Accidental beginnings – being an activist for reproductive rights whilst experiencing social anxiety – an account from the United States

A writer in the US shares how the experiences of intimidation at her local women’s health clinic and music concerts helped her to become an ‘accidental activist,’ for reproductive rights of women, and push beyond her shyness and social anxiety. First published by the author, Sam Simmons, on her blog.

When I look back on concerts I’ve attended, there’s usually one strong image that sticks out in my mind. Paul Stanley flying on a trapeze over the crowd to perform on a giant turntable on the other side of the arena, video footage of the horrible aftermath of the atom bombings projected at the Dir En Grey show, Ben Faust of Goatwhore flashing me an “okay?” sign during their last song when I was in obvious pain from my legs getting slammed into the edge of the stage….you get the idea.

This is a story of how a mental concert image turned me into an activist for reproductive rights.

I never imagined being an activist of anything let alone something that’s so shrouded in controversy. I’m shy and timid with a profound lack of confidence and dislike for confrontation to the point where I avoid it whenever I can. I’m also afflicted with social anxiety and certain situations cause an overwhelming sense of terror. When I reflect on it, I find it so strange that I’m doing this activism. Though I’m supportive of many causes, in most cases I’ve never done anything more than donate a few dollars to show that support. Probably the most activist thing I’ve ever done up until this year was wearing a handmade shirt that read “Homosexuals have rights, too!” after coming out quite publicly in high school and was getting made fun of for being bisexual, an act that earned me a trip to the principal’s office and a warning not to wear the shirt in the future.

So what happened? It started with my women’s health clinic and ended at a concert.

I started going to the local women’s health clinic about a decade ago when it was called Western Dairyland. The staff there was helpful and kind so I have trusted them with my vagina ever since. They’ve been there when I’ve had pregnancy scares, vaginal infections, and one cancer scare after a pap came back abnormal enough they referred me to a doctor that could do biopsies. They offer exams, birth control, testing, and treatment for little to no cost and don’t turn anyone away because of an inability to pay, which was certainly my situation when I began going there. The clinic became Essential Health Clinic (formally Options Clinic) shortly after our governor made budget cuts to family planning, but thankfully nothing changed in terms of receiving care and contraceptives.

However, one thing did change in 2016: anti-abortion protesters.

In mid-March, I went in to schedule my annual exam. Not only did I find the clinic had changed its hours and were already closed for the day, but also found a middle aged man standing just a few feet from the entrance holding a sign that said “ABORTION KILLS CHILDREN”. I was greatly confused as the clinic is NOT an abortion provider. Not that I ever needed/wanted an abortion anyways thanks to them offering birth control pills along with a never ending supply of condoms after my first major pregnancy scare.

I passed him and his large, intimidating sign as I headed back home. After nervously passing him like a scared little rabbit, I stopped. To this day I still have no idea what compelled my brain to override my social anxiety protocol so I could turn around and timidly inform him, “They don’t do abortions here and they help a lot of people.” It led into a half hour conversation. “Conversation” being a figurative word as he did most of the talking— about God, Christianity, Hell, and apparently how the clinic does “abortion referrals” while questioning me on my beliefs—and I barely got a word in. During the conversation he gave me a card: one side with six “facts” on about abortion and the other side begging me not to kill my baby and surrender myself to Christ.

Probably as this one-sided conversation occurred, a Los Angeles based metal/rap artist/activist by the name of Otep Shamaya was preparing to release her seventh album “Generation Doom” and planning out a tour to support its release.

The week I bought the “Generation Doom” album, which I admittedly became obsessed with, I had an appointment for an annual check-up at the Essential Health Clinic. The protesters hadn’t given up since my first encounter with one of them. There was still the one lone protester standing outside with his sign, though I had heard of more showing up at other times. After going through the usual routine of going through my medical history, determining that I didn’t need a pap smear that year according to the new guidelines, and renewing my birth control prescription, the RN informed me about my rights as a patient and the rights of the protesters. Basically, thanks to Free Speech, it’s well within their rights to harass patients outside the building as they please as long as they don’t physically block entrances or physically harm anyone. She told me its best to ignore them, a statement I’m sure her superiors told her to say, and that I shouldn’t let them bother me.

