A year ago this morning, my fondest dreams were of cold soda and indoor plumbing.
It was my last day of a short absence from modern civilization. As a volunteer on a wildlife study on an uninhabited island off the New England coast, I was sunburned, aromatic, and had a headache from too much reading by too few candles the previous night. Despite all that, I wasn't ready to leave yet, but commitments in the "real world" left me no choice. The icy colas and hot showers I planned to enjoy at my first opportunity would be my best attempt at beating back my envy of those researchers and volunteers who would stay behind to launch the next phase of their ambitious research project without me.
Something else I'd missed while on the island: the Internet. In my daily life, I had long since come to think of it as ubiquitous. It is, of course, no such thing and being apart from it had been the first, and most daunting, challenge of my island sojourn. Late that Sunday afternoon, as the fishing boat that was my ride back to the mainland pitched and swayed through a gathering storm, I took shelter in the cabin, pulled my iPhone from my pack, and turned it on to see if I was near enough to land to have data service yet.
The first email was from NARAL. The second was from Planned Parenthood. They both said the same thing: a hero had been murdered, shot by a lunatic encouraged by violent rhetoric from the so-called Christian right, who believed that assassination was God's work. Dr. Tiller was gone. I stood, grabbing on to any stationary object I could--and made my way to the nearly-abandoned deck where I sat back down in an empty chair, put my head down, and cried. Another departing volunteer made her way over to me to ask if I was okay. She thought I had been overwhelmed by the lurching of the boat over the choppy waves. I didn't tell her that these were tears not from the ocean but from the plains. I wouldn't have known where to begin.
A year ago tonight, I could not stop thinking of the women who had needed Dr. Tiller, and those who needed him still. Most of all, I could not stop thinking of the women who might have had appointments to see him the very next day. I know that I cannot begin to imagine the pain of the tragedies that led women to Dr. Tiller's clinic in Kansas. The cases of horrific fetal anomaly among wanted, loved, planned-for, prayed-for pregnancies are tragedies. The pregnancies of girls too young to realize they were pregnant or to carry to term without grave risks to themselves are tragedies. The illnesses of women who might dearly love to have children if only their bodies were able to rise to the occasion are tragedies. Rapes and incest and the mental anguish they confer upon their victims--all tragedies. The abortions all these women chose? These are not tragedies, but mercies.
In a society that truly valued women and motherhood, women such as these would be offered all the compassion and all of the options and resources that our society's riches and technology could command. Instead, we have allowed just a few brave doctors to bear the harsh burdens and the enormous risks of caring for these women. The loss of Dr. Tiller tore a gaping hole in the already inadequate safety net that is available to these women whose circumstances are so dire that only a monster could seek to deepen their suffering, as the doctor's assassination surely did and is still doing today.
A year ago next weekend, I found a way to begin to mend a little part of that hole as best I can. It's pretty laughable in comparison to Dr. Tiller's level of dedication. But escorting at a local clinic is what I can do to keep alive some of the kindness, understanding, and support that Dr. Tiller offered women who badly needed it. And making sure that I am never, ever again silent about the need for safe, legal, accessible abortion is what I can do to try to encourage others to join me in restoring and renewing the tattered net of care and compassion through which so many vulnerable women and families fall.
It's bitterly appropriate that today, the first anniversary of Dr. Tiller's death, is Memorial Day. Dr. Tiller, himself a military veteran, died in a war being waged right here on United States soil. He died defending American freedom as surely as any uniformed fighter ever did. It feels like my duty to fight, too, in whatever ways I am able, against religious fundamentalism and domestic terrorism. My human duty, my humane duty. Seeing such a beloved doctor brought down in cold blood, in his church no less, made me realize that there's a war on whether I'm fighting it or not--so might as well join up and ship out.
I'm proud of the escorting and the noise-making work I have done in the last year: it feels good to be making an impact, and I truly love the community of caring, passionate activists, volunteers, and other fighters in whose company I have happily found myself. I was calling myself pro-choice when I was still in elementary school, yes, and have attended rallies in support of abortion rights for years. But if you had told me, a year ago today, what the next 365 days of my life would be like--flights to Kansas? road trips to Kentucky? arguments, debates, and shouting matches with people on record as wanting people like me dead? wait, seriously: standing at a podium talking about abortion? about MY abortion?--I'd've laughed at you, I think. But at the same time, I feel like there's far more I should be doing. I don't know what it is: I'm trusting that with open mind and heart I'll figure it out. The movement will tell me, one way or another, what it needs--or better yet, the women the movement exists to serve will.
This is all I know for sure: I was forever changed by Dr. Tiller's death. His assassin, Scott Roeder, issued my draft notice--you made me a soldier, you son of a bitch, you made me a soldier and my weapons are different from yours but I will never lay them down.
From the "if you can't find a news story to tweet, write it yourself" desk---
Yesterday's GOP primary vote in Texas featured five non-binding ballot propositions. No law can result from such propositions; they're simply a means of gauging support for hypothetical legislation among the party faithful (see also, "firing up the base"). In a state where there is no mechanism for voters to get a proposed law onto the ballot directly, the ballot proposition mechanism is a crucial way for Republicans to test the political waters on an issue before expending the effort to propose a bill themselves. (State Democrats, for reasons of their own, aren't nearly as enthusiastic about ballot propositions, and this year offered none at all.)
