Every day, on my way to work, I drive past a small women’s clinic. Last Tuesday, there was a group of about five or six people standing on the sidewalk in front of the clinic, waving signs showing pictures of fetuses. They’d unfurled a huge yellow banner that they’d placed across the sidewalk, reading “ABORTIONIST!” in large block letters with an arrow pointing at the clinic.
On Friday, the number of protestors had dwindled to three. The big yellow banner was gone–possibly because it had been blocking the sidewalk, or possibly because it was just too much hassle to set up. (Putting up a six-foot-long banner is more work than it seems.)
Saturday and Sunday, nothing. Apparently, protecting the unborn children is important, but not something you’d want to, y’know, give up a weekend for.
Monday and Tuesday, the same three protesters were back. Fewer signs this time, and they just seemed all so…disspirited. Today, the protest had collapsed to a single dishevled man, who looked for all the world like he was homeless, standing in front of the clinic and shaking his fist and screaming incoherently, and, bizarrely, pulling branches off the large tree that sits in the corner of the lot overhanging the sidewalk. I filled my car with gas at the gas station next to the clinic and watched him for a while.
Now, it used to be, back in the day, that people took this protesting thing a lot more seriously. I moved to Tampa in 1992, and then as now, my path to work took me past the clinic every day. (Funny thing, life.)
Back then, there were always about twenty or thirty protesters outside the clinic, every day, rain or shine. I worked at a place called Printgraphics at the time, and one of the protest organizers actually came into the ship once, asking me to design some anti-abortion signs and placards for him. I declined, and he went away and got someone else to do it for him.
But I digress.
They were there every day, chanting and waving signs and holding prayer vigils to, I don’t know, call down a rain of toads on the place or something. The toads never materialized, but that didn’t seem to bother them.
And then, overnight, it all just kinda fell apart. I can even point my finger to the moment when it happened.
It started one day when a young couple and a doctor walked up to the clinic. Someone in the group of protesters thought that saving an unborn child’s life was just absolutely the most important thing imaginable, and such an end justified any means, and he started throwing rocks at them. Next thing you know, a bunch of people had joined in, and showered the couple and their doctor with rocks and bottles. Made the papers and everything.
Problem was, they weren’t going in for an abortion. As it turns out, the couple were going to the clinic because they were trying to conceive. The doctor? He wasn’t an abortion doctor; he was a fertility doctor.
The point was well and truly driven home a few nights later, when one of the protesters decided to vandalize the clinic. The clinic was surrounded with a chain link fence at the time (it’s since been replaced with a more attractive metal fence), and he decided to ram his car through the fence, and…
At this point, I need to stop and digress for a moment. You know those Hollywood movies where you see someone, usually some hero with a beautiful and sexy young woman in his protection, drive a car through a chain-link fence? Forget it. It doesn’t happen that way.
You see, chain link is flexible and giving, but it’s also very, very strong. There ain’t no way you’re driving through a chain-link fence in anything short of an armored, treaded vehicle like a tank or a self-propelled howitzer. It’s not gonna happen.
What DOES happen, in the real world, is that the fence bows, and the car rides up onto the fence and gets caught.
Which is exactly what happened to the hapless protester. His car got hopelessly hung up on the fence and he couldn’t figure out how to free it, so he eventually just abandoned it and walked away.
I saw it there, still hung up on the fence, the next day when i drove to work. the police came, ran the registration, picked the guy up, and that was that.
After that, the protests ended. They just plain stopped, and stayed stopped for years. Too embarrassing, I suppose.
In a way, that’s been a microcosm for the organized anti-abortion movement in the nation as a whole–arguably the most inept and ineffective social movement the nation has ever seen. Groups like Randall Terry’s
Operation Self-Aggrandizement Operation Rescue have been good at getting newspaper inches, and have proven very adept at raising money from the faithful. Some of that money goes to administrative costs, a lot of it goes to keeping Randall Terry in his signature $1,000-a-pair alligator-skin boots, and the rest of it seems to be spent on researching new and ever more spectacular ways for the movement to shoot itself in the foot.
Now, the Senate still tosses the issue around whenever they feel like dodging real work, like getting runaway government spending under control or managing the dramatically inept war in Iraq. But for the most part, their heart just doesn’t seem to be in it any more. They’re like that tiny handful of people marching around in front of the clinic last week–but not on weekends and only if, y’know, the weather is nice.
Time was when you could really count on the fanatics. They had the holy light of God (or the holy light of murder–sometimes, they kinda look the same) in their eyes and a fire in their bellies. They would stop at nothing to save a child’s life–or at least, nothing short of, y’know, actually adopting an unwanted baby with cerebral palsey or something.
But today? Today we see one homeless man shaking his fist and pulling down trees. Kinda sad, really. Where’s the real spirit? Where’s the real chutzpah? Where’s the photo op of a bunch of True Believers standing in the rain? I wanted to take pictures, dammit!