As a Women and Gender Studies major, I am often confronted, in varying degrees of rudeness, with this question: What are you going to do with that? Most inquirers want to know how a Women and Gender Studies degree will prevent me from living in a cardboard box, but I have begun to ask myself the same question for a different reason. My major provides insights about society that make me want to agitate for change. But what am I going to do with those insights? How can I use them to improve peoples’ lives? I enjoy reading, writing, and discussing feminist theory in my classes. However, feminism isn’t helpful if it becomes mired in academia. So I’ve been looking for ways to be more active in the Portland community. Luckily, one such opportunity came up over winter break.
A group of people has recently begun picketing in front of Planned Parenthood every Friday morning. Their charming signs depict aborted fetuses and plead for onlookers to “HAVE MERCY ON YOUR BABY!!!” Amid their shouted passages of scripture, you can hear them jeering the people entering Planned Parenthood. The people entering the building may be seeking abortions, or they may be there for other reasons because Planned Parenthood provides clientele with many kinds of healthcare. Either way, no one is spared from condemnation and exposure to graphic images very early in the morning. Mike Fink, the owner of Mike’s sandwich shop next to Planned Parenthood, is tired of the protestors’ pro-life agenda. On January 4, he invited people to Protest the Protest. To sweeten the deal, anyone who showed up got a free sandwich and coffee. I heard about the event a few weeks before it was set to occur, but by the time it rolled around I had forgotten about it. On the day of the protest of the protest, I was fast asleep while nearly a hundred people held picket signs, ate delicious sandwiches, and showed their support for Planned Parenthood.
I was beating myself up for being such a deadbeat activist until I noticed an event a friend created on Facebook to plan the next move. As it turns out, many of the people who showed up to the first protest wanted to keep the ball rolling. I attended the first meeting and now I hope to play a role in making Planned Parenthood more accessible and less intimidating to all. At this writing, the group hasn’t come up with a name yet. However, we have a goal. We are encouraging the city of Portland to enforce a 35-foot “patient safety buffer zone” around Planned Parenthood so that protesters must stand at least 35 feet away from the entrance. They will still have the chance to express their opinion, but they will have to do it in a way that doesn’t intimidate people seeking healthcare. Though we are working with grassroots organizers from Planned Parenthood, we are a separate entity that wishes to express its solidarity. We hope to achieve other goals in the future, but in its very early stages this group is focusing on creating a buffer zone.
On January 11th, I stood with other members of the new activist group in Monument Square with a “I Love Planned Parenthood” sign. Our location reflected our desire to give Planned Parenthood clients privacy and respect when they go to the clinic, for whatever reason. It’s doubtful that we will lead the pro-life protesters to move away from the entrance by example, but the signatures we’ve collected for the petition may become the motivation they need.
Want to get involved? Mike’s is hosting another protest on Friday, February 13th. There’s more information at this link: http://guitargrave.com/protest/protest.htm