Today I attended a counter-protest at Planned Parenthood. I’m glad I was there to be a part of the group supporting the clinic, but for a few reasons I was somewhat disappointed by the experience.
I decided to go when Jill told me about it. She’s fed up with the direction that our government is headed; never before has she felt motivated to take a stand, but she felt that now is the time to do something. So when she heard that Nessa feels the same way and was going to support the local Planned Parenthood during an anti-abortion protest, she immediately volunteered, and as soon as I heard that, I volunteered too.
I had no idea what to expect. I wondered if I’d be yelled at by protesters and have disgusting images shoved in my face. I wondered if there were any chance that it could become dangerous – if tempers flared, if attitudes clashed, if anyone could get hurt. I’ve seen enough of these things on the news! But since Jill was going, I was going, and I so mentally rehearsed scenarios and how to avoid or defuse them.
We arrived at half past eight this morning. “People with experience as escorts will be escorting patients from their cars,” we were told. “The rest of you, take a sign and line up along the building.” The signs were pink and said “I Stand With Planned Parenthood.” We each took one and I found a spot against a brick wall, with about twenty-five meters of front lawn between me and the sidewalk and street. All in all, there were probably about a hundred people to support the clinic, lined up on all sides of it. I struck up conversations with some interesting people. Many others were here for their first time, too.
But this was one of the disappointments. I wanted to come and help, and I felt that standing with a sign wasn’t really worth much, that no one driving down the road in front of me would notice the difference between a hundred supporters or ninety-nine. I thought about asking to shadow some of the escorts, to learn what they did and how, but I decided my first experience here was better spent getting a general understanding of things.
Around nine o’clock, the protesters showed up. They lined up along the sidewalk and held English and Spanish signs that said things like “Abortion Hurts Women” and “Planned Parenthood Lies.” Children held up large placards with each letter of the message “DEFUND PP”. Some of them sang hymns. We were told not to interact with them, not to acknowledge them, and they likewise ignored us; two sheriffs stood watch nearby but there were no incidents. Cars driving by would occasionally honk their horns in encouragement, and the protesters cheered each time, and I cheered too because maybe it was us who the driver was trying to encourage, but probably not.
And that’s the other disappointment. Here we had two groups of people who each passionately believed in something and who each believed the other was woefully misguided. We were separated only by a lawn. I know I’m naive in this, but I thought it was terrible that there was no room for discussion between the two groups, no way to have a conversation and learn more about each other as people, to come to a better understanding of each other’s values. We all wanted passers-by to see our signs, but we couldn’t talk to each other. In my opinion, that’s a tragedy.
After the protesters held their signs for two hours, they began to disperse and go home. The children holding the letter placards were the first to go; after the D and the E left the letters spelled “FUND PP” for a few minutes, and then just “FUN”. Around 11:30 the clinic support leads gathered us support people together for a group photo, then we too went home.
But as I said, I’m glad I went. I feel that much more a part of what’s going on in our country and the efforts to put us back on the right course. It was good to talk with people who’ve been doing this for a while now, and to hear their inspiring belief that it’s making a difference, even if I wonder sometimes.