My friend Anthea and I have been escorting for Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania together for a few weekends. Having someone who will catch me if I sleep past my alarm on those early Saturday mornings is painfully useful.
But the best thing about escorting together is that we reenforce and feed each other’s energy. We walk women into the clinic together, we walk back through the gauntlet of protesters in a pair. Sometimes the exclamations of the protesters are more like abstract art than political theater.
One woman yelled “Check!” when we walked an older couple in.
Another group begins singing hymns when we get within three paces of them–the volume slides up as we walk through them, and back down when we walk out.
Another protester stood within inches of us and interrogates us (“Do they pay you? Do you enjoy killing unborn children? Have you ever helped a woman save her child? Do you like working for Planned Parenthood? Where do you go to school? How old are you? Do you know how much an abortion costs? Have you ever had an abortion? How can you keep coming here when you know you’re wrong?”) all while we talked to each other over her, discussing how long we could live in Pittsburgh on one semester of CMU’s tuition ($20,000). And you know what? For the minutes he crowded and berated us, he wasn’t picking on a client. So it’s cool.
As escorts, we do not engage. Anthea said we we are “performing nonchalant.” Which is true; our only appropriate response to tossed holy water and insults is the pretend they are beneath our notice. Without Anth I wouldn’t have noticed these details; I would have just tuned them all out.
When a protester put his arm out so Anthea had to bump him to get past, after we got the clients in I rounded on him and explained that if he touched one of us again I would call the cops. Back at our corner, Anthea and I got back to our previous conversation: we were trading Renaissance Faire songs or varying levels of filth. We started singing through rounds (I’d never memorized “The Ghost of John” and she’d never scatted off of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.”
We were never singing loudly enough to be perceived as counter protesting. But we did begin humming when we left the protective circle around the doors of the clinic, to give ourselves something to listen to other than the mutterings of the protesters. Every time we listen, we give the protesters power. Humming helps me set my own standards for my morning–humming with a friend is even better.
PS: I haven’t decided whether some of the tactics of the sidewalk counselors could be construed as street harassment. It’s gender-based; it’s physically agressive; it can be pretty obscene. But it is also political speech, which is more important to me than many many levels of discomfort. I’m leaning against; I think the vast majority of protesters outside the clinic are not committing street harassment. The man who loomed and interrogated us might have been.
“If a composer could say what he had to say in words he would not bother trying to say it in music.”–Gustav Mahler