Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Creative activism
August J. Pollak is right, this is brilliant*.
It's an ingenious idea. Create a no-win situation for anti-choice protesters — the more picketers who demonstrate outside a Planned Parenthood clinic, the more donations the Planned Parenthood clinic receives.

A number of Planned Parenthood affiliates have created different versions of this scenario. Here's how it works at Planned Parenthood of Central Texas (PPCT) in Waco, where the Pledge-a-Picket program is going strong: Each time a protester shows up at the clinic, a donation is made to PPCT. This campaign makes lemonade out of lemons by allowing Planned Parenthood supporters to pledge between 25 cents and one dollar per protester.


Once a week, PPCT puts a sign outside its clinic that says, "Even Our Protesters Support Planned Parenthood." To date, the Pledge-a-Picket program has raised $18,000 for PPCT. While not a significant chunk of its overall revenues, Pledge-a-Picket contributes greatly to PPCT's patient assistance fund, which helps clients who don't have resources get the care they need.

Since Pledge-a-Picket was launched in January 2002 the number of supporters who are eager to do something positive for PPCT has increased. A sign indicating the amount of money raised is continually updated, so protesters know how much money they are making for the affiliate every time they show up, some with children who are also counted.

I've heard people idly talk about programs like this in the past, but this is the first I've heard of someone getting one up and running.

The one credit that I've always had to give anti-abortion protestors is that they understand the business of protesting. Along with the usual reasons for protesting--spreading information and rallying the faithful--the anti-abortion crowd uses their protests to break the morale of the other side and to give the faithful a sense of constructive participation. Every day clinic workers show up for work to be insulted and accused of the most horrible crimes. Some people can be motivated by their own defiance in the face of visible opposition, but sooner or later it's going to wear on their nerves. Meanwhile, the protestors feel like they're accomplishing something just by showing up. Physically shutting down the baby-killing mills is much more motivating than showing up at headquarters to lick envelopes and phone canvas.

A program like this changes the balance of power. It takes some of the purpose away from the protestors. It has a martial arts elegance about it. It takes their greatest strengths--persistence and numbers--and uses them against them. Imagine a clinic employee going out each day to make a big production out of counting the protestors ("did I miss anyone?") and updating the sign. When the clinic employees show up for work, instead of gritting their teeth and running a gauntlet, they can thank the protestors for their support (then grit their teeth and run the gauntlet).

Psychological warfare is all about morale.

* I might even go so far as to say "fucking brilliant," but I won't, because my Mom is probably reading this.

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