Ignore them? How do ignore someone that stands near the door of your healthcare provider so you’re forced to walk past them? How do you ignore someone that puts a large anti-abortion sign in your face while trying to get you to take literature and talk about Jesus while criticizing aspects of your faith and/or life? When I was a kid, I was told to ignore the bullies that tormented me based on the logic that they would eventually get bored with me and move on, but such advice never worked. Why would it be any different now that the bullies were now grown men on the sidewalk?

I found it upsetting that I had to be told my rights as a patient because of stupid, old zealots who think they can tell women of reproductive age what to do with their bodies and their faith. I figured there had to be a reason why the RN was telling women of their patient rights and to ignore the protesters.

I asked, “Are they…scaring women?”

She went onto explain that there had been patients who were intimidated by their presence, including a young woman whose relative had called to explain she was afraid to come into her appointment because the presence of protesters scared her. I never imagined women not coming to the clinic for help because of a group of men demonstrating outside the building intimidated them. I asked about the abortion referral claim and learned they have nothing to do with abortions other than providing information about it as part of their all-options pregnancy counseling (which also includes parenting and adoption). “Refer” can mean “to mention or allude to” so technically they do refer to abortion, but they don’t do “referrals”, meaning a medical facility transfers your care to a recommended provider. I’m not entirely sure which one the protester really meant.

I quietly slipped out the back entrance after my appointment. It only occurred to me after I had gotten halfway home that the reason I sneaked out the back was also the reason why there were women who admitted they were scared about coming in: they didn’t want to be confronted or harassed by the protesters near the entrance.

Two days after my appointment, I saw Otep perform in Ringle, WI. It wasn’t the first time I’ve seen her perform yet something about that show lead me to the activism I do now. Without this catalyst, I’d probably still be sneaking through the back door of the clinic to avoid being harassed by protesters about abortion and religion.

As I mentioned earlier, there’s usually one strong image in my mind when I reflect on the shows I’ve been to. The mental image that sticks out in my mind when I think about this show is strangely not of Otep herself. Instead, it was something not as obvious and extremely peculiar: a microphone stand.

Yes. A microphone stand.

Otep had two of them (I’m guessing for aesthetic rather than necessity). They were positioned on the front corners of this box that she stands on. Both stands were wrapped with thick, orange rope light, but the one to my right had been decorated with a couple doll heads that were vandalized with black Sharpie marker. As the crew set up the band’s gear, I couldn’t stop staring at this stand. In the moment I was mesmerized by these decapitated doll heads, I recalled an article I read where anti-abortion protesters had pelted a woman going to get an abortion with torn apart and fake bloodied doll parts. The image of the microphone stand stuck with me even more than Otep raising her black gloved fist in-between songs and declaring “This…this is the universal sign of protest”. Not to say that the protesting imagery of her set had no effect on me, but I couldn’t stop thinking about those doll heads and the story they reminded me of. Combined with her songs with themes of rebelling against tyrants and meeting the woman in all her bad ass glory after the show, I left the venue fueled with the desire to confront the zealots that showed up every Wednesday to harass woman.

The next day, I furiously typed out a Letter to the Editor about the services the clinic provides and the actions of the protesters. To be honest, I was terrified about submitting it for fear of retaliation, but felt I needed to send it in. There was a part of me that hoped it would convince them to leave these women alone and let them go to their appointments in peace, but they are extremely stubborn so they continue to demonstrate, lie, mislead, and bully.

But I have been just as stubborn because I believe in women having the right to choose and, more importantly, I believe everyone should be to go to their health care provider without being bullied by anti-choice protesters near the door and that women don’t deserve to be lied to about their options. Thus, I have continued to fight despite being timid and shy.

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Otep with mic stand decorated with doll heads (Sam Simmons)

Read more by the author, Sam Simmons, at her blog, AccidentalActivistAdventures.wordpress.com

‘Both Parties Have Failed People With Disabilities (PWDs)’ – renewing the disability rights movement

Takie Tam - Anna Vanes
Takie Tam by Anna Vanes

People with disabilities need flexible and secure work and, when out of work, financial support. Even in developed nations, they are often denied this, inflicting hopelessness, isolation and depression on people seeking to contribute to society. As disability rights advocate, IndependenceChick, writes in a recent post, linked below, there is a need for social and political activism amongst disabled people to empower themselves, support the most vulnerable and create change.

