A lot of amazing moments happened during the multi-month battle to protect family planning funding and providers from the out-of-control cuts in the 2011 federal budget. It felt like forever, but the campaign was actually only a couple of months! As we catch our breath and work to capture lessons learned, I’d like to share a personal story from a friend who attended the St. Louis Rally to Save Women’s Lives at Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region. The rally was part of the fantabulous Pink Bus Truth Tour that swept through Missouri and several other states.
My friend requested anonymity.
This is her story.
“I’ve always been an activist, supporting one cause or another, as social justice is important to me. My most recent activist incarnation has been sex related.
I have a 10-yr-old daughter who is a chip off the old block – well, she’s like me, only better. Vegetarian since birth, she is an empath – very sensitive and feels other’s emotions – especially suffering – as if they are her own.
One day not long ago, I had a heart to heart with her. I asked her in earnest, “I am doing my part to make the world a better place. Will you promise me to do the same?”
She instantly knew what I meant. “Oh yes, Mommy. Except… can I choose my cause? I know sex is very important, but I’m not as into it as you are – no offense.”
With a twinkle in my eye, I assured her, “I completely understand. What cause speaks to you?”
She answered right away. “Women’s rights. I know things are pretty good, but I feel like they could be much better. Women still don’t have as much respect as they deserve in our country. That’s where I want to help.”
I tell you what, this child o’ mine makes me proud on a daily basis.
I heard the Planned Parenthood Truth Tour Bus was going to be in town, and that a rally was going down. Given her passion and the fact that it sounded like an awareness celebration, I decided to take her. Plus, I’m a big fan of the truth. The color pink – not so much .
It was the first time I had ever taken her to something like it. I avoided protests and demonstrations because they would likely upset her, especially if people were wielding bunny lab torture signs. But hey, this was a rally; it would be like a party, upbeat and inspirational.
That it was, but I ran into something completely unexpected there – demons haunting the past, present, and future.
We parked and walked to the street corner where the rally was being held. To my total shock, the sidewalk was teeming with Planned Parenthood protesters. They went all out – it was like Nightmare on Elm Street. Total freak show. They held huge signs depicting bloody, mutilated full-term babies. They wore bloody scrubs, priest costumes, and dangled naked baby dolls. White men waved signs that proclaimed “BLACK GENOCIDE”. It was negatively ghoulish. They were accompanied by elderly people slumped over in wheelchairs with Jesus placards, and even had little children carrying signs dripping infant massacre gore galore.
My daughter was understandably freaked out. I was horrified and embarrassed to have taken my child to something like this. She clung to me, pale and trembling, as we walked the gauntlet of leering protesters. We got to the wrought iron gate entrance that was flanked by two friendly Planned Parenthood volunteers – women wearing hot pink t-shirts.
Inside the gated parking lot, I signed in, met up with friends, got handed a pink sign to hold that said “STUDENT FOR PLANNED PARENTHOOD,” buttons, and a postcard to sign to add to the thousands being delivered to our Senator. I juggled everything as I tried to tend to my traumatized daughter. She was hunched over and still had a fear grimace on her face.
“Honey, they’re just trying to scare you,” I told her gently.
“It’s WORKING!” she blurted. She wouldn’t let go of me.
My friend who was volunteering shook my daughter’s hand, looked her in the eye and said warmly, “You are very brave to come here and let people know you deserve respect.”
I admired the huge pink TRUTH TOUR bus and watched the crowd of pink-shirted people fill the area. I felt like we were caged for our safety, in a prison camp, surrounded by the enemy. Except the prison camp was very cheerful and energetic and fighting for their health rights! My daughter observed, “I feel like we’re pink bubble gum surrounded by black tar.”
There were many politicians on hand. The local teen group was represented. The crowd of hundreds of people were mostly women, but there were men as well. There was also a wide range of age and color. We were all in this together. Inspiring speeches were given, and fearless Cecile was there, in all her smiling, long-legged Amazon warrior glory.
As I stood for Planned Parenthood and cheered and clapped, I thought about the abortion I had three years ago. I couldn’t imagine myself with a toddler today. I thought about all the STI tests and birth control I received from Planned Parenthood, especially in my early 20′s. I thought about the vasectomy my friend got at Planned Parenthood. I thought about how my Dad got his Hepatitis A shots at Planned Parenthood. I thought about how my health insurance was becoming too expensive for me to keep. I would probably have to give it up soon, and that terrified me. The entire time, I was rejoicing on the outside, but felt uneasy on the inside. I had to keep a brave front for everyone there, but most of all, for my precious daughter.
After an invigorating hour of call-and-response, speeches, personal stories, and rousing cheers over the detractors muffled male voices screaming outside the gate, (“PLANNED PARENTHOOD KILLS BABIES,”) I nervously acknowledged that we had to face the hateful crowd again to get to my car. I asked my friend to walk with us. She was happy to oblige.
I knelt to give my daughter a pep talk. I spoke slowly and calmly.
“Those people are trying to intimidate and scare you. If you act scared, you are feeding into their fear tactics and giving them what they want. DON’T GIVE THEM THAT POWER. They are bullies. THEY are the ones who are scared. They are so scared, they’re telling lies and showing pictures of dead babies. An abortion does NOT look like that. They don’t even understand what they are talking about. Planned Parenthood is about affordable healthcare for men and women, not dead babies. They are trying to SAVE lives and help people. The protester’s anger is their fear in disguise. They don’t know any better. We need to show compassion to them. We need to REPLACE THE FEAR WITH LOVE. So when we walk out of here, you need to look them in the eye with love on your mind and smile. Remember, YOU are in charge of your feelings. Can you do that?”
She nodded and asked earnestly, “Can I give my allowance to Planned Parenthood to help them keep telling the truth?”
I told her of course. We handed the money to a volunteer and courageously walked out of the gate.
My friend and I flanked my daughter protectively. Protesters crowded us, yelling, calling, staring… a black truck that was outfitted like a Halloween float drove back and forth with red-lettered signs that proclaimed “PLANNED PARENTHOOD KILLS BABIES” and had a poster of a black baby with the words “ENDANGERED SPECIES” scrawled across his chest.
I looked worriedly at my daughter and was amazed to see a different child than the one I came with. She was an hour older, but light years wiser. She stood up straight, chin up, shoulders back. A Mona Lisa smile played on her lips. She walked through the crowd with grace and aplomb, her expression peaceful, her eyes on the prize.
Truth, justice, and compassion.
What an invaluable lesson she learned that day.
I received this letter from my friend just days after the March 19th rally…some time before the final budget vote in the Senate that marked the end of the 2011 effort to defund Planned Parenthood.
And after I read it I knew that we were going to win this fight…that we are stronger for it because of the amazing individuals who stand with us.
I stand on the side of reproductive justice, shoulder-to-shoulder with millions.