Saturday, July 11, 2009

I Meet the "Anti's"

Today, I had my first real experience as an abortion clinic escort. For those of you that do did not read our recent pieces, we at Sum of Change Productions are in the early stages of a documentary on the work that clinic escorts do and the stories attached to it. Volunteering as an escort is a part of our research, ideally making our film stronger by giving us a deeper understanding of the work. There is about 8 trillion things I could say about today, but I will keep this somewhat brief, and just run through the day.

I woke up this morning with a slightly soar throat, the result of nights of web design without sleep. It's a Saturday, and it's 9:00am. I would much rather sleep in, try not to get too sick because we have a big week ahead of us. I made a commitment though, and I have an hour drive ahead of me, so it is time to wake up. I was not nervous on the drive up. I have done plenty of protesting, and dealt with plenty of protesters. So far, none of this felt too far outside of my comfort zone.

I get to the clinic, and see the "anti's" immediately. For those that do not know, the term "anti's" refers to the regulars that show up every week to "demonstrate" (or harass if you want to get nit-picky about it). I came alone, and I appear to be the first escort to arrive, so I park down the street and wait for the others to arrive. They taught us in the training that you never escort alone, because the anti's will be quick to claim you assaulted them (as I learned in the first half-hour). If you are alone, there are no witnesses on your side, so just never escort alone.

When I saw the others, I left the car to join them. (For obvious reasons, I will not be using anyone's name, besides my own, without explicit permission to do so). I met my trainer for the day, a nice lady who has been escorting for about fifteen years now. We went inside to get me an escort shirt, essentially a bright orange tank top with "clinic escort" written on it. The second I walked in, the clinic staff shot me a big smile and thanked me for volunteering. That moment was one I tried hard to remember for the next two-and-a-half hours.

In the clinic escort training, they taught us that boring is good. But today was not the case. The anti's that showed up today were regulars, and immediately recognized myself and another as new. Not only were we new, but men too. One anti just pounced on us with the traditional "they're killing babies in there", "why are you helping them", "God will forgive you, repent", and so on, and so on. For a few minutes, I just stood there, laying out my best poker face. Eventually, I broke and responded, as she rambled at me, with something along the lines of "there is a patient to consider too." And we went back and forth, politely, aside from her constant condescension. Throughout the conversation, I let slip at some point that my mother is a doctor. I quickly learned my lesson from that. For the rest of the day it was "your mother the doctor" this, and the "Hippocratic Oath" that. I did not let a single fact about myself slip from then on. They will jump on anything you give them, so we do not even use our names around them. Luckily, my mom will laugh at them when she hears about this, so it did not offend me the way it might if I thought the words would hurt her.

Then we had the first patient arrive. Nothing about this had scared me up to this point. I am not afraid of the threat of violence, or of confronting an anti in vigorous debate. None of that scares me (as a political organizer, those are pretty much part of the job description). However, approaching a woman walking up the street who might be a patient, who is being yelled at about killing babies, and trying to reassure her that I am here to help, that she can talk to the protesters but does not have to, that she does not have to answer personal questions from them... that scares me. That moment is so real, so quick. That is definitely out of my comfort zone. Luckily, our trainers handled most of that today, and us two newbies mostly acted as a human wall to help guide the way into the clinic. However, one of us slightly bumped into an anti, and "Assault!" they screamed. As I said before, do not ever escort alone.

And then there was a patient that arrived who spoke little-to-no English. I was the only one who spoke any Spanish (the anti's didn't, but that didn't stop them from screaming wretched things, even the most obvious logic escapes them). From the look in the patient's eyes, she was clearly caught off guard by all this.

I am not great at Spanish, but I speak it enough to get by in a conversation, and from a city council race I worked on, I can go on and on in Spanish about improving education in the inner city. I was nervous, but what else could I do? "Habla espanol?" I asked.

To which she replied "No." She was expecting me to ask if she speaks English, and responded with that by accident, another sign of how shaken she was by the whole event.

"No ingles?" (No English?)

"Si" (Yes)

Once you are talking to the patient, making eye contact, the fear goes away. For me at least, it was somewhat natural after that. You talk, so that the patient has someone to listen to other than the hateful anti's.

"Vamos. No tiene que hablar con ella," Which roughly means, "Let's go. You don't have to talk to her." Her being the rambling lady yelling about baby killing.

That was about as eventful as it got. Most of the patients just made their way in, trying to ignore the anti's. Occasionally, a guy who came with a patient would come outside to have a cigarette and would get into a conversation with the anti's. By a conversation, I mean he sat there, usually answering as little as possible, while one or two anti's rambled on and on. My favorite part was when an anti called the holy, immaculate conception a case of rape. I have never, in my life, heard a Christian refer to it as that.

After the first patient arrived, I knew I would continue doing this. It is purely disgusting that people have to escort at clinics. Imagine if men got this type of treatment every time they bought a condom. I will be back next week, and shortly after that. I would much rather not. But, as my trainer said to an anti today, "I'm here because you are."

