I started volunteering for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona when I moved to Tucson for my sophomore year of college. I was drawn to Planned Parenthood because I saw in the organization a combination of two things I wanted to be a part of: pro-choice feminism and political activism. My first event was a crowd canvass at a local street fair. I was not the sort of person who regularly spoke to strangers, let alone asked them for their signatures on pro-choice petitions. But I quickly got over the awkwardness and discovered I loved it. People were overwhelmingly supportive and grateful for our presence. There were those who ignored us and moved on, but they were few and far between. I remember the men and women who smiled, not the ones who rolled their eyes.
The next few events I attended were much of the same. People were friendly and supportive. I kept volunteering for the rest of the year and began attending VOX (Voices for Planned Parenthood) meetings as well.
This past summer I returned home to Illinois to spend the school break with my family. Bored and unemployed, I applied for an internship with Planned Parenthood of Illinois, and a few months later got the job.
I did not know what to expect from the internship, other than to continue volunteering and meeting supporters. My family lives about forty minutes south of Chicago, and I had never spent as much time in the city before as I did that summer. Despite living so close to it all my life, I knew almost nothing about Chicago, and even less about Planned Parenthood’s presence there. I only had experience volunteering in Tucson, which, while located in a depressingly red state, is fairly liberal. I expected Chicago to be the same, maybe even better, since Illinois tends to lean Democratic. I did not realize my perception of Tucson was based on the campus area (which is more liberal), and my perception of Chicago was based on no experience at all.
I thought volunteering in Tucson would be the same as volunteering in Chicago, and because of that, was totally unprepared for my first few events. Like my first experiences in Tucson, these were crowd canvassing events. But instead of being kind, people were rude. They ignored us in far larger numbers than I had ever experienced. We were more likely to be sneered at than greeted. In some cases, we were openly harassed (a town fair two hours outside of the city comes to mind).The other interns and I had disagreements about how to reach our goals. Privately, I wondered what those goals even were, when we were making so little progress in the community. I wondered if I was wasting my time.
Looking back, it is a little embarrassing how a few nasty words put such a dent in my enthusiasm. However, my doubts were not permanent. After moping around for awhile I realized I had nothing to mope about. If our efforts were not working, we needed to figure out a new strategy. If people were mean, we needed to get over it.
It’s important to go through the good stuff as well as the bad, to meet the supporters and the protesters. Dealing with people who disagree with you, sometimes even aggressively, can be disheartening, but it can also be reaffirming. Our work is not irrelevant because people dissent, sometimes that makes it even more important.
I’m here for Planned Parenthood. Will you be, too? Send us an e-mail if you’d like to stand up for women’s health and keep Arizona the supportive environment I know it can be.