Proposition 5 was a blatant come-on to the anti-choice hard right. It reads as follows:
The Texas Legislature should enact legislation requiring a sonogram to be performed and shown to each mother about to undergo a medically unnecessary, elective abortion.
They're not asking, as some other legislatures have, that abortion providers be required to offer women ("mothers") the option of seeing a sonogram. The proposition says the ultrasound will be performed and will be shown. No word on a funding source for the A Clockwork Orange-style machine to hold open the women's eyelids and the staff to administer the moistening eye drops, and no word on how this proposition doesn't make a mockery of any and all right-wing protestations regarding the unacceptability of intrusion into healthcare.
It seems that 32% of GOP voters themselves had some of the same questions in mind when they voted "no" on Proposition 5. "Yes" votes remained the majority, but the 68% support that Proposition 5 was able to muster is shockingly small when compared to the 92% to 95% support that every other GOP ballot proposition won in yesterday's vote.
93% of voters favored mandatory photo identification from voters at polling places. 92% supported strict formulaic limits to state government budgets. 93% thought Congress should cut federal taxes. And 95% want to see more God, more prayers, and more Ten Commandments on government property and in government events. The subject matter covered by these propositions reads less like a selection of issues up for any substantial debate within the party, and more like a feel-good affirmation of shared values embraced by nearly all of the American right wing.
In that light, Proposition 5's lousy 68% affirmative vote should be viewed as both an embarrassment to the Texas Republican Party, and as a warning. It turns out that quite a lot of God-fearing, tax-hating conservative voters are against Big Government, whether it's their Big Government or the other side's. If 68% is the best they can do among the primary-going base, such legislation just has no future in Texas. The antichoice waters are running very cold indeed.
UPDATE: You did it! My fundraising goal of $1000 has been not only met, but exceeded. And my superfly anonymous donor promises to match the little bit we went over, too. Thank you all so much!
This concludes my fundraising drive and my donor's match. But it DOES NOT conclude NNAF's need for donations. The wall of legislation that exists to block the reproductive rights of disadvantaged women is being built higher all the time. Until the Hyde Amendment is repealed, lower-income women need NNAF, which means NNAF needs you. Please give--thank you!
As my Twitter account neared the milestone of 1000 followers, it seemed like a celebration was in order. But how? By helping disadvantaged women pay for their abortions. Of course!
The National Network of Abortion Funds (NNAF) is dedicated to this work. How amazing to help a woman reclaim her life in the face of an unwanted or non-viable pregnancy---but how heartbreaking to have to say no, because your fund is out of money.
I decided to give $100 to the fund of my 1000th follower's choice. I mentioned the idea to a friend with some fundraising experience, and before I knew it I had a donor who was willing to match all the donations I could scare up, to a max of $500 for a matched grand total of $1000. FOR THE WIN.
So here's how we do.
Questions? Email or hit me on Twitter. Thanks a million to all of you---I'm so proud to be a part of such a fantastic movement! Extra-special thanks to my anonymous donation matcher person who is and will always be 10 feet tall in my eyes. Note: I have no affiliation with NNAF; I just think they're awesome.
Abortion Access Fund, Inc (NE)
National Reproductive Justice Fund
Western PA Fund for Choice
New York Abortion Access Fund
Women Have Options (OH)
The Roe Fund (OK)
Eastern Massachusetts Abortion Fund
@abortionfunds National Network of Abortion Funds
@DCAbortionFund DC Abortion Fund, Washington DC
@EMA_Fund Eastern Massachusetts Abortion Fund, Mass.
@LilithFund Lilith Fund, Texas
@NYAAF New York Abortion Access Fund, New York
@WHOohio Women Have Options, Ohio
@womensmedfund Women's Medical Fund, Philadelphia
P.S. Suck it, Stupak.
P.P.S. You too, Nelson.
Aren't they the cutest little symbolic representations of horrific death you've ever seen?
I will be sending one of these coat hangers to each and every one of the 64 Democrats [sic] in the House of Representatives who voted in favor of the anti-choice Stupak Amendment to the healthcare reform bill that passed last weekend. You can too! The idea started on the Facebook group Stupak Amendment REVOLT and it's been picked up by a CREDO Mobile campaign too.
I ordered my miniature hangers at Casey's Wood Products, but there's a bunch of different crafting sites that have them.
@FairAndFeminist on Twitter just asked me and some others if we had any ideas for pro-choice chants for a rally being held tomorrow. I plugged a few of my favorites into Google, hoping for a page full of them, and was amazed to find no such thing. Let it never be said that I do not respond upon seeing a need.
Those are all that come to mind right now. I'll add more as/if I think of them, or if anyone has any additions hit my Contact link and I'll add them.
...boy, it occurs to me that like 60% of this blog, now, is either transcribed tweets or march slogans. Talk about your lowest-common-denominator web content. Oh well, what're you gonna do.
