Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Last week the group formerly known as Swarthmore Pro-Choice Task Force sent out a campus-wide e-mail calling for pro-choice Swatties to train as escorts for Planned Parenthood patients. The Daily Gazette sat down with escort program co-coordinator Emily Nolte ’07 to learn more about what it’s like to escort through a crowd of protesters.
Daily Gazette: So Swarthmore Pro-Choice Task Force has become the Swat Vox? Since when and why?
Emily: Swat Vox is Swarthmore Voices for Choice. We changed the name once we became Planned Parenthood’s official campus affiliate earlier this semester. We still provide Planned Parenthood with escorts and use them as a resource for informational pamphlets, stickers, condoms, and other goodies that they send.
DG: How long have you been a Planned Parenthood volunteer?
Emily: It’s been over a year since I signed up for the PCTF as a freshman last year at the Activities Fair. As an escort coordinator, I get train tickets each week, partner up with new escorts, am in charge of letting Planned Parenthood know what escorters from Swarthmore are going each week, and coordinate the on-campus training sessions.
DG: What made you join Vox and become an escort?
Emily: I’ve definitely been pro-choice for a while. I really became pro-choice in high school, when a friend of mine found herself pregnant at 16. After seeing all the barriers she had to face to get an abortion (in Texas, it’s illegal to have an abortion without parental consent if you’re under 18), and how traumatic the experience was for her, I became a strong pro-choice advocate.
DG: Any stories from your escort experience?
Emily: You’ll witness crazy things out there. Once, a man was using a blowhorn and shouting all kinds of insults to women entering the clinic and anyone walking by. And this mother came out from the apartments across the street and repeatedly asked him if he really cared about the babies, to which he responded “yes.” Then she responds, “so care about my six-month old baby who can’t sleep right now because you won’t shut up!”
There’s also a Catholic group who has a permit from the city to hold a “Prayer Vigil” once a month in front of the Planned Parenthood. During such days, we get as many as 100 protesters. The escorters get insulted by the protesters–just last week I was told that I am “Satan’s little helper.” And the guys from Swat who escort, a lot do, get things like “why aren’t you a real man?”
Random people from the community also go up to the protesters and question their views. They’ll say things like: “What have you done to help? Have you adopted a kid, worked in foster care, day care?”
Luckily the community that houses Planned Parenthood is very open and very supportive. People who pass by usually show their appreciation by personally thanking us for being there. We even get discounts at the coffee shop next door to the clinic.
DG: The hardest part about being an escort?
Emily: It’s really hard when you can’t say anything back to the protesters and they are trying to taunt you to respond to their ridiculous comments. They say some of the most horrible things I’ve heard. Knowing what a traumatic experience it must be for these women, it breaks my heart to listen to what the protesters tell them.
DG: What words would you use to describe your experience as an escort so far?
Emily: Every time I go, it just recommits me to the cause even more. In one sense it’s infuriating to deal with people who aren’t doing anything but hassling others. In another sense it shows me how much escorts are needed and how hard we need to work to keep abortion legal.
DG: Have a lot of people signed up to be escorts? When will the next training session be?
Emily: [The] next escort training session will be on Wednesday, November 10th from 6:00 – 8:00 p.m. at Planned Parenthood, at 12th & Locust Streets. Vox will provide free transportation into Philly. A lot of people have signed up. We trained 25 – 35 people last week, and almost all followed up and applied to become an escort.
You can go in for the training (usually an hour and a half) without committing to becoming an escort. You can also choose your level of commitment. Some people do it twice a month; others do it once a year.
DG: Besides Planned Parenthood, what other activities is Vox planning?
Emily: We also want to create awareness on campus of pro-choice and safe-sex issues. Last semester we took about 200 Swatties to Washington, D.C. to the March for Women’s Lives. We’re also planning to have at least one campus event each month. An example was Bagels and Vox on Wednesday, for the unveiling of our new name.
For Halloween, we’ll be tabling at Sharples dinner, giving out “Candy and Condoms” and brochures, pins, stickers and other goodies.
DG: Ooh…what kind of candy?
Emily: Lots of chocolate: M&Ms, Hershey bars, but other stuff too. It’s all good candy, none of the generic stuff.
DG [eyes Texas charm necklace]: So you’re from Texas? Do people think you’re confused when they see you wearing your necklace and your bright pink pro-choice button?
Emily: I’m sure by now most people know my political views. Initially people just assume that anyone from Texas is incredibly conservative, close-minded and a big Bush fan. And that’s certainly not true. Actually, three of the six Vox officers are from Texas. I love being from Texas. I always wear my Texas charm necklace, and even have the Texas flag in my room. I also drink Dr. Pepper (the official soft drink of Texas) all the time.
Students interested in more information about Vox and the escort program can contact Emily at enolte1.