Sunday, January 3, 2010

I Meet the "Anti's"

(Reposted as part of our staff picks from 2009, originally written by Will Urquhart on 7/11/2009)

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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