A guest post by Chanel Dubofsky.
The first time I escorted at a clinic, it was at a Planned Parenthood in New York City. For the most part, the protesters stayed across the street from the clinic, praying, holding a giant wooden cross, but some of them spread out onto nearby street corners and attempted to pass out “literature.” I was nervous about interacting with the antis, being physically attacked, but mostly, screwing up. The main job of a clinic escort is to make sure the patients can get into the clinic, with the minimum amount of harassment. Under no circumstances are you to escalate the situation by arguing with the antis. On one hand, it’s a lot of standing around, and on the other, you’re always looking around, up the street, down the street, behind you. Every moment matters.
Mostly, I opened doors for women and men and small children, who kept their eyes down and hustled inside quickly. It was relatively low activity kind of day, according to the other escorts. The more aggressive antis hadn’t shown up. The folks with the cross left earlier than usual. I went home atnoon, exhausted.
The second time I escorted was in May, in Los Angeles with LA for Choice. I’m not sure what I thought would happen, but it was very different from my Planned Parenthood experience-more antis, more aggression, more required from the escorts. I was testing myself, I think. (Can I do this, even when it’s scary?)
Saturday, May 25
8:30 am: I’m not caffeinated and I haven’t had enough sleep, because, even after almost a week, my brain and body have still not adjusted to California time. I hope I’m sharp enough to do this.
9:00 am: (Still not caffeinated. Who do I think I am?) There are four of us, wearing orange tank tops that say “Pro choice Clinic Escort.” Antis, mostly women of color with rosaries, amass, some on the sidewalk in front of clinic, others leaning against the window of the T Mobile store. They start to pray loudly in Spanish. A tall, white man in a black coat, wearing sunglasses, stands near them. The other escorts recognize him. When people walk by, he tries to give them business cards that have a pictures of a fetus in utero on them, as well as a pool of bloody sludge which are supposed to be the “remains”. Some take them without looking at them. G, an escort, says to a woman who has a card in her hand, “I can take that from you if you want.” She shakes her head and keeps walking.
9.15 am: It occurs to me that what the man is doing with the cards is actually violent. Maybe people take it and don’t look at it right away, and then they’re halfway down the street, or inside the brunch place near the clinic, or in the clinic, and then they look down, and they’re horrified, triggered, angry. But this is what he wants.
10.00 am: Another white man, this one wearing white pants and a white shirt, shakes hands with the man who’s been handing out the cards. Lots of eye contact, nodding, and smiling with the women praying loudly. White Shirt pulls out a cell phone, moves to the corner of the T Mobile store window. He’s really close to blocking the sidewalk leading to the clinic. An escort sidles up to him. He turns around and goes back to his original spot, still talking on the phone. We talk amongst ourselves: Does he seriously think we believe he’s looking for privacy to make a call?
10:15 am: Business Card Man walks away from the window towards the driveway, presumably so he can hand things to the people approaching from that direction. I follow him, stand beside him. I don’t make eye contact. He moves back after a few moments. This is physical in a way that’s different from my first experience-we’re using our bodies more actively, more directly. We spread out, we cover, we go where they go.
11: 00 am: A woman arrives. She’s a regular. She has a sign that says “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. God.” Predictably, there’s a picture of a fetus on it. (Are there ever any antis who aren’t religious?) She stands near the driveway. N, another escort and I follow her. She faces the road for a while, holding her sign up so drivers in passing cars can see it. Then she turns to us. “Do you like that babies are getting murdered in there?” she asks. “Does that make you happy when you get up in the morning? Does it make you say ‘yay’?” I have no idea what to do. “You don’t have to say anything,” N tells me. “We try not to do anything that escalates the situation.” “Do you know about Kermit Gosnell? He murdered babies. He cut off their arms and legs. But you wouldn’t know about that.” N and I ignore her. She stops talking to us and turns back to the road.
11.15 am: A couple walking by stops to check out the scene. The woman who talked to N and I about Gosnell tells them that “people inside are murdering babies.” S, an escort, positions himself near them. (Sometimes people talk to the antis, and it’s okay to let that happen, unless it’s clear that they want out of the conversation.) I can’t hear what’s being said, but the couple seems attentive. They don’t want rescuing.
11:30 am: A woman stops to tells us that she’s on the board of a family planning clinic in Cleveland. “I am shocked,” she says, “that you have to deal with this bullshit here.”
12: 00 pm: A man and woman walk through the protesters towards the clinic. There’s a little kid in pink pajamas between them. They’re all holding hands, tightly.
By 12.30, the antis are gone. The clinic stops taking appointments at one. We take off our orange shirts and bring them back inside the clinic. I keep looking around, expecting a mob with crosses and signs to come streaming around the corner, but it doesn’t happen. I get in the car with N and S, and we drive away.
When we’re on the highway, S asks me what I thought. “It was different,” I say. This was a non answer, I know, but at the time, it was easier than the truth, which is that for me, today was about figuring out if I could keep escorting, regardless of my fears. Escorting is about immersion, and practice, and support. There’s a process to be trusted. So, for now, the answer is yes. I’m still in.