In the US, the disability rights movement has made legislative and social progress, writes the blogger, a Republican supporter who refused to vote for Donald Trump partly due to his public mocking of a disabled reporter, but the unemployment rate amongst this group remains disproportionately high. Gains made are questioned, as the writer queries the authenticity and security of the jobs created for disabled people.

With the blogger citing Democratic presidential nominee candidate, Joe Biden, for recently infantilising a disabled activist during an interaction, she proposes a need to create further change across the board. She proposes self-empowerment and group empowerment:

“Focus on the life and the dignity, not the cure. Yeah, cures might be nice–I’ve sure thought about a cure for cerebral palsy. But I don’t sit around pining for one, because I am worthy to exist as I am.”

With dignity and self-worth, disabled people can campaign for equality and fairness: “Keep speaking, typing, signing, drawing, whatever you need to do. Communities and tribes like ours depend a lot on grassroots movements. If you can reach 5-10 people, well, that’s 5-10 who are thinking differently about you, about disability.”

Perhaps the most important proposal she has is for the joining of social networks: Find your tribe. This can be the local disability rights advocates, but it can and should also be tribes based around your interests (mine include writers, Christians, Christian writers :), Potterheads, theater mavens…)

A disability rights movement will necessarily include internal disagreement and inconsistencies. The blogger is a ‘red’ and challenges abortion as being anti-disabled people. Moreover, the range of disabilities experienced by people varies extremely widely. Even within a specific group of people, such as those diagnosed with social anxiety disorder, the range of symptoms, triggering contexts and levels of social functioning are great. This heterogeneity can be a strength, as the movement can bring together people from across social, economic and political boundaries and perspectives to create a truly mass movement. Moreover, the principle of fairness, equality and dignity will necessarily connect the movement to other political movements.

Image designed by Anna Vanes.
For stock image credits, click here.

Click below to read the full blog-post by IndependenceChick, ‘Political Bulletin: Both Parties Have Failed PWDs. Here’s What to Do About It.’

IndependenceChick's Nest

Hello readers,

The title of this post probably doesn’t shock you. I’m not going to spend a lot of time on it either, because this blog has never been political. But whether you love politics or are like me and would rather the nasty thing never existed, disability can be political. “The personal is political,” as someone once said. So if you are a person with a disability or not–perhaps especially if not–you need to know both parties have failed big-time. You also need to know what to do about it.

This isn’t exactly news. It’s been going on since time immemorial. At first, that was because people with disabilities were largely ignored. We weren’t expected to be or do anything except sit in institutions. We certainly weren’t expected to incite political change, so everybody from the President to Joe and Jane Schmo pretended we weren’t there, unless they were…

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‘I don’t want to go to the protest today.’ Mental Health Illness Sufferers as Activists

Edward elric - anna vanes
Edward Elric by Anna Vanes ©

Social anxiety can diminish observation of others and the environment with self-thoughts. Moreover, the emotional struggles of anxiety can have a diminishing effect on the ability to empathise in situations. However, prolonged experience of vulnerability and emotional pain means that anxiety sufferers may have a deep capacity for empathy and compassion, if nurtured.

In the blog-post below, a new blogger, apparently based in India, writes humorously of his dismay at the pressure he feels through his social networks to attend political protests and to be politically active generally. He references protests in support of Muslims, women and other dispossessed and maligned groups: “At times, however, my social anxiety gets the best of me. And why risk panic attacks? I’ll probably be out of this country in two years or so and none of this would matter. I’m hoping Bernie would be my president. Maybe I’ll join his campaign.”

Continuing the humorous tone, the writer reveals that “all this hatred and violence doesn’t really affect me. I don’t say the last part out loud. People tend to be very judgemental.”

The blog-post is a reminder to activist groups and movements that they must broaden their tactics and their message if they are to harness the potential and support of mental health illness sufferers. In some cases, less confrontational, public, noisy or emotive political activity might suit someone with social anxiety. One-to-one attention to find out their desires and capacities can be effective in integrating and giving confidence.

Social anxiety and other mental health illness sufferers have personal experience of, in some cases, daily feelings of severe vulnerability and are well-placed to relate to other vulnerable people and animals. However, they may need to feel safe, trusted and affected to demonstrate their full range of skills and traits.

Working to benefit the welfare of others can be good for personal well-being and has potential mental health benefits, evidence suggests. What activity or level of participation is suitable for each individual will differ and this is a challenge for activist groups and mental health illness sufferers to explore. According to a study: “failing to take action in the face of a perceived sociopolitical threat leads to a poorer long-term mental health trajectory. Even engaging in activism online (e.g., tweeting about sexism) can benefit well-being.”

