, a young Hispanic woman. The camera was pointed straight at her and her companion, at the center of the “scrum,”* in the middle of the sea of orange vests. It pissed me off.
This is a scrum, from the back. Camera man would have been on the other side of us.
We left the patient and her companion at the door, the clinic wasn’t open yet. I was glad she didn’t speak English, couldn’t understand everything the protesters were saying. Although, she couldn’t help seeing and hearing the man who jumped out of the prayer line to scream, “PLEASE DON’T KILL YOUR LITTLE BABY!”
I approached the man with the camera. He was still shooting, standing off to the side of the door. “Don’t take pictures of the clients,” I said. “It’s really rude to take pictures of clients.”
He started to say something, but I talked over him. “It’s rude, and it’s just wrong, and you should leave them alone.” I was angry. I don’t know if that’s exactly what I said, but I was just angry, and I said something like that.
I wasn’t trying to be nice. There he was, this six foot-something white man with gray hair and a fancy video camera, and how dare he?
“Oh, I’m not… it’s ok…” he said soothingly, and that just made me angrier.
“No, it’s not ok,” I said. “It’s rude You’re violating their privacy!”
“No, I’m not I’m – come here,” he said, “Come here,” motioning with one hand for me to come closer to him, and I thought, oh, right, no way. I shook my head, disgusted; they always want to preach at you, the protesters do, get you off to the side to preach and lecture at you. “No,” I said. And I walked away, back to the door and the Hispanic woman.
I tried to practice my pitiful Spanish on her, and actually almost made her smile. I’d already said, “Non hablo Espanol,” and then I said “Hablo Italiano, un poco,” and she nodded and I said, “Ustedes, non habla Italiano? And she shook her head and almost smiled at this goofy woman asking if she spoke Italian.
Then I looked up and he was there, with his camera, motioning ‘come here’ again. I moved toward him a little, but he moved closer to me too, til he was just a couple of inches away from me, all up in my space. I’m short, I’m five foot, and he was at least six foot, maybe more. I wanted to back away from him, but I didn’t, I wouldn’t.
“Come here, “ he said, in a low voice. “Listen, come here,” and I thought “here, where? For what?”
I was afraid, I think. Don’t ask me why, we were right there in public. But he was all up in my space, I couldn’t even see his face without tilting my head way back, so I was looking directly into his chest.
Then I looked down and saw that he’d stepped over the magic line in the sidewalk, and I said, “You’re on private property. Step back.” He looked surprised, and I said it again, “You’re on the clinic’s property. I’m a volunteer with the clinic. You’re not. Step back.”
And he did step back. Which made me feel pretty good. And I think he was still kind of saying, “Come here,” and motioning to me, but I really didn’t care. I went back to talking to the Hispanic woman.
A few minutes later, I was out in the parking lot; I was standing near the light pole. A young woman with dark hair approached me. I didn’t recognize her, but when she stepped into the light, then I noticed her jacket had a logo with, “Channel ***,” on it, and I kind of thought, “Oh, shit.”
Sure enough. She lowered her voice, like this was confidential, which confused me a little, but sure enough, he was her cameraman, she said, and they were going to blur the faces of the patients and it was all ok. She said all that in a reassuring whisper that made me feel like she was trying to placate me, and that annoyed me.
“He was still rude,” I said, thinking about him stepping up to me by the door. “And the patients don’t know you won’t show their faces.” I was still angry, maybe angrier, because with all his gesturing and “come here,” I guess I was supposed to know he was going to tell me he was with the media?
“Oh, I know,” she said, “We want you all to tell them. When you go to the cars, you tell them we won’t show their faces.” I nodded. Sure, we could do that.
But I was still pissed.
The morning went on. There weren’t a lot of us escorts so we were working on moving around to cover the space we needed to, and doing pretty well. The group of escorts right across the street from the parking lot were stationed so they could cover the sidewalk on their right or groups crossing the street directly across from them. Some escorts were stationed in the back of the parking lot.
A group of escorts had just left the parking lot with a patient when a truck pulled in. I approached it, along with a bunch of protesters who were actually wearing orange vests too. The frigging weasels, trying to look like escorts. Liars and deceivers. I liked to say it loudly when they could hear me.
But we approached the truck, and of course it scared the young couple in the truck. The driver was getting ready to park but he pulled out again and moved to another space. This time when I approached, I pointed to the words on my vest, “Clinic Escort,” and he rolled the window down.
I could see her on the passenger side of the truck, shaking, tears in her eyes. She looked fragile, beautiful and scared. He looked a little shaken too. “Where can we park?” he asked, “Is there somewhere we can park where they’ll leave us alone?”
I shook my head, “Not really,” and added, “But – if she’s ok with it,” then looking at her, talking over him, “If you’re ok with it, he could drop you at the door.”
He pulled out then, another escort approached the truck as he was pulling out – L maybe or T. I walked toward them in time to hear her suggest it too, that he drop the patient at the door. He looked at the other escort, and at me, and he said, “Will you be there?” Of course, we said yes, and headed across the street to the door while he drove around the block.
When we got there, I realized we hadn’t been able to hold the opening in the sidewalk this week. The priest, with his Roman collar, and a couple of other men, were blocking it. Next to them was a three foot pile of snow. You couldn’t get to the clinic from the street. You would have had to walk through them or the three foot pile of snow just to get to the sidewalk. That made me really angry too.
