By: Sarah Knight
In September I got a job fundraising for Planned Parenthood – in November, I quit. When I first got hired I could barely contain myself. I, Sarah Knight, was going to get paid to yell about my vagina. It was the ultimate fantasy. I was what you’d call a “canvasser,” a title given to the Birkenstocks that run at you with a clipboard and guilt you into donating. We have great intentions but are universally hated, which I told myself is an important part of being a fun rebellious gal. What I realized, though, is that after spending my entire life trying to be approachable, it sucks ass to be instantly hated.
I put on the pink sun-bleached tee shirt and suddenly I am Planned Parenthood. Austin may be a blueberry in a bowl of tomato soup, but this is a big ol’ red state with quite a few angry, red citizens. I didn’t work a day without being bombarded with poetry such as:
“How much an hour do you get paid to kill babies?” “My woman’s got rights, and they don’t include murder, asshole.” “I hate everything y’all stand for and I can’t wait to watch y’all rot in hell.”
I even had a few regulars.
There was the balding bloated red head I referred to as “Chip.” Chip would visit me every time I was in SoCo. He wore a polo and a Florida Gators visor. The first time he approached me, he tried to come off as a supporter, “Can you tell me more about your cause?” and then began to point down at me and declare, at a rapidly growing volume, that I was a “MURDERER!” to any poor soccer mom walking by. In the coming weeks, he would be there every Friday to, “be the voice for the slaughtered infants before I could be the voice for the devil.” One day he even brought a lawn chair. I moved corners.
“I hate everything y’all stand for and I can’t wait to watch y’all rot in hell.”
Another man would visit me on Congress. He introduced himself as “Sir”. Sir wore a manicured suit, cowboy boots, and tortoise shell wayfarers. He approached with: “This isn’t fucking health care, you’re awarding loose women, and they need to know that there are consequences to their actions.” Then he began to hand out Jehovah’s Witness pamphlets thirty feet down from me. This was our Tuesday routine. One day he grabbed my ass and followed up with, “My hand is on my body, my body, my choice right?” I moved corners.
After two months I’d had my ass grabbed three times, been handed four pamphlets on Christ, had two babies shaken in my face and been spit on once. I was allotted one response, “I’m sorry, but we’re only talking to supporters today.” I never got to whip my beliefs right back at them – instead, I had to apologize. It was sickening. I never wanted to admit that this daily abuse was too much for me. I am a feminist, dammit. This was something I believed in to my core, how could these strangers make me question myself? There were moments when I wondered if I really did support abortion, moments when I questioned the goddess that is Cecile Richards. I always came back to my beliefs once I had time to process but it terrified me that I could waver.
I always came back to my beliefs once I had time to process but it terrified me that I could waver.
I was angry at myself for being so impressionable and down right bitter for feeling fragile. Instead of projecting that anger into passion, I started to fear putting my PP tee shirt on. The anxiety had me calling in sick. It became too much and I quit. I am still ashamed that I let these people manipulate me. I let them win and it hurts. I love Planned Parenthood but I hated being a canvasser. I still love my uterus, and yours, but I need to find a way to help where I can get a little scream-y. Loving the cause and hating the job brought me to my current career path of Sexuality Education Reform – the fantasy being that I can kick, scream, educate, and de-stigmatize all sexual and reproductive rights with the supreme bonus of wearing a power suit and having the safety of my desk.
Is it okay to be a courageous coward? LMK. My (actually) courageous coworkers are still out there everyday working the corners of Austin. When you see them shake their hand and tell them you’re thankful for the work they’re doing. Stay passionate, stay angry, keep fighting the good fight, and please don’t tell my Grandpa about my old day job.
Is it okay to be a courageous coward?