There is a wider lesson for activist groups seeking to create a movement. The Indian blogger expresses a sense of his well-being being ignored by his politically active and, otherwise, ethical peers. The obvious solution for this recipe for disaffection is to demonstrate real concern for individuals and their personal struggles to engender reciprocal feeling towards you and your causes.

Image designed by Anna Vanes.
For stock image credits, click here.

To read the full blog-post, I don’t want to go to the protest today, click below.

 

The color brown

And I don’t like being attacked for it.

Have I not been to enough of them already? I walked for miles, and I held one of those posters someone handed to me. Bhagat Singh or someone, I forget. And has it not been like a month since we started doing this? I can’t even see an end in the near future.

Protests are a weird affair. There’s dancing, there’s singing, people shouting till their voices break. A few hours of that always tires me out, and I prefer to go to a nice place to eat afterward. Or go to oxford and browse books on politics and history or read a newspaper. I like to keep up with current affairs.

The last time I went to a protest, I saw a bunch of guys in the white caps that Muslims wear, visibly poor, walking by my side. They had to…

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Reblogged: Getting Down with the Community

There is a strong desire amongst many people, including those with social anxiety, to participate in meaningful work through being active in community and activist groups, as well as other local organisations. For those who are able to overcome the barrier of social anxiety, doubts and/or time constraints, to attend a public meeting, lack of integration into the organisation can increase the likelihood of drop-outs and loss of participation from volunteers. A blog-post anecdote by one student, who describes herself as experiencing some social anxiety – as well as being “skeptical of everything political,” suggests that organisations can promote integration and participation, in the first instance, through offering meaningful personal and participatory inductions.

28 year-old West Carolina University (WCU) student, Nichole, found the people at a community activist group meeting, gathered to empower poor and working class people in North Carolina, comfortingly “normal.” Yet, she found herself alienated by the confrontational political tactics on discussion that day: “So as I was listening to these people talk about their plans to track down congressmen and women and ask them why they don’t care about poor people, I could feel all interest float away. Not to mention, the older man sitting to my left occasionally leaned down to express his hatred for the aforementioned congresspeople.”

A key factor, it would seem, in Nichole staying with the organisation after that initial contact is that she was invited to a one-to-one meeting with the organiser – which are designed to “understand what motivates people and what their stories are, and how we can help them, and how they can help us.” Nichole says that in the meeting she explained that, “…I wanted to make a difference and I didn’t know how, and that bird dogging was not for me at all. The organizer was quick to let me know that bird dogging was a small piece of what Down Home does, and that members are not required to do anything they don’t want to do. She talked to me about their current working groups and I decided to come to another meeting.”

Another key moment identified by Nichole in her blog post was when she was singled out during a team meeting focused on drug overdose prevention and education to express her point of view on a matter: “She asked what I thought, and I answered with a, “Well I think a lot of people might think…” and she looked me dead in the eye and asked, “But what do you think?” For the first time in my life I felt like my opinion mattered. It was valued. Someone wanted to hear what I had to say, and my words meant something.”

Coupled with Nichole’s “leap of faith” to attend the initial meetings despite her misgivings and social anxiety – and her interest in social justice, the personalised one-to-one and subsequent integration and participation enabled her “to know that my voice mattered and that it could make a difference.” She was able to break out of her sense of powerlessness and is now a community activist for life: “Even if I’m not a lifer, I can’t imagine not being a part of a group like this ever again.”

Read Nichole’s full blog-post on her website, ModeratelyUncomfortablesjw.wordpress.com

Moderately Uncomfortable

Down Home North Carolina (DHNC) has become an important part of my life. Even if I’m not a lifer, I can’t imagine not being a part of a group like this ever again. Down Home is a member-led organization that boasts the mantra “Building Power for the Working Class.” What does that mean? The organization’s goals are directed by community members. They went door to door and asked people what could make their lives better, and then developed goals to make things happen. Building power? Well us little people, the ones who aren’t billionaires and politicians, we have one thing that they don’t— us. We outnumber those people astronomically. The problem is we are not united and most of us are just trying to survive. We’re so busy working to meet our basic needs and often missing the mark, that we don’t have time to think about that. Down Home…

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