You can become a clinic escort too! Contact your local clinic, or contact us if you need any help and we will try to pass your questions along to the right people.

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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Free Iran Protest in Washignton DC, 6/20/2009

originally posted on June 20th, 2009

The District of Columbia awoke to storms this morning. Huddled under an overhang outside the Iranian Consulate’s office, were Americans and Iranian-Americans standing in solidarity with the people of Iran. Notwithstanding the rain, the crowd began its slow march, about two-and-a-half miles to the White House.

As they marched, the rain subsided, giving way to a gorgeous day, almost perfect for a demonstration. The crowd was loud and energetic,venting their anger, frustration, and concern. There was also a sense of hope, in light of an uprising in Iran on a scale not witnessed since the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Young and old alike, expressed their inspiration.

Grow the Hope/Organizing for America Health Care House Meeting

originally posted on June 30th, 2009

President Obama called on Americans to rally for action on health care. Grow the Hope answered the call, and has held health care house meetings across the state of Maryland. On Saturday, June 27th, they held their largest health care meeting and invited Sum of Change to document the occasion.

Health Care Rally in DC, 6/25/2009

originally posted on June 25th, 2009

Thousands of union workers and healthcare activists gathered at the Upper Senate Park in DC today to rally for true, universal health care. As the fight gears up on capitol hill, a crowd that dwarfs the media-hyped teabaggers, made their voices heard loud and clear.

We at Sum of Change have one thing to say about this:

We have control. Do not falter in this moment, a moment of urgency. Remember lessons of old. The last time the Democratic Party caved on health care, we lost for a decade straight. This is our holy grail, my generations social security. This issue displays, elegantly, the change in priorities that our nation voted for so overwhelmingly in 2008. This can be done and do not let anyone ever tell you otherwise.

More Thoughts on Abortion Clinic Escort Training from Sum of Change Filmmakers

originally posted on June 19th, 2009

From Mitch Malasky, Executive Producer at Sum of Change Productions.

The abortion escort session that Will and I went to on Monday was certainly a wake-up call for me. Abortion has never been a top of the list issue for me personally and I had never even heard of clinic escorting until a couple weeks ago, when we met some escorts while shooting a short piece about one of the many vigils for Dr. Tiller. But now, I am 'trained' to become one. I use quotations because, as they told us, we aren't supposed to feel ready to actually go out and escort (and I certainly do not), just more aware of what it is going to entail and why it is necessary. I have always been socially and politically conscious, but I have not actively fought to support an issue often, much less one like abortion. Abortion is always something that I've long had an opinion about, but doesn't directly affect me (at least not yet), and wouldn't the same way it would a woman. There are many other issues that I care deeply about, probably more so than abortion. But what I've learned in the past few weeks has called me to service and caused me to take action.

The class itself was about half men, something I didn't expect. Personally, I find this significant though. Men seem to be the ones who keep making abortion an issue instead of a right, so the fact that men (at least some of us) are taking a stand is important. The class included a lot of history about how abortion protests have developed, how clinic escorting came to be, and how the Washington Area Clinic Defense Task Force (WACDTF) the group that supervises the escorting and ran the training, came to be. It also gave us a bunch of logistical details, what days and times there is escorting, what to expect from the 'antis' (their term for anti-abortion protesters), and what types of things an escort does. But I am going to focus on two aspects that struck me the most.

The first is that the session was not very hypocritical and wasn't about pushing women to have abortions, but rather to make the best decision. One the things that upsets me the most is the hypocrisy of so called 'pro-lifers' who end lives to prove their point. They want the government to stay out of their own lives, but not the lives of women who are unprepared or medically unfit for motherhood. The pro-choice crowd, on the other hand, believes that it is your decision to make and you should make it. Not once did anyone suggest that you should prevent a potential patient from considering all her options, including those you might not believe in, nor did they tell us that we should encourage women to get the procedure. The escort's only goal is to make sure that the women feel safe, physically and emotionally, to make the decision that makes the most sense for her.

The thing that was most eye awakening to me was a short role play that we did at the end to simulate what actual escorting is like. The role play itself was pretty shotty and low tech, but really made me understand how unnecessarily extra traumatic the experience is. I could feel how close and uncomfortable it can get when you have 10 people swarming around you. We were obviously using very mild language, but I can only imagine how much worse it gets for women when protesters get personal. We ran the simulation three times, and I played all the roles, an escort, an anti, and then a companion accompanying a woman to the clinic. All three attempts were very valuable lessons. As an anti, I could feel how much freedom I had to interfere, to get in the way, to berate my subject and as an escort I discovered what (few) options I had to do my job and how hard it was to actually non-violently protect the women. Most significant to me, however was the final simulation, when I was 'playing' a companion, someone who came in support of a woman getting a procedure. We started very unexpectedly, with very little shift from explaining what we were doing to being in the middle of it, and that abrupt shift I discovered simulates the feeling of being unexpectedly berated from all sides. Even in this safe, un-elaborate, confined, and contrived scenario, I got very nervous and panicky. By the time I got to our 'entrance' to the clinic, I had forgotten all about my friend for whom I was supposed to be a companion and discovered that I had accidentally abandoned her in the mob of antis and escorts. I could tell that if I felt that apprehensive as a fake companion in a contrived scenario, women on their way to clinics must feel exponentially more intimidated.

