Yesterday’s rally and lobbying effort was an exciting day for me. I walked the halls of Congress, mostly looking for the signs with maps of the buildings, and stood up for human rights, sometimes in front of people who disagreed with me, with interesting results.
The lobbying I did was to visit the offices of Congresspeople from my state. I would introduce myself, say what I was there to discuss, and then ask the receptionist if there was a staff member to whom I could present my position. I got to talk to a couple of staff members, but usually the receptionist just let me sign the guestbook and noted my position and that was it. (I wrote about the nitty-gritty of that in another post.)
I visited ten lawmakers’ offices, and although it took me the first few visits to figure out how to begin to present myself effectively, I felt that by the end of that, I had made an impact in two or three offices. In one, I noticed that the receptionist was recording my words verbatim, and her manner changed a little bit when she was writing down the most personal part of what I said. It wasn’t huge, but I think she suddenly realized that this is a life-or-death issue for me, personally and individually.
I achieved my personal goal for the day when I was telling a staff member about why I’m opposed to the “conscience clause” exception to EMTALA that’s in one of the bills under consideration right now. I told him very honestly that I’m afraid of that exception because it means that if I need emergency medical care but get taken to a hospital or a doctor with a religious objection to abortion, even to save the life of the mother, they can literally stand there and let me bleed to death. I’m afraid of that. His face paled slightly, and he said very quietly, “That’s a good reason.” I can only hope he tells my story to the representative.
After that, I decided to do something that is either the best or worst thing I did all day, and possibly both: I went to counter-counter-protest.
In training, we were advised that there would be counter-protesters out in a few locations with anti-abortion messages, and were advised to ignore them. The group that I saw had large banners set up with bloody, misleading, and despicable propaganda, plus a gentleman with a megaphone and three or four people trying to hand out flyers to passerby. The outright lies on some of the banners (“If you have an abortion, you’ll get breast cancer!”) irritated me, and I had this lovely giant pink sign that said “I stand with Planned Parenthood” from the lunchtime rally, so I took the sign over to the corner with the anti-abortion banners and did what it said: I stood.
I stood just barely off the sidewalk with my back to the banners, facing the corner where a lot of staffers and a some lobbyists were walking by to get from one office building to another, and held the sign, silently. The man handing out flyers approached me once he realized what I was doing, and he was joined by another woman; they lectured me and harangued me, insisting at first that I must not know how awful Planned Parenthood really is. That actually heartened me; the fact that they were peddling outright lies made me more sure and certain in what I was doing. The big sign also helped – at first I was holding it up almost like a shield between me and them.
I had been trying not to make eye contact, and after a few minutes, I started repeating a short chant to myself very, very quietly. That especially helped me ignore them when they were throwing rhetorical questions at me. Suddenly one of them saw my lips moving and said, “Is she…praying???” The other one said, “Oh my god!” as if they couldn’t imagine prayer was possible for anyone who didn’t share their convictions. They looked at each other, horrified, and backed away.
After that they mostly left me alone, although one woman with a heavy Eastern European accent came over and walked around me in a circle chanting parts of the rosary a few times. It was the first time I’d ever been prayed at by someone, but I had expected it, so it didn’t so much bother me as make me vaguely amused, especially that they were addressing Mary while I was thinking of my own image of the Goddess. (More reflections on the spiritual aspects of my work are in a subsequent post.) A cop came over and made sure I intended to be peaceful and quiet, and had no problem with me when I assured him that I did. Later on, once they decided I wasn’t going to respond to them, a couple of the anti-abortion crowd actually came over and had each other take pictures of them standing next to me.
Then came the guy with the videocamera. He said he was independent; I didn’t exactly believe that, but I decided, bravely or stupidly or both, to let him interview me. It was simultaneously terrifying and exciting, and while I’m sure I screwed up many, many times, I think I did okay at achieving my goal, which was to provide a different and hopefully more reasonable example compared to the anti-abortion protesters with megaphones and bloody banners. I was extremely glad that I had read some material on how to deal with the media, and that I had done so much personal preparation and putting together talking points and responses and so on. I learned a lot, very quickly, about dealing with videocameras and the people behind them. Finally, note to self: Next time I go out to save the world, I should wear sunscreen. I hope I wasn’t as pink on camera as I was later in the evening.
Overall, it was an exhausting and exhilarating day, and I’m glad I did it. I think I made a difference. I know I made a difference by standing in front of the anti-abortion banners, because half a dozen women who walked by made eye contact and smiled and nodded, or gave me a thumbs-up, or thanked me aloud. And for even more, I saw a little bit of relief in their eyes that I was there, silently telling them that they did not need to feel isolated or overwhelmed when faced with the ugly pressure and lies of the anti-abortion protesters. For those women, on that corner, I made a difference, and it was worth it.