Monday, April 25, 2011

S for Standing Up

“Be the change you want to see in the world.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

On Friday, April 22—Good Friday—I walked into a Planned Parenthood Clinic for the first time in my life. The experience was a bit jarring, but not for the reasons you might think upon reading those words…

I entered the clinic to use the restroom. After nearly an hour of marching outside in the chilly weather, I needed a bathroom break. The reason I was a bit taken aback upon entering the clinic was that it was not what I had expected. You see, when I visit my family clinic for an appointment with my doctor, I walk into a warm waiting area where I am greeted by a receptionist who checks me in. This wasn’t the case at the Planned Parenthood Clinic in St. Paul’s Highland Park neighborhood. Literally as soon as I walked in the door, I was face-to-face with security guards sitting behind a security desk. Don’t get me wrong, the guards and the Planned Parenthood Escorts who were there were very warm, welcoming, and kind, but I was struck by the fact that security guards even had to be there.

I knew why, of course…

“I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
~ Mahatma Gandhi

Protestors. Pro-lifers, specifically. They protest the clinic often (I’ve heard as much as daily), sometimes harassing its patients and staff, usually in the name of God. They seem to assume that every person who enters the clinic is there to take part in killing babies or to have her baby killed. Apparently pro-lifers don’t realize that abortions are but a small percentage of the vital services that Planned Parenthood provides. Today was different though. Today, the scope was much bigger…

Every year on Good Friday, hundreds of pro-lifers (also known as anti-choicers) show up at the St. Paul clinic to protest. I’m sure this probably happens at similar clinics around the country. They come to pray for an end to abortion and for clinics like Planned Parenthood to cease to exist.

In response, hundreds of pro-choicers gather to show their support for Planned Parenthood, a woman’s right to choose, and the vital services the clinic provides. I am proud to say that I was one of those supporters, which is why I had occasion to enter the clinic to use the restroom on Friday. This was my first time being involved in this, or any, rally and the experience was amazing.

I arrived at the clinic at around 1:30 p.m. I drove down Ford Parkway, passing in front of the clinic, in order to drive around the block to find parking; I will openly admit that I also wanted to see what I was getting myself into. I first drove past the anit-choicers. They were somberly walking in a circle in the temporarily fenced “pen,” formerly a traffic lane, which was designated as their protesting area. They looked like a walking funeral procession. A space as wide as the Planned Parenthood driveway separated them from the “other side.”

I heard the cars in front of me honking just as I approached the Planned Parenthood supporters, also in their own “pen.” I was moved to tears as I laid on my horn and reveled in the hoots and hollers from the enormous group of supporters. The feeling and energy coming from the group was powerful—they were smiling, waving, and jumping up and down. I was excited to soon be joining their ranks. I found a parking spot a block away, right behind the clinic. I could hear the honking and hollers as I got out of my car, and the noise grew louder as I approached the clinic parking lot to check in. The feeling was electric!

I couldn’t wait for MusicMan who, unlike me, hadn’t been able to get the whole day off of work, to join me. I was a bit apprehensive about joining the fray alone, but soon found out there was no need to be. Everyone was so kind and welcoming! I signed in, dropped of my food shelf donation, grabbed a sign, waited for an opening in the crowd of supporters passing by me, and jumped right in. A woman in the crowd began talking to me almost instantly. The same thing—spontaneous conversations between strangers—happened all day. It was as though I was with an enormous group of friends.

For the most part, it was a peaceful event. I can't discount the presence of the St. Paul Police as having played a role, but thankfully their presence seemed to be enough and no intervention was needed. A few pro-lifers who walked and drove by our area scowled, gave the thumbs down, or held their fingers up in the sign of the cross. (So, we’re demons and/or vampires now? Cool.) One guy screamed at us from across the street, but the honks of support and cheers from the crowd were too loud for us to hear what he had to say. It seemed as though every time the anti-choicers had someone on their PA system leading a prayer or hymn, or spewing their rhetoric, a bunch of cars would drive by and start honking to show their support. And, in what became almost a Pavlovian response from the crowd, we would holler and cheer back. I cannot appropriately describe to you the energy and spirit from this amazing group of people I was now a part of. We were a force!

Though I’d given monetary donations to Planned Parenthood plenty of times in the past, donating on Friday was too fun to pass up. Planned Parenthood was offering its supporters the option to pledge a protestor. The idea was the more protestors who showed up against the clinic, the more money was made for the clinic. Genius, right?! I found it to be absolutely brilliant and was delighted that money was being made on the backs of those who try their hardest to stop the good work this clinic does. MusicMan and I pledged a few protestors, because we believe in Planned Parenthood.