I am very glad that I went to the class and that we've began to undertake this project. I feel enriched by the experience so far and proud to be taking a stand. Please keep checking back to Sum of Change for blog updates and news about the movie as it gets produced. We appreciate all comments, positive or negative, that could improve our understanding of the issue and our final movie and hope we get your continued support.


Mitch Malasky

Sum of Change Filmmakers Go Through Abortion Clinic Escort Training

originally posted on June 18th, 2009

From the folks at Sum of Change Productions:

Last night, as part of our research for an upcoming project, Will Urquhart and Mitch Malasky from Sum of Change Productions, attended a training to become abortion clinic escorts. We are in the early stages of a documentary on the work that these escorts do, and the personal stories attached to the job.

We, as a group, decided that volunteering as escorts would not only be a good way to have a direct impact in the struggle to protect women's rights, but that a deep understanding of the nature of escorting would make our documentary that much better. It is always nice when the right thing and the smart thing happen to coincide.

We will be blogging about our experiences with clinic escorting as we go through the process. To get involved, we contacted the Washington Area Clinic Defense Task Force (WACDTF). WACDTF was founded in the 80's to provide clinics with volunteers, when requested, who can deal with protesters and help patients get to the clinic peacefully. The training session was great. Our instructors went over tactics one can use to resolve a situation non-violently (which I will not detail, for obvious reasons). Many of the tactics are fairly simple, as are many of the conflicts one will come across as an escort. Obviously, there are conflicts that require much more than a training can provide to settle. It appears to be more of an art than a science.

As our instructor told us at the beginning, this training is not going to leave one feeling comfortable. This is neither a comfortable nor easy task. Clinic escorts put themselves in harms way, so that others can be out of harms way. We are excited, and certainly a little nervous. Our first volunteer opportunity should be coming up very shortly and we will be sure to write more about our experiences.

Grow the Hope's Hunger Action Team

originally posted on June 14th, 2009

On Saturday, June 13th, Sum of Change Productions joined volunteers from Grow the Hope's Hunger Action Team who are organizing food drives to help restock the Manna Food Center in Rockville, Maryland. A sign of the economic crisis, supplies are reported to be down by 50%. The Hunger Action Team is a part of a local volunteer organization called Grow the Hope (GTH). GTH was formed by volunteers from the Bethesda Obama Office (the BOO). David Hart, the founder of GTH, said that they are working to "nurture the spark of creativity and hope that came alive during the Obama campaign."

Utilizing the same tactics they used to help elect President Obama, GTH organized house meetings, calling on members of the community to join the Hunger Action Team and take direct actions to combat the food crisis. On June 13th, volunteers gathered at a Giant in Silver Spring, Maryland, with a shopping list. They asked people to buy some extra food; a can of tuna, a box of cereal, some peanut butter. Anything nonperishable.

When President Obama (then candidate) talked about building an organization that lives on past his campaign, this is what he meant. The same strategies that helped forge a campaign for change, often as simple as volunteering some time outside a grocery store, are the same strategies we can use to make real and direct changes in our communities.

You can join Grow the Hope and build a Hunger Action Team in your neighborhood too. I urge you to sign up and ask how you can help.

Coverage of the Vigil in DC to Honor Dr. George Tiller

originally posted on June 4th, 2009

On Monday, June 1st, people in DC and the surrounding areas assembled outside the White House for a vigil in honor of Dr George Tiller. Sum of Change Productions was there to document the occasion and brings us this video:

"We will not stand for cowards who resort to violence."

Dr Tiller touched many lives, and this vigil, or any, will never fully repay all that he gave to society. In most MSM outlets he is referred to as an "abortion doctor" although anyone who knows anything about him knows full well that he was far more than that. He cared for women and families, and provided them with many services, often when few others would. His assassination was "cowardice" and we shall treat it as so.

We want to take a moment to thank all the clinic workers and clinic escorts, they have lost a colleague, and our nation has lost a hero. Clinic escorts provide a valuable service. As the Washington Area Clinic Defense Task Force (WACDTF) puts it, they "ensure a peaceful and reassuring presence for patients, their companions, and staff, at several local clinics." It is a wonderful way that you personally can take action on this issue. People in the DC area can contact the WACDTF if you would like to volunteer. Others should contact your local clinic.

And do not forget, you can always contribute to the National Network of Abortion Funds (NNAF). The NNAF was formed in 1993. It is a "network of over 100 grassroots groups in more than 40 states that help women pay for abortion services." If you can spare, now is as important a time as ever to do so.

Lastly: Thank you Dr George Tiller for your years of service and dedication, you will be missed.