Sunday, October 16, 2016

My First Protest

Assembling care package materials with other young volunteers outside of Salt Lake City Metro Planned Parenthood
Back in middle school, around the time I started this blog, I was in love with revolution. I listened to music with themes of uprising and victory and watched the Arab Spring unfold on social media. I read histories of labor strikes and the Civil Rights movement and bemoaned being born in a place and time with nothing to protest. I researched issues I was passionate about and expressed my opinions over the Internet, but I wanted the real thing. In my dorm hall last year, I was having a conversation with my hallmates when the topic turned to protest and two of them mentioned causes they'd been involved in back home. As if every high schooler waved a sign at some point. I walked away from that conversation feeling like I was wasting my youth. I write about other teenagers making a difference. Wasn't this the stage of my life where I should be waving signs and crowding courthouse lawns?
Around this time, I started researching abortion and came to feel passionate about the pro-life movement. For a year I researched the science, ethics, and history of the issue. I sent emails, made calls, listened to podcasts, and read all I could to learn more. But only recently did I think to research pro-life groups in my area. I joined a Facebook group and watched the calendar until I found an event that could work with my school schedule.
Today marks the one hundredth anniversary of Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the US. Groups across the country have gathered this week to protest outside of clinics. Pro-Life Utah organized a protest/service project outside a clinic in downtown Salt Lake City. This location does nothing but abortions, women who want other services are directed to a clinic across town. It is one of two advertised abortion clinics in the state. Together, these two clinics are responsible for around 3,000 preborn deaths a year.
Yesterday morning, I drove from my college town to Salt Lake for my first protest. I was nervous. I went alone and didn't know a soul there outside of interactions on Facebook. I had no idea what to expect. I'd told my parents and roommates I was spending the day on a service project so they wouldn't worry. But what if it got out control?
When I pulled up to the clinic, there were no waving fists or shaking signs. The clinic wasn't even open on Saturdays, so there were no customers to confront. Most of the "protest" was focused on providing for a local woman named Bryonna who has cerebral palsy and is facing pressure from doctors and family members to abort her son. We tied a quilt and collected donations to help her buy disability-friendly baby care equipment. We also pinned blankets, wrote notes, and assembled care packages for other women in crisis pregnancies. No shouting. No banners. No crowds. Not counting the media, the women, children, and men in attendance numbered somewhere around twenty. It was a service project, no different than many I've done for school or church, except for the fact that we were on the lawn of an abortion clinic.
There's something romantic about screaming and shaking posters. And those protests serve a purpose. It's important to raise your voice about the things you value, to let the world see you swarm the public square. But any problem that exists in the real, tangible world needs real, tangible action to solve it, not just the chaos and clamor of people expressing their opinions. Maybe a revolution can be as soft as a baby blanket.
Service is just as important as expression, though not as romantic. When you're young, you romanticize change. But young and old people alike can do good in more quiet ways. At age fourteen, I cheered on Syrian revolutionaries fighting to bring down a tyrannical government. At age fifty, my mother has just decided she needs to learn Arabic. She wants to help refugees because she used to be one herself. In fifth grade, her family moved to Iran for my grandfather's work, intending to stay for five years. The revolution forced them out one year later. My mom was allowed to take a single suitcase and a footlocker on the plane home, but both were lost or damaged in transit. She returned to America with almost nothing. Their house had been leased out for the time they planned to spend in Iran, so they had nowhere to live. But they had advantages this influx of refugees doesn't. They were citizens. They had friends. They could speak the language. My mom went on to major in political science because of her experiences and worked for the government before becoming a stay at home mom. Now she feels called to learn a whole new language.
I guess it's never to late to help people and acquire the skills to do so. We might feel like the glory days are always behind us, but there are battles to fight all around you no matter where you live. You don't need to shake your fist to be a catalyst for change.

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