So after a decidedly up and down few weeks, I was super keyed-up to finally put all those Thursday night orientations to use in my first ever volunteer shift at a Planned Parenthood. I hardly slept the night before because I was afraid I’d oversleep for my 7 am shift, and I nearly did thanks to my frenemy "snooze," who knows just when to poke me a little too soon so that I hit "dismiss" in a fit of sleepified rage and pique.
But I made it, found the door, was let in by an affectionate security guard who called me baby, signed me in, handed me a blue volunteer smock, and chatted with me while we waited for the other clinic escort working the early shift to arrive. When she finally did and it was finally time, she took her post across the street and I stationed myself next to the door. Our job was to make the clinic entrance accessible and welcoming for any and all patients, women or men, and not to verbally or physically engage with protesters who might show up.
I guess they were tired from their 40 Day of Life Harass-A-Thon, or maybe they only believe fetuses aborted after 9 am are in need of representation because only two showed, one of whom is a weekly fixture at this particular clinic. She pulled her car up around 7:15, set up some manipulative, misleading and fairly gruesome posters on her trunk and stood on the corner just outside the 15-foot legal restriction for protesters outside reproductive health clinics. Of course, as soon as someone showed any signs of intent to approach she followed them all the way up to the door, in flagrant violation of laws laid down to protect the right to privacy and access to healthcare, which she knows because she gets arrested on the regular….. but my job was not to engage so as I opened the door for patient after patient, all I did was wish them a good morning and stare straight over her head.
Once when she was following a young woman with some intensity I stepped between her and the door, allowing the clinic visitor to slip in front of me, but the way the door is hung makes that awkward to do with any facility. (If it swung out right to left, it’d be easier to create a protective barrier, just something to think about, @PPNYC!) It was a chilly morning, and more people were out and about than I’d expected, but the street was still quiet.
CrazyEyes and her pleas and protests went ignored by most clinic visitors; even the few who were startled by her posters just went around the block and then came right back up to the door. One woman, who wasn’t even coming to the clinic, got into a shouting match with her, declaring that "God said leave it to him – these battles aren’t yours!" and eventually stormed off. Most women made eye contact and replied to my good morning, a few made pleasantries, several rolled their eyes at the anti-choice rhetoric. A couple took pamphlets. A handful of passersby, people who lived in adjacent buildings, and clinic workers thanked us for our work. One guy who looked like Sam Elliot brushed off the protesters on his way to get a paper, and on the way back stopped to show me the headline about Justice Stevens and discuss the probability of President Obama’s selecting another pro-choice justice.
As the adrenaline of anticipating a confrontation that never came ebbed away, it got nippy. Then chilly. And windy. And still there was no Epic Heaven and Earth showdown in which I, Defender Of Bodily Autonomy, would match wits with Those Who Dissemble and Interfere.
Just a few dozen patients and their family members, coming to a clinic for services covering the wide spectrum of reproductive health for both women and men, getting harangued with anti-choice propaganda for their trouble.
I began to have slightly whimsical thoughts….after seeing 4 bakery trucks go by on early morning deliveries, I thought You know what I’d do if I wanted to cut down on abortion rates? I’d open up bakeries across the street from all the clinics. Women would say to themselves "Hmm…do I feel like having an abortion or a cupcake?" and I bet cupcakes would totally win out.
At last our shift ended. We handed our vests over to our replacements and headed off. My street armor felt polished, reinforced, maybe even sharpened in places. I know I didn’t hesitate to tell the two guys who muttered objectifying crap at me in the course of FOUR BLOCKS to go to hell. Only I may have used more colorful language. Because there is just not enough time in life to put up with crap from creeps. The experience was intensely rewarding, and I definitely feel stronger, as a person and as an advocate, because of it.
There are a lot of important things I want to do battle for, and I want to be in fighting shape for all of them.