Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Never Fail to Protest"

This poem is spillover from the April 5, 2016 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by prompts from [personal profile] technoshaman and [personal profile] alexseanchai. It also fills the "Idealist" square in my 4-1-16 card for the Archetypal Characters Bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by LJ user Daisiesrockalot. It belongs to the Damask thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

Warning: This poem contains intense and controversial topics. Highlight to read the spoilery warnings. It features women's health, protestors, discussion of abortion and abortion regret, past rape, past male (unplanned) pregnancy, public arguments, emotional overload, and other angst. On the bright side, conversation leads to some new ideas on how to solve the problems at hand. If these are sensitive areas for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before moving onward.

"Never Fail to Protest"


On Tuesday, I take Mallory to
the Sanger Women's Center
for her parenting class.

I'm glad that she has something
more than her lousy parents to use
for an example in child care.

Besides, having a regular entry
in her schedule helps make
her life more organized, and
right now she needs that too.

The protesters are there,
of course, someone is always
trying to pressure people into
making -- or not making --
decisions that are none
of their business.

Some of them are regulars,
while others come and go.

I recognize one of them,
a chunky middle-aged man
in a purple t-shirt with a picture
of a fetus that says, I'm human.
He holds a sign over his head
that reads, I regret my abortion.

Some people really don't
pay attention to which sign
they grab from the pile.

I ignore him and walk Mallory
down to her classroom.


It is the fight that attracts my attention
when I come out of the building after
dropping off Mallory at her class.

Well, it's not an actual fight
with fists and all, but some girl
shouting at one of the protesters,
the guy with the impossible sign.

"Knock it off, boombots!"
I say as I hurry over there
to break up the fight.

"He should keep his nose
in his own fucking business,"
the girl snarls, shaking me off.

"Yeah, well, you yelling in his face
isn't helping with that, capish?" I say.

She storms away, and I let her go.

Then I turn to make sure that
the struppiau protester isn't
bleeding on the sidewalk.

He's not, but he looks
like he's about to cry.

This is so not my problem.


The pain pulls me out,
long dark well of it spilling
heartache all over the place.

The protester is miserable.

"Hey, buddy," I say.
"You don't look so good.
Do you want to talk about it?"

"Nobody wants to talk to me,"
he says in a despondent tone.

"Well, I'm here," I point out.
"My name is ... Maisie. I go
to college here. Who're you?"

"Jaron Schlack," he says.
"I handle communications for
my church, newsletters and such."

"What's your story?" I ask.

He pours out a long ramble
about getting raped and
getting pregnant -- what
a surprise that was! --
then people pressuring him
into having an abortion.

I soak up as much of his pain
as I can, careful not to do
anything to him, just take it
out of the ambient so that
he doesn't have to stew in it.

Sometimes, that helps.

Sometimes, just listening helps,
especially people who feel like
nobody pays any attention to them.

"It's not like she said," Jaron mutters.
"I don't want to hurt anyone. I just
want people to think before they
make the kind of mistake that
can't ever be unmade."

"You feel like you didn't have
a chance to think it over properly,"
I say. "You want to give other folks
the opportunity you didn't get."

"Yeah," he says. "At least about
the abortion. That's what I regret.
I don't regret having the ovaries and
uterus taken out. I'm a man, and
those definitely didn't belong there."

"That must have been a very painful time
for you," I say. "How are you doing now?"

"Better, I guess," Jaron says. "I coped
with my situation by taking up activism.
It makes me feel a little better, even if
it's an uphill battle. I may not be able
to stop injustices like this from happening,
but I will never fail to protest them."

The sharp pain is duller now,
sinking back inside him like
a cat's claw sheathing itself.

Clement is nudging at me,
so I let him take over.


"You don't sound very happy
with your project," I say.

"Like I said, nobody listens to me,"
Jaron repeats. "I think that
I've saved a few lives, but
probably not very many."

"I'm sorry to hear that," I say.

"No you're not," he says. "Nobody
wants me here. They all tell me
to go away and stop bothering women."

"Are you going to quit just because
the women don't want you around and
some people think you're upsetting them?"

"No," Jaron growls, glaring at me.

"Then there's no point nagging you
about it," I say. "It sounds like
you really care about preventing people
from making mistakes with their bodies.
I thought that if this approach isn't
working well for you, then you might
consider trying something else."

Waving a sign around isn't doing
him or anyone else much good.
Maybe I can nudge him in
a more productive direction.

"Like what?" he asks, slumping
so that the sign slides to the grass.
"At least this way, they have to look
at me, even if they won't listen."

"Lots of people look for information
when faced with a difficult decision,"
I say. "Try thinking along those lines."

"Yeah, maybe," Jaron says, but
he doesn't look either inspired
or enthusiastic about it.

Then my vidwatch chirps. "Sorry, I
need to meet a friend after class,"
I tell him. "I'll come back if I can."


It is easier to find Mallory
among the jumble and crowd
if we are not weighed down
by other people clamoring
for attention at the same time.

So I slip into front and
navigate through the building,
always tilting awareness
away from us.

It's not much, just
a little smoke and mirrors
to smooth the way.

I find Mallory, and
we walk back outside.

"I hate protesters," she mutters.

"Well, Clement and the others
were talking to that one earlier,
and they weren't finished," I say.
"If nobody listens when people
make quiet protests, that tends
to turn a lot rougher in the end."

"Point," Mallory says grudgingly.

"You don't have to help," I say.
"You can just stand back and wait."

I don't want to argue with her,
so I slip out of the way and
let Maze take over. She's
better with people anyway.


