Dear Picketers,

I drove past you every day for your forty days of life as you stood in front of planned parenthood. It was not a pleasant experience for me.

I (like you?) think that abortion is one of the saddest things that happens in our world. It is both evidence of our brokenness and a source of more brokenness.

I will be fair about what I am saying in this letter and admit that I also support the political legitimacy of the "right to choose" though I, of course, think that that language, "right to choose" (like all the other language swirling around this issue) is woefully distorted.

I was just wondering if you had any idea how you appeared to me? Or to others like me?

To me, you look like a line of upper (upper) middle class, over-leisured, mostly-white women, who are having a great time chatting with each other, maybe exchanging recipes? deciding to be facebook friends? and holding up pre-made, "official" looking signs designed to make negative judgements about people who either:

1.) have far fewer resources than you have, or

2.) work in under-paid controversial jobs to help people who have far fewer resources than you have.

This ends up sending a pretty ugly message to me (someone who has roughly the same level of resources that you have), so I can't imagine how it feels to the people who you're actually judging.

I have some ideas, though. I don't want to just rain on your parade. These approaches will work a lot better. I promise.

1. ) don't be so literal. I suggest street theatre specifically. It would be WAAAY more fun to watch and would appeal to a much broader audience. Of course, the drawback is that good theatre requires a fair articulation of two sides -- otherwise there's no dramatic stakes and it's just propaganda, but I promise, more people would watch. Fewer people would hate you and you'd actually get into conversations with people aren't as utterly-settled-into-agreeing-with-you.

2.) be more humble. If you just won't do plays, then you could at least go all old testament and dress in sackcloth and ashes. That would mean not putting on make-up, shredding some of your clothes, spreading soot across them. I know you're a little leary of street theatre, but trust me when I tell you that this approach will work best if you leave your placards at home. The message will be clear, chilling and prophetic. It will be better if you do this to some of your favorite clothes. And please, please, as a bit of theatrical advice, leave your starbucks cup in your SUV (and park at least two blocks away.)

3.) go somewhere else. Planned Parenthood is not where this issue begins. There are many many other street locations all over town where people are working hard to REDUCE the choices of people. These places bear just as much responsibility for these choices as Planned Parenthood, in fact? In my mind at least? More responsibility. Why don't you picket on behalf of the voiceless in places where poor people lose their money? Cash Stores? Gambling Stores? The homes of Slumlord Apartment Owners? Or picket on behalf of the victims of beauty-culture. Pageants? Salons? Twirling Studios? You could picket against people who reduce our collective notions of sexuality to something cheap and quick, but you'll really have to be strategic to stand in front of every house where people are using porn or watching television. Plus, then you'd be in your own neighborhoods (awkward!) or even your own yards (embarrassing!).

4.) spend an equivalent amount of time working to actually solve the problem. Volunteer to help under-resourced populations. Choicelessness happens in a matrix of problems. There are hundreds of social agencies all over the city devoted to addressing these problems. You'd probably meet some more interesting facebook friends there. And you'd actually be helping. (If that's something you're interested in?)

5.) develop a new rule. Let (s)he who is among you, that has no sin, pick up the first placard.

I look forward to the improvements you'll make in response to my ideas!


alyssa said...

Okay, so, 1) bizarre?! that you posted this today, when just this morning I had a long conversation about the picketers over coffee with one of my good friends. Both of us articulated our regrets about abortion, yet both agreed that the picketers have influenced us to feel slightly upset and a little hostile towards the picketers and their ineffective method of political advocacy.

(Meaning that though we were brought up in conservative christian homes, we have recently felt pulled towards pro-choice support... in some ways because of the actions of these picketers we once identified with)

I guess that's all. There weren't any more #'s in the list that I started at the beginning of this comment. Just more evidence supporting your ideas that they should probably change tactics.

Adam Klemann said...

What is so bad about their being out there and standing up for something they believe in a public way? The fact that they come from a particular class or race of people does not disqualify their opinion.

I must followup the comments with whether you saw the counter demonstration happening towards the end of the forty days. A middle-aged WASP woman in a jogging suit parading (marching even) back and forth in front and through the pro-life demonstrators with a smug expression. I wonder about how well her high-step showed compassion and caring for those individuals who see abortion as their only choice?

I think it is also a bad assumption to believe that [at least some of] these individuals are not acting upon their belief that abortion is wrong in ways other then just picketing. Their presence at least prompted the conversation we are having right here.

That someone actually believes strongly enough to act upon their convictions is commendable and worthy our support. It is decidedly more action than most of us take.


Redbaerd said...

Hey Adam -

I certainly wouldn't say that the counter-demonstrator did anything to move the "conversation" forward. Her banners only offered ad hominem arguments about the demonstrators. Not helpful.

I do think that "taking action" is better than resignation in general, but I don't believe that taking just any action necessarily helps any situation. I guess my ultimate point is that this doesn't seem like a *helpful* move forward.

Do they have the right? Absolutely. But when Jaelyn argues to me that "she's allowed!" (to sing in the back of the car even when her brother has asked her not to....) I remind her that the rules only start to help us live well together. We need more. We need restraint and compassion. We need empathy and kindness.

I teach all the time that form shapes content. And I am suggesting that this form shapes this content in a way that makes it impossible for me to respond well.