It has been proven time and again that sex education and contraception, both services that Planned Parenthood provides far more often than abortions, are key to preventing unwanted pregnancies. Unwanted pregnancies lead to abortions. Thus, it goes without saying that these key services are vital to reducing the need for abortions. It’s too bad the anti-choicers can’t do a little research to figure that out. The fact is that Planned Parenthood probably does more in one day to prevent abortions than pro-lifers do in a year. In addition to the invaluable services I’ve already mentioned, they also provide comprehensive medical exams, for women and men, including STD testing and life-saving cancer screenings.

If you’ve been reading my blog for any amount of time, you know that I have some strong beliefs and that I have no problem stating them. Friday I got the opportunity to stand behind my words. I stood up for an amazing clinic and for women’s rights. Because I believe that women—not religious zealots or politicians—should have control of their bodies and reproduction. I appreciated the opportunity to take action in such a way. So much so that this will become an annual event for MusicMan and me, and instead of a two hour time slot, we will participate for as much of the day as we can.

My experience at Friday’s rally restored my faith in humanity a little bit. Seeing all of the support from people from a plethora of various ethnic groups, age ranges, and socio-economic backgrounds gave me hope that one day Planned Parenthood’s patients and staff won’t need to be greeted by security guards. Because maybe—just maybe—rational minds will prevail over irrational, intolerants ones and logic and reason will become the norm.

I leave you with some incredible photos MusicMan took to capture the day.

Cheering for the cars showing their support.

Look at all that support for Planned Parenthood!

A little dramatic, no? Pro-lifers doing a good job of illustrating just how superhuman Jesus truly was. I mean, he did carry his cross all on his own.

Typical pro-life propaganda. As this guy walked by MusicMan, he mad sure to flash this ultrasound photo. Dude obviously doesn't realize there are term limits on abortions. A fetus as developed as the one on that ultrasound couldn't legally be aborted....not at Planned Parenthood or anywhere else. Way to educate yourself there, Mr. Anti-Choicer!

This photo really illustrates some of the energy in the crowd of supporters. Despite the absence of any spring-like downright dreary weather in Minnesota!

I loved this woman's sign. It shows that one can be religious and have faith, but still be rational enough to realize that a woman's choice is her own.

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  1. You SO TOTALLY ROCK. This post made me so happy! I have never protested before (or I guess you were doing the opposite of protesting...) but I wish I could have been there to jump in there with you!

  2. Good for you! I wish I could have been there right beside you in support.

    I don't want to start a big long thing, but in response to what you mentioned about preventing abortions by preventing pregnancy: abstaining is the pro-lifer's answer (and the only answer) and that's where the debate really begins. I'll play nice and I'll leave it at that. :-)

  3. This was a very moving post. I felt your excitement and I loved it!

  4. Thank you!! Like tattoos and wasabi peas, activism is addicting. ;-) I'm so ready to get back out there and do it again!

  5. Thanks, Kathie! Ahhhhhh...yes...abstinence. There's really no debate to be had. It doesn't work. Plain and simple. I know pro-lifers will disagree with me, but if they take the time to do a little research, they'll see that it's true.

  6. First, I love that quote by Ghandi about Christians. I'm reading Sing You Home by Jodi Piccoult right now, which isn't about abortion, but is about religious nuts...I'm sorry...Evangelical Christians. I was thinking something along those lines earlier today when I was reading.

    Second, I'm so proud of you for supporting Planned Parenthood. Want to hear an interesting story about them? When we were 19, my best friend found herself pregnant. She scheduled an appointment with Planned Parenthood, intending to ultimately have an abortion. Instead, they explained all of her options to her, counseled her and ultimately helped her talk to her parents about her decision to have her baby and give her up for adoption. So, in that case, they prevented an abortion.

    The pro-lifers and the religious nuts and the ultra-conservatives drive me nuts in that they don't ever have the full facts or a convincing argument to back up their position. And why can't they ever just accept that my ideas and positions are different from theirs? After all, I accept thier decision to be crazy religious fanatics.

    Great post and great job standing up for what you believe in.

  7. Thank you for sharing your story about Planned Parenthood! I've heard so many similar stories.

    Extremists drive me crazy. Taking the time to learn the facts, or even enough to back up your own argument is important!! I agree with you! I don't begrudge anyone their beliefs, but I think everyone should realize that their beliefs aren't the only way. If you want me to accept your extremist beliefs, you have to accept that my beliefs aren't the same and cannot FORCE your beliefs on me. 

    Thanks, lady!


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