Question 8 of the Truman Scholarship Application
Describe a recent particularly satisfying public service activity (do not repeat experience described in 7).
I wince a little inside when a woman pulls her daughter away from me early on a Saturday morning. She is a pro-life protester and I am a clinic escort helping a woman walk to Pittsburgh’s downtown Planned Parenthood. I was not expecting a smile, but I am still not used to the hate in her eyes. I escort from 7:30am to 10:30am a few Saturdays a month. It is one the hardest things I do.
This morning is during Lent, and so there are around fifty protesters on a half a block of sidewalk; about 7 for every escort. I guide the older woman I am escorting into the clinic, and walk back down the line of protesters. Some pray quietly, some mutter ugly things, and the little girl swings her rosaries impatiently. There is a woman on a megaphone shouting through the clinic doors. I get to my corner and wait, chatting with the other escorts and jiggling to keep my feet warm in this Pittsburgh February. With only 10 or 15 clients on a Saturday and only the 15 second walk from my corner to the clinic to occupy me, most of my morning is waiting.
I do not escort because I am pro-choice. Something as abstract as being pro-choice (or pro-life) would not get me up at 6:30am in the morning. I get out of bed on those Saturday morning because I am a blackbelt. For 14 years I was trained to use my body to protect others, and to never be a bully. I escort because some of the protesters are bullies and I can do something to protect the women they are bullying. As morally difficult as the abortion debate is, I have no trouble choosing who I stand with outside the clinic: I am with the women being screamed at, never with the screamers. When a protester stands in the way of a woman walking into the clinic, I am standing next to her. When a protester is screaming “Mommy, Mommy, don’t kill me, Mommy!” I am the calm voice chatting about the weather. When a protester pushes me to get at a couple, I stand firm and keep going.
As I wait, I can feel the rule of law strong around me: the first amendment protecting the protesters, the Bubble Zone law protecting the clinic and the patients, the normal laws which guard traffic and restaurants and construction. If I had to stand here, knowing the law did not support me, I do not know how long I could keep escorting. But knowing that the rules are designed to be fair and balanced, knowing I can rely on the police if someone gets out of hand—knowing, as Sandra Day O’Conner said, “what the rules are”, that makes it possible for me to escort.
It’s 10:30am. All of the clients made it to the clinic and the protesters are dispersing. The tension of the morning seems to ease away as protesters and escorts alike walk to busses and cars. I get home, put on my karate uniform, and go to teach my morning class. Escorting is the hardest things I do. Nevertheless, I escort because I must stand beside those who are without power. It is how I was trained.
Napoleon Bonaparte – “Ten people who speak make more noise than ten thousand who are silent.”