It takes some delicate work
to make sure that Mallory
and the protester won't
suddenly pick a fight.

Jaron is wary, but at least
he doesn't back away.

"So we were talking about
your project to ensure people
have enough information to make
informed decisions," I say. "Have
you thought of any new angles?"

He shrugs. "Not really."

"You could try talking to
someone at the clinic, and
let them know that you're
available if anyone wants
to speak with someone about
abortion regrets," I suggest.

"I doubt they'd be willing
to work with a protester,"
Jaron says, shaking his head.

Mallory gives a sharp click of
her tongue and dives in with,
"Oh, just make a website. If
you title it something like
Man Regrets His Abortion,
you'll get a million hits."

"I don't know how to make
a website," Jaron says. "I don't
do the design and layout at church,
that's someone else's job. I just
write the content that they need."

"I can code," Mallory says.
"Would a website get you
off of the grass here?"

"I need people to see me ..."
Jaron says, but he's wavering.

"Think it over," I say. "Mallory's
good at what she does. I'm sure
you can work out some kind of deal."

"Would it get you off the grass
for a little while?" Mallory tries.
"Say, two weeks while I build
the site and get it active? You'd
need to give me whatever content
you want to put on it, anyway."

"Two weeks," Jaron says.
"Yeah, okay. I can do that."

"Deal," Mallory says,
and they shake on it.

"That was generous of you,"
I say as we walk away.

"Not really," she says.
"I just don't like seeing
protesters hanging around
like that. They're a pain."

"We need them to point out
when things are going wrong,
though," I say. "Otherwise
people overlook a lot more."

"Then why did you help me
get rid of him?" Mallory asks.

"Because protest is important,
but it's not always the best tool
for the job," I explain. "It's up to us
to figure out not just what's wrong
with the world, but how to fix it."

"You are such an idealist,"
Mallory says, rolling her eyes.

I realize that, even after everything
that has happened -- after what
Mindflare did to us -- that is,
somehow, still true.

* * *


Farce -- Mallory Brasher is a college girl with fair skin, hazel eyes, and straight, shaggy brown hair that sticks out at the ends. Her childhood did not include abuse, but did include maladaptive parenting, along with bullying in school. A New Year's party for supervillains ended with her getting gang-raped while passed out drunk. She got pregnant, and sought help from her nemesis Damask.
Origin: Secret experiment: After being denied entrance to graduate school, she tried to commit suicide with her roommate's pills; unbeknownst to her, those were part of an illicit lab project that left her with superpowers and a bitter appreciation of how the Universe can be a jackass.
Costume: A motley jester outfit in green and orange with a white tragicomic mask.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Theatre Major, Good (+2) Pranks, Good (+2) Party Animal, Good (+2) Computer Wizard
Poor (-2) Asthma (in particular, overusing Theatrical Voice can trigger an attack)
Powers: Expert (+4) Behold the Banana Peel of Fate! (make inconvenient and ironic things happen), Good (+2) Theatrical Voice (with Spin-Off Stunts for Disabling Shout and Convincing Delivery)
Motivation: Reveal the farcical nature of life.

Jaron Schlack -- He has fair skin and brown eyes. His short brown hair is receding, with the mustache and beard somewhat lighter. Jaron lives in Urbanburg. He often stands outside the Sanger Women's Center with a sign that reads "I regret my abortion." This is true; years ago he was raped, became pregnant, and was pressured into terminating it. That part he regrets, although he does not regret having the uterus and ovaries removed since he identifies as male.
Qualities: Good (+2) Anti-Choice Contacts, Good (+2) Church Communications Outreach, Good (+2) Determination, Good (+2) Intrapersonal Intelligence, Good (+2) Stamina
Poor (-2) Sexual Trauma

* * *

“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”
Elie Wiesel

"Never Fail to Protest" happens on Tuesday, May 13 when Mallory is 19 weeks pregnant.

is a natural and necessary part of a healthy society, but is often criminalized. Ideally, it should be done in a rational manner and considered as valid input, but if that doesn't happen, people move down the list of options until they find something that does work. Terramagne-America tends to solve problems higher up the list than local-America does. One way they achieve that is simply a higher tendency to troubleshoot, as Damask does here. There are tips for safe and effective protesting.

(Some of these links are stressful.)
Abortion is a safe and legal way to end pregnancy. Like any major decision, it has its pros and cons. People argue as to whether abortion regret is rare or common, and studies generally produce the results desired by those who commissioned them. In any case, it is real and can be agonizing; people who are pressured about their health decisions in any direction are likely to have more problems than those who are free to decide on their own. Understand how to process emotions after an abortion.

boombots – nickname for an idiot (u’ pazzo); Note: As in “Vinnie Boombots” [boom-BAATS]
-- American Italian

gabish?/capish?/gabisc’? – (do you) understand? (capisci?) [gaa-PEESH]
-- American Italian

struppiau – extremely dimwitted (stupido) [stroo-pee-YAOW]
-- American Italian

Emotional support can help upset people avoid larger problems. Know how to comfort an upset person. Unlike L-America, T-America does have advanced support for emotional trauma in hospitals. Most situations can be handled with emotional first aid, as Damask does here. T-America also teaches EFA widely, and that's a key reason why they don't have whole asylums full of whackjob supervillains. Even Mallory, who is a mess, can still manage some problem-solving.

Talking about plans can help people solve problems. I found this article and handy flow chart for medical context, but the same process generalizes well to other situations.
Tags: activism, cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, life lessons, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing
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