I’d always pictured this sort of circus going on in some dusty one-horse Southern town, where the heat makes people go a little wild about the eyes and rigid about the heart. But this is Washington DC. You can almost hear the strains of the West Wing theme tune as you stroll up the blossom-lined boulevards. What would noble-browed Josh say about this unnerving ruckus outside the Planned Parenthood building?
By the pathway stand young men and women in fluorescent tabards. They are pro-choice walkers. They volunteer to walk people from the pavement to the door – a journey of about eight feet, but one riddled with peril. In a circle on the buildings lawn are the pro-lifers. They’re clutching rosary beads and are praying loudly for the souls of the ‘murdered babies’. Any woman wanting to enter the clinic and talk about her options has to run the gauntlet of their vehement disapproval and personal spite. Like their pro-choice adversaries, this group is mostly made up of young, white women.
Now I’ve watched my Louis Theroux and I realise things get a whole lot worse than this. I’ve heard tales of mothers handcuffing their children to women who are entering the clinic – and I’ve always thought that they couldn’t really come up with a better advert for abortion than chaining their own inbred brats to an innocent stranger. Not only is it a grotesque metaphor for the way parenthood ties you down, but it’s also a vivid reminder that some people should really not be parents. But I didn’t expect this on the liberal, democratic East Coast. Now that Obama’s in the White House the battle seems outmoded. I smile a “good-morning” at the walker but refrain from screaming “Direct your humanity towards people who are already alive” at the circle of devout Christians. I don’t want to step into the fray.
Later, in the Museum of Native Americans I come across an even more outmoded battle. There’s an interactive display about one tribe’s efforts to revive their traditional Jump Dances and Womanhood Ceremonies. One of the elderman was filmed talking about it. He describes how the local church became suspicious of their dancing and singing, and set up a loud-speaker so that every time they perform their rites the church can drown it out with religious music. “It makes me a little sad,” he said carefully. Perhaps someone should tell the tabard-wearers that back-up is needed, but that this time they should come armed with heavy implements.