Smiles and Moral Superiority: Can you connect the dots?

Last week’s visit to Choices left me with a lot of questions about the silent masses of women who do not engage with the ongoing political battle surrounding reproductive rights, but still reap the benefits bought by their more political allies. I decided that I wanted to go back to choices as an escort, in order to get an idea of how bad the situation really is. Sunny and I decided to go together, along with two Duke alums in New York. We arrived in Jamaica Queens just after 7:00am on Saturday and as we approached the clinic we saw a big red pickup truck parked outside with two giant posters in the bed leaning up against the cab. One said “Choice” and the other Life. Each depicted graphic images of semi-developed fetuses and the scare quotes made clear what the designer thought of the term choice. We could see these posters even before the clinic, but we knew we were in the right place.

As we approached the door we were pleased to see there weren’t very many protesters around, but they did stir into a tizzy as we walked into the door.  We walked up to Frank, who was coordinating the escorts, and he told us he picked us out right as we turned the corner for escorts. We weren’t exactly sure what that meant since we were both of an age with many patients of the clinic, but perhaps we were not as phased by the images as patients facing this immediate decision were? This was the first sign that we held some sort of power. We had a brief orientation as to what the protestors would do, what we should do, and what to do when we spotted the “deer in the headlights look” which indicated a client we needed to escort. After this orientation, all of the escorts donned white lab coats and went outside to stand near the protestors. We spread out in strategic locations where patients tended to come from. I was positioned opposite this picture in front of the bus stop.

The protestors tried to talk to me, to tell me that I was a murderers, but I just smiled. I told them I wasn’t interested in talking to them, then continued to smile and ignore them for the rest of the day. As protesters rotated around to different posts, I would always respond to their first attempts to talk to me but I stuck to my guns and never said a direct word to them for the rest of their time at that post. One particular protester, a man of Caribbean decent, would pull people aside and try to turn them against me. He would say things like “Look at her, she’s wearing a white coat like a doctor, but doctors are supposed to protect us.” I responded by smiling and saying “Good morning” to the person he was talking to. It didn’t take him very long to realize that wasn’t going to work, and that made me inordinately happy. I felt like I was winning!

As the day wore on, sometimes people would turn to me and ask me questions. I would repeat lines about protecting patients from likes of the protestor across from me, and agree with them about how disgusting the images they held were. I heard a few ridiculous exchanges such as one local man who told the protestors we should just eat the unwanted fetuses. He specifically said, “I don’t care, put some ketchup and barbeque sauce on that shit and eat it.” (Disgust shared at that comment was probably the only time all day that I agreed with any of the protestors.) I only escorted about three patients in three hours, but I left the clinic feeling great. When I wasn’t escorting patients, I spent the rest of the time smiling at locals and even watching a shoe-store while its owner went to get a cup of coffee. I’ve worked in customer service (and with difficult people in general) enough to know that the more you smile, the better you feel. Just being nice to people, and showing them the love in your heart (not to mention feeling of morally superior to the crazies showing children pictures of miscarried fetuses) are great ways to start off your day.  Even after being forced to stare at pictures of dead Jews, lynched blacks and miscarried babies, I knew I had stood up for other women and that was something to be proud of.

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