I recently started working for Planned Parenthood of Southern New England as a writer. Due to the pandemic and the nature of my work, I’ve been working from home for most of the last three weeks. I did go into the office once though, to get my laptop and meet with my new coworkers in person. That’s where I encountered the protesters.
It was a small group of people, maybe three or four. I’d already been informed of the company policy: we do not engage with protestors. So I kept my eyes squarely focused on my phone as I approached them. At first, they thought I was simply a passerby, and offered me some pamphlets about the evils of abortion. I said no thank you, and turned towards the building’s entrance. That tipped them off that I worked there, and their demeanor instantly changed.
“How can you support what they’re doing?”
“Abortion is murder!”
“Don’t you know they’re committing Black genocide?”
That last one almost got a response out of me, but I decided that I wasn’t ready to get fired on my third day on the job. After I calmed down a bit though, I realized that this was my first time on the other side of a protest. I was the one who was being morally admonished for participating in an unspeakable evil.
Here’s the thing though- I don’t think I’m doing something evil. I think that women should have the right to an abortion if they want one, but even that’s not typically at the front of my mind as some moral lodestar that guides me every day. Mostly I’m just thinking that I’m going into work to do what my boss asks of me, and I wish these people weren’t here yelling at me. It’s not an enjoyable experience.
It made me think of the conversations I’ve had with my old roommate who works for Homeland Security. The federal building in downtown Hartford consistently has protesters out front, and they’d yell at him as he went into the office. He had a pretty good sense of humor about it, but he also made it clear that it would be better to not get yelled at just for doing his job.
I’ve stood outside and yelled at people doing their jobs. Having the shoe on the other foot really makes me reconsider my own sense of moral righteousness in those moments. It really all is a matter of perspective, and as morally unsatisfying as that is to say out loud, I can’t help but feel that way now. If I extend the same level of thoughtfulness I have to the people I’ve protested, then no, they’re not going to willingly commit acts they know are bad. They either don’t think what they’re doing is wrong, or they don’t think about it at all. They’re just going to work, like me.
I’m not arguing for moral relativism where we all just agree to disagree and let everyone do what they do. But I do see that the same moral imperative that has motivated me against others now motivates others against me. It is what it is, even if it sucks to experience it.