By Amelia Hogan, Community Organizer
I’m a Community Organizer for NARAL Pro-Choice Washington. I love my job. It makes the world a better place and I see my direct contribution to that effort every day when I go to work. It’s quantifiable as well as profoundly human. I go to a door, and often the person I meet chooses to trust me enough to give me money; to invite me inside; to gift me food or drink; or to tell me their story.
Over the course of a year my coworkers and I travel throughout Seattle and its suburbs; the Eastside; over the mountains, across to the islands; up to Bellingham and down to Auburn; and of course Olympia. We drive, ferry, bus, camp, sleep on floors or in strangers’ spare rooms, bike, climb, scramble and, of course, walk: around 16,000 steps each day. (Other suggested methods of transportation have included giant prehistoric sloth, horseback, waterskis, genetically modified XL corgi, and pterodactyl.)
We knock on every door in a neighborhood, catching people at their homes and asking them for money to keep abortion safe and accessible in our state. We do this in the rain, hail and snow, the sunshine, and at any temperature; I’ve worn a skirt, tank top and sandals to work just as often as I’ve worn tights under long johns under pants, with my trusty fleece socks and 4 or so sweaters under my down jacket. It’s quite possible that someday I’ll knock on your door and ask you for money for abortion rights.
Aside from the fundraising, which all of us, as supporters of nonprofits, understand the value of, one of the most important parts of my job is education. Every night I get to tell about 30 people about issues that will affect them or someone they love — and I tell them what they can do about it.
Even after people make it clear that they are unable or unwilling to donate to me, I make sure to at least outline the issue for them; whether fake pregnancy clinics are lying to women about their reproductive choices or Catholic-run hospitals are banning birth control from local hospitals, they should know.
But education isn’t the best part. My personal favorite part of the job is hearing people’s stories. I’m a stranger, and I will probably never see them again; so many people have burdens they don’t feel like they can share with anyone who knows them, so they choose to trust me. Still more people want to impress upon my fellow Millennials and myself the horrors that happened before Roe v. Wade.
A woman in her 60s reminisced about other girls in her high school being sent to “homes” for a few mysterious months, and how she swore to herself that would never happen to her. Then, when she was 17, it did and she had an illegal abortion in 1969.
A soccer mom in a suburb told me about the child she gave up for adoption when she was 15 — a story she could only tell because her husband and kids were gone.
A married woman in West Seattle with 2 young boys spoke to me openly about her abortion at age 14. If she hadn’t done that, “Where would I be now?” she asked me.
A grandmother of a special needs child in Renton said she wondered what would become of him when his family passed away, if it wouldn’t have been kinder to spare him his painful life. “No one should have to do this without choosing it,” she told me.
A husband and wife who were packing up their Lake Washington home to move to an assisted living facility cried as she recounted becoming pregnant (within this same marriage) in 1967 while using an IUD. She experienced severe postpartum depression with her first 2 children and knew she couldn’t have a third and still care for her family. She was denied an abortion by a psychiatrist who told her she would always regret it, but then suffered a late-term miscarriage from complications with the IUD.
A great-grandfather in Burien told me how he supported his daughter through the decision whether or not to have an abortion (she chose not to) and broke down as he told me how he was doing the same for his granddaughter now, who had just become pregnant with her second child. “I told them both, I said, ‘It doesn’t matter what I think, it doesn’t matter what anybody thinks. It’s your body and only you get to decide what to do with it.’” He repeated this as he looked at his great-granddaughter and it was clear he was grateful that both she and her mother were the product of a choice.
These stories remind me of the importance of my work, but so do the more cheerful experiences I have — and there are far more of these. In Shoreline one day, the door was answered by a Jesuit priest in cowled black robes, with a massive white beard and an ornate wooden crucifix around his neck. After I said “abortion rights” there was an awkward pause. “As you can see… we don’t do that here,” he said. We both giggled, and I thanked him for this time.
A man in a Lake Union houseboat invited me in, made me green tea, and told me about his organizing for Obama. I was given a candy cane off of a Christmas tree in Auburn, and fresh-baked cookies in Eastlake. People of all creeds invite me indoors from the cold or the rain or the sun for a glass of water or the use of their bathroom.
I get thanked for doing my job multiple times every day. Two young girls in Issaquah sang me a song they learned at “peace camp” while their dad wrote me a check. When he came back he explained to them that I was fighting for what I believed in and that they should take me as an example in life.
A young family in a large, modern, many-windowed house all donated to NARAL— including their 6-year-old daughter, from her piggy bank. I wrote her a special thank-you acknowledging the awesomeness of our matching glittery pink sneakers.
An old man in Queen Anne gave me a copy of a children’s book he had written and illustrated.
And once, an elderly woman in Mount Vernon told me how she lost her virginity on a hilltop during lunch break and returned to class with her blouse inside out. “If you make it to 19,” she said with pride, “you’re gonna be alright.”
This slightly odd, rather abrupt way of connecting with people is described by Amanda Palmer in her TED Talk “The Art of Asking.” She calls the phenomenon “random closeness”and urges people to enjoy it. She recounts her days working as a living statue on the street: “I had the most profound encounters with people, especially lonely people who looked like they hadn’t talked to anyone in weeks. And we would get this beautiful moment of prolonged eye contact being allowed in a city street, and we would sort of fall in love a little bit, and my eyes would say, thank you, I see you. And their eyes would say, nobody ever sees me, thank you.” I’ve found relying on strangers, asking them to fulfill my needs, to be genuine and humbling experiences.
I have a coworker who speaks about us as “ambassadors of human connection”— a phrase she applied to our work during her field interview. On her first day simply observing the job she recognized the other important contributions we choose to make that are unrelated to abortion rights entirely. She takes time on her shift to speak to people she can see are lonely and teaches our trainees to treat these people kindly. We hand people packages on their doorsteps, and let them know when they left their headlights on in their driveway. We herd the cats that dart between their legs and retrieve the dogs who wander off of porches after bringing us their toys to admire. We try to earn the trust they give us.
So all I can say is thank you for giving of yourselves. Thank you for inviting me into your home, allowing me to play with your beautiful dog or make faces at your kids. Thank you for letting me walk through your garden, and admire your seashells, or your hilarious array of broken childrens toys, or your magnificent bright purple front door. Thank you for rehydrating me and replenishing my energy, and thank you for making this job what it is. Most of all thank you for giving to our vital cause and ensuring we can keep doing this job. Every check, every dollar, every rattling pocket of “social change” keeps us on the road all over the state, doing our part to keep abortion safe, legal and accessible. Thank you for trusting me.