Ok, the door wasn't as blocked that day as it is in the picture. But I'm sure it felt like it to the woman and her companion. Can you imagine having to get through that crowd?
The police officer was new, he’d never been at the clinic before. He was standing by the door, looking nervous. I pushed through the men blocking the sidewalk. “There’s a woman coming up, she’s going to get dropped off,” I told the officer. I gestured. “She won’t be able to get through. Will you make them move so she can get through?”
He look a little confused, so I said, “The men – see the men there?” pointing, “They’re blocking the way, she won’t be able to get to the door,” and then he nodded.
And he did help, when the truck pulled up and she got out, looking so scared and fragile, he made his way over and just his presence was enough to create an opening and then she was over the line and in the door. I smiled.
In moments like that, I felt like a warrior. Or something powerful. A goddess, maybe. Maybe Uadjet, the cobra goddess, aggressive defender of the pharoah in ancient Egypt. The idea made me smile more.
As I crossed the street, I saw the camera man, and was feeling so good, I had to laugh. “Did you see that?” I said. “Did you see – it took the police to get them to move so she could get through? Jesus!” I shook my head. “Talk about FACE act violations!” And he shook his head too.
Later the camera man came over and was talking to me. He was being really nice, said he understood that I was there to protect the patients, and all that. Said that the patients probably had so much going on that they didn’t even notice him with the camera.
I said, “Yeah, maybe sometimes they don’t, but sometimes they get tears in their eyes and say, “Why is he doing that? Why is he taking pictures?” all panicky.”
“Don’t worry,” he assured me, “we blur the faces, make sure they know that, ok?”
But much later – ok, it’s not much later, it only lasts about an hour, hour and a half all together, it just feels like much later – he came over again, the photographer. He stood real close to me again, but by then I didn’t care. He sort of apologized, it was one of those, “I’m sorry I upset you even though I wasn’t doing anything wrong” apologies, but that was ok. He was sincere about it.
We talked about how his camera and clothes didn’t have any marking to show he was with the media. We talked about how hard it is to be “the good guy” at the clinic. We shook hands.
And he said he knew we felt protective of the patients – he understood that. “But,” he said, “You-all might want to think that when you come across ‘like that’” (like I had, you know, although he didn’t quite say that) “that when you-all come across real harsh, it doesn’t help, it might just make you look bad. So, you know, when you don’t know why someone’s there, you might not want to come on so strong with them.”
And I thought, well, you’re probably right. But really, as C said later, “if you want to see me nice, meet me somewhere else.”
I almost just nodded in agreement anyway, and then some super-empowered part of me kicked in, and I said – really calmly and nicely, “You know, that’s a good example of white male privilege – the belief that if you show up somewhere, you’re entitled to be there and everyone else should accept that and adjust what they’re doing to accommodate you.”**
I said it and my heart was racing, I couldn’t believe I’d said it, even though I knew it was true.
To my amazement, and his credit, he looked surprised, but then he nodded, “That’s right,” he said, “You’re right, it probably is.” We left it at that.
Months have gone by since I wrote this. The same photographer was out for Mother’s Day, and we were like old friends. Strange how that happens.
I don’t feel like a cobra goddess so much anymore. I’ve moved away from being a protector, now I aim more at being a presence. I can’t protect anyone from anything out there, but I can be with them. It is closer to the mindfulness idea, “don’t just do something, sit there.”***
And really, that sounds a whole lot more Zen than I can actually pull off. If you show up down at the clinic, you’re just as likely to find me ranting at someone about something, or walking away to cool down. But I keep working at holding on to that calm inner peace, on the sidewalk, every Saturday morning.
*scrum – a football term. We use it to refer to the formation made by the group of escorts who surround the patient and her companion, as we move down the sidewalk with them.
**The following observations are from my friend D., who proofed my post, found some typos, and made some suggestions. He said: “Overall, I think your most powerful message to get across in this essay is the point about white male privilege. What do you think about spending a few more words on that and really emphasizing it?”
And then he went on and did it for me: “Through the whole story, that’s the thing that kept nagging at me about his behavior, even though I didn’t know it until you said it. The whole idea that it’s ok for him to be filming because he was going to blur their faces was ridiculous. Even if we tell the clients that, that friggin’ camera is still extremely rude, intrusive, and scary. What if the woman was an illegal immigrant? She would have run scared and not gotten her abortion. It’s NOT ok to just film people and put them on the evening news, blurred faces or not. His privileged white background completely ignores all those scenarios and keeps him from being able to see just how rude he is. It’s the same with all those idiot protesters and chasers. They really can’t see how what they do is rude and intrusive. Their background only let’s them see how wonderful they are for what they endure to get their message across.” (Thanks, D.!)
** “Don’t just do something, sit there,” is a Buddhist concept, and has been used in a variety of contexts, with slightly different connotations. One of my clinical psychology teachers in graduate school used it often to discourage new therapists from rushing to “fix something” when the client made an important disclosure. When something painful is under discussion, it’s easier to act quickly in an effort to make it go away, but often more helpful to just experience the feeling and let others “sit with it” as well.