Potential Harassment and Sidewalk Bullies

The women’s clinic was open this past Wednesday and, of course, was plagued with the outside presence of a couple of pro-birth men holding their professionally printed anti-abortion signs out in the cold. I was perched in the café room of the library across the street researching credentials of RN’s and medical directors that were listed with some of Wisconsin’s crisis pregnancy centers. Occasionally, I glanced out the window to watch the two men conversing with each other while ensuring that their signs were in full view of the public.

I’ve been too afraid to stand up to them since a picture of me with a couple women was printed in the opinion section along with an unflattering pro-life letter because we had dared to counter-protest their pro-life event last October. It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that it shook me. With my anxiety and fear of retaliation, I’m surprised I even managed to stand up to them at all. It hasn’t stopped me from coming to the library every other week to observe them outside the clinic and occasionally checking the pamphlet holders in the entryway to see if Faust has left cards for a local crisis pregnancy center.  But when I have to go to the clinic for birth control, I rush past them like a scared mouse to avoid any interaction.

It was another typical bi-weekly Wednesday: Zealots with signs that read “Abortion Hurts Women” and “Abortion Kills Children” while I watched from afar and typed away on my laptop.

Or I thought it was going to be.

I looked out the window to see the two men with a young woman carrying a small child. Faust was standing towards the back of her while Brian (aka. “Dicktator) was standing in the middle of the sidewalk facing her. Brian looked like he was scolding her rather than speaking to her, empathizing with one hand while his other hand held his sign so that it could be seen. To be fair, he’s always looks mean, but he earned the nickname “Dicktator” for being the most aggressive of the protesters. I couldn’t see the woman’s face as she spoke with him. I’ve seen women approach the protesters to speak with them, usually to tell them off, but Brian blocking the sidewalk concerned me. Maybe she was being polite and putting up with their nonsense. However, I assumed she was just speaking with them so I snapped a photo on my phone and went back to typing.

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I basically had the mindset of a BBC nature documentary photographer: Don’t get involved and only observe and document. But something came over me. I didn’t feel right just being an observant bystander with the assumption that she was willingly talking with them. I wasn’t really sure if my assumption was correct and the uncertainty bothered me enough to take action despite whatever anxiety I felt. I finally quickly gathered my things, strapped on my heavy backpack, and strolled out of the library with a brazen determination that felt wonderful yet foreign.  As I crossed the street, the men took notice of me, but I didn’t care.

“Miss…are these men bothering you?”

It seems like a simple thing to ask, but approaching a complete stranger for any reason is not simple when you have a lack of social skills and an abundance of anxiety. No amount of confidence and determination could have stopped my heart from beating rapidly as it was when I walked up to this woman. I wouldn’t have been surprised if my heart violently beat itself out of my chest and plopped right onto the sidewalk.

She explained to me that she had conversed with some of these protesters before she had given birth to her child. She was open to understanding different views so she was just talking to them. Turns out my initial assumption had been correct after all, but asking if she was okay was still the right thing to do.

Before I could feel better knowing that she wasn’t being harassed (or at least didn’t feel like she was being harassed) and tell her “I wasn’t sure and wanted to check if you were okay”, Faust opened his mouth.

“This is Sam. She accuses us of being bullies in the paper.” (I haven’t written anything for the opinion section of the paper for several months).

Brian chimed in, but Faust’s comment had thrown me off guard so all I heard was “She’s a Satan worshiper”. (During our second interaction a couple years ago, he learned I had donated to the clinic and scolded me of continuing to live in ignorance as our previous conversation obviously hadn’t turned me into a God-fearing Christian. I responded by telling him I found Satan because I knew it would get a rise out of him.)

I find it ironic that Faust chose to bring up my accusations of pro-life bullying considering the men’s behavior towards me at that moment. There was a number of ways Faust could have introduced me to this woman, but he chose something that sounded negative and belittling. Brian felt the need to point out to her that I was a “Satan worshiper”, a trait he most certainly finds undesirable being the religious fanatic he is. Introducing someone with insults…well, that sounds like bullying to me.

I decided to bring up something someone had told me they had seen while picking up his daughter at the bus stop near the library.

“So you’re not bullies?” I asked. “Would you explain to me why someone told me they witnessed you chasing a young woman in crutches?”

I expected they might say how absurd such a claim was and attempt to reassure me they would never do such a thing being the pro-woman champions for human life that they are (#sarcasm). Instead, they laughed in my face like I had told them the funniest joke. Getting laughed at was humiliating.

“A woman in crutches! Oh, that’s a good one! You ever hear of Fake News?” Faust asked me, still laughing.

I looked down at their signs feeling embarrassed. The protesters have favorite signs. Faust’s favorite is “Abortion Hurts Women”. Brian was holding his “ABORTION KILLS CHILDREN” sign and I saw it had been modified recently—it now has a printed cut out of a mutilated fetus pasted next to the word “KILL”.

“This…” I said, pointing to their signs, “This…is Fake News. I’ll make a donation to the clinic in your honor.”

I’d be lying if I said the situation didn’t make me feel flustered and put off guard. I’ve admittedly gotten rusty at standing up to “pro-life” protesters. I felt small and stressed after giving my retaliation donation and going back to the library café room, but also had a sense of pride having asked a complete stranger if she was okay and being prepared to get her out of that situation if she was truly being harassed.

Would I do it again even if it felt scary and overwhelming? Hell yeah, I would!

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