Last Saturday, I spent my morning in the company of nearly two dozen lurkers, skulkers, stalkers, harassers, and creeps... and I can't wait to do it again.
I am a volunteer abortion clinic escort. This means I am there to walk with women coming into the abortion clinic. It's usually no more than a minute's walk from their cars to the front door of the clinic. Under normal circumstances, my help would hardly be needed. Except the circumstances outside an abortion clinic are rarely "normal."
Every day that our doors are open to women seeking abortions, the sidewalk in front of our clinic is occupied by people who do anything they think they can get away with to try to keep those women from going inside. These protesters are, by and large, a sideshow of the crazy and the scary and the totally lacking in people skills. The highlight of my most recent Saturday morning was the offense taken by one of the regular protesters at the sight of me and a client talking and laughing together as we walked. This protester lifted her bullhorn and screeched into it, over all the other shouting from her compadres: "These ladies are not your friends! They're your enemies! They want to sell your baby for parts AND MAKE THEM INTO SHAMPOO!"
Yes, she did. While wearing a sign reading "PRO-LIFE IS PRO-WOMEN: WE CARE," no less.
Along with the bullhorning and the screeching and the embryo shampoo conspiracy, our protesters carry some really big, really ugly signs. You know the ones. They're not designed to appeal to one's conscience or to offer support in one's time of need; they're designed to shock and traumatize via the instinctive human revulsion to gore. So far, they haven't taken me up on my suggestion to blow up photos of fresh roadkill as an alternative. Same revulsion factor, 100% more respect for the "human lives" they say their photos represent.
For some women, then, those sixty seconds are a nightmare. Well before they arrive in their cars, they're afraid of that walk. They've been worrying about it, steeling themselves. They don't know what they're walking into, but they're imagining a worst-case scenario. You can tell by how they'll busily step from their cars, shuffling keys and bags or talking very loudly to their companions so as to plausibly ignore you, or pop up from behind the wheel with the words "You need to leave us alone right now" already out of their mouths, before they see you quietly standing and pointing to the word "ESCORT" emblazoned across your neon orange vest. You can tell from the plain relief that floods their eyes when they realize who you are and why you're there. You can tell from the haste with which they apologize for their perfectly understandable mistake, and from the emphatic way they say "thank you" as you open the door for them at the end of that long, long walk.
We do have a very few regulars who come to our clinic to stand in quiet prayer with some brochures to be gently offered, not angrily brandished. And we think of these folks as no threat: if it happens that they are the only protesters on site, we're happy to leave them to it without any supervision from us. That's pretty rare, however. These rather more Christlike Christians are vastly outnumbered by those who call bullying "counseling" and intimidation "outreach." I'm able to laugh at things like the zygote curling-mousse plot because it's just so dumb. But for our clients who don't hang out with these people every weekend, who aren't used to getting screamed at on the street by strangers, who are just trying to go to the doctor's office for Pete's sake (and does it matter if a client is just getting a Pap smear or is gray-haired or is the mailman? no, no it does not), it's not funny at all. It's just scary.
For a nation that claims to cherish its freedoms, America is pretty damned complacent about the harassment that goes on outside abortion clinics. Imagine this circus outside of dentist's offices instead. Imagine what it would feel like, having to endure being called a whore and a killer on your way in to have a bad tooth pulled. Maybe they'd throw little plastic teeth at you; maybe they'd even take your photograph on the way in. People wouldn't stand for it: I have the right to choose my own dental care, they'd say. Who do these people think they are? And even if I were the smallest bit unsure about the choice I'd made, even if some part of me wanted to be talked into a filling and not an extraction--why in god's name would some hostile, red-faced, screaming stranger get a vote?
Maybe there's an element of trolling to that analogy. I could write the outraged top-text for an email forward of this blog myself. "Can you believe it! A LIVING, ALMOST-BREATHING CHILD who will PROBABLY CURE CANCER SOMEDAY is nothing more than a ROTTED MOLAR to this BARREN GODLESS WHORE!!!11" Feel free to copy/paste--but if you do, you're missing the point. Bullying never won any hearts or minds, and harassment or intimidation of private citizens going about their private lives is never, never, never a tool for good. There is no place for such tactics of fear in civil discourse, and no one who employs them can be truly called a warrior for good, no matter what they tell themselves while they're packing their bullhorn and their gore posters into the car every morning.
I can't make the protesters who camp out in front of my clinic in the mornings go away. I can't even make them behave like rational, responsible citizens. But I can make sure that the women (and men, and children) who walk into my clinic don't have to run that obstacle course alone, and I believe I can assuage some of their fear. I can shield them physically from shouts and eyes and cameras. I can assure by my presence as a witness that the protesters don't "forget" where the property line is. And I can be one voice of supportive reason, quiet but strong, in opposition to the shouting about the blastocyst deep-conditioning cabal:
"I'm a volunteer with the clinic. We have some protesters out front who will try to shout at you. They don't know why you're here, but they're going to shout at you anyway. You don't have to listen to them. I can just walk alongside and keep myself between them and you. I'm sorry you have to deal with this today."
Their fear is why I escort. Their gratitude is why I keep coming back.