(Reposted as part of our staff picks from 2009, originally written by Mitch Malasky on 7/18/2009)
My first escorting experience was a lot different than Will's was last week. Though we both had about the same number of Anti-abortion protesters ('Anti's'), the ones at my location were a lot more mellow, probably because I was in a progressive, pro-choice part of town. This clinic apparently also has a lot of seasonal protesters, who take the summer off. Many of the Anti's simply prayed outside in front of the clinic, each with rosary in hand, and made no attempt to interact, much less convert or berate any women entering the clinic. Some prayed out loud, some just mouthed their devotions, with a barely audible 'Hail Mary' here and there. One woman's routine actually included some singing. She broke out with a few operatic "Ave Maria"s then continue the rest under her breath. I found my self wondering if they were saying the same prayer, if they each had individual prayers to say, or if they were rotating invocations. I could clearly tell that 'Hail Mary's' were involved here and there, but I couldn't tell if their repertoire went any deeper.
The importance and influence of religion is quite striking. Since each and everyone had a rosary (at least one, apparently they give them out) I'm pretty sure each and every protester was Catholic. I had assumed that many of the protesters would be Catholic, but I didn't expect every single one of them to be. I know that there are people who aren't Catholic who are against abortion and I know that some Catholics are pro choice, but from what I could tell from my one experience today, those who protest abortion clinics are predominantly, if not exclusively Catholic. I believe the moral nature of the abortion debate begs the religious separatism, though I am interested to hear and see how a secular anti-abortion approach would manifest.
In talking with the other escorts, I found there was much more diversity. Though I didn't ask all 8 or so of us there, those who I spoke with were all Jewish, Protestant (from one denomination or the other), or not religious. The escorts were from all over, some native to DC and some who moved here at some point in their lives, and worked in a variety of fields. A few of them had been doing this for at least a year, but most of us had only been escorting a few months, if that. A couple mentioned Dr Tiller and how his slaying motivated them to take action. To be honest though, it was very difficult to have a legitimate conversation to get to know the fellow escorts. Because we don't know what the protesters might do if they had our personal information, and because many protesters will heckle individual escorts, we don't want to bring up any personal information while they are in earshot. Though it appeared that none of these protesters would escalate to that level, we try to not even use each others first names, just incase.
This meant that most of the morning was spent in relative silence. Some of us spread up and down the block from in front of the clinic where all of the Anti's were, in order to be closer to approaching women, and got a chance to chat a bit more during the down time. But for the most part, much of the day is a very awkward coexistence on the sidewalk. On the street side, there is a line of Anti's praying to themselves and observing. On the other side of the sidewalk and onto the lawn of the clinic were several escorts standing in silence so the Anti's have nothing on us. There appeared to be an uneasy respect between both crowds. Everyone involved has been moved by their own beliefs to take action, just their beliefs and subsequent actions vary widely. So we all stand there (or, in my case, pace around a bit) looking at each other, uneasily but cordially, waiting for someone to approach.
Since I mostly observed, I'm going to hold off on going into the details of what actually escorting people into the clinic is like until I've done it some more. But my first day was a great transition to escorting. As opposed to Will who's first few experiences were a baptism by fire (no pun intended), my experience today was quite fulfilling and educational but ultimately uneventful. I receive a lot of appreciation for just being there though, which was quite nice. The bright orange shirts "Pro-Choice Escort" shirts make us stand out and we were thanked by both clinic attendees and random individuals alike, which made it all worthwhile.
I very much look forward to my next escorting experience. I feel a lot more comfortable after my first day and will share how my next one goes. If you live in the greater Washington Metropolitan region and are interested in escorting yourself, go to WACDTF. If you live elsewhere, contact your local clinic or contact us with questions and we will try to pass them along to the right people. Please keep checking back to Sum of Change for more information about our experiences and our documentary project. Thanks and I'll talk to y'all again soon.