I'm A Former Planned Parenthood Employee And This Is My Experience with Terrorism

Many Americans have never seen terrorism up close. I have.
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Misha Coleman
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Many Americans have never seen terrorism up close. I have.
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Lately, I've heard a lot of concerns about the possibility of admitting terrorists into the United States alongside Syrian refugees. 

In my home state, Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts has joined 30 state governors in grandstanding against granting help to these asylum seekers, playing on the fears of their constituents. 

Normally, I don't talk much about what I'm about to bring up. However, many Americans have never seen terrorism up close. I have.

I worked for Planned Parenthood for nearly five years. It wasn't until after my last day that my boyfriend expressed a certain relief that he wouldn't have to worry whether I'd be safe at work anymore. 

Until that moment, seeing things through the eyes of a concerned loved one, I had failed to notice the cumulative weight of all the moments of fear, big and small.

I suppose it started off big. Precisely two months after signing on at Planned Parenthood, Dr. George Tiller was shot as he entered his church in Wichita, Kansas, a mere 250 miles away. 

Assassinations were thankfully rare, but the presence of protesters soon became normal to me. I lost sight of the fact that it wasn't normal to feel thankful that I commute to work by bike, leaving protesters no way to dig up my personal information using my license plate number. I forgot it wasn't normal to wonder whether anyone ever tried to follow me home from work in order to convince me by any means necessary that my job was the devil's doing. 

I lost sight of how weird it was to be thankful not to have a spouse or children, lest they be stalked, harassed, even threatened by dedicated pro-lifers.

It became normal to attempt to reassure patients shaken by the dozens of men in foreboding black cassocks murmuring chants and staring from the sidewalk near the clinic. I recall joking to myself that whoever threw a Molotov cocktail at our building "couldn't hit the broad side of a barn," as if a terrorist with a bad arm were really a laughing matter. 

I can still feel the floor dropping out of my stomach as I tried to remember how to dial 911 while an irate man was physically assaulting my boss in an attempt to force his way into the clinic. I still wonder if picking up the phone was the right thing, or if I should have been at her side, pushing him out.

That, folks, is terrorism. It took me years to recognize it as such. I had internalized the way we all minimize and make excuses for domestic terrorism.

"Some glass and burn marks on the ground? Oh well, it's just some kids causing trouble...Of course what she did was wrong, but you have to understand how evil she thought abortion was...Golly, he was always such a disturbed young man...It's a horrendous tragedy, but we can't speculate on what the shooter's motivations might have been."

Planned Parenthood is far from the only target. Black churches have been burning across the South. White supremacists opened fire on Black Lives Matter protesters in Minneapolis. The Omaha Islamic Center was vandalized in both August and November. These aren't hypothetical threats. It's happening in Colorado Springs as I write this.

I mention all this because I want you to understand where I'm coming from when I tell you how profoundly dismayed I am that my fellow Nebraskans, fellow Americans, fellow humans would give in to fear so easily. That they would compromise some of the things I love best about being human — compassion, charity, equality, integrity — all because they're intimidated by a few bullies.

I'm further dismayed because it's so clear how racially motivated this fear is. The assumption is always that terrorists are not white. They wear turbans. They speak other languages. They worship other gods. 

Well, the woman who stalked my co-worker's daughter to a high school basketball game was a "good Christian woman." Dr. Tiller's murderer was white. They wore totally normal clothes and spoke wonderful English. That didn't stop them or any other domestic terrorists from using intimidation and violence in the pursuit of political aims.

I bring all this up because I want to change the way we think and talk about terrorism. Terrorism is already close to home. But we have to start actually caring about the people affected by it. 

That means caring about Muslims whose centers of worship are vandalized. It means we can't dehumanize Black Lives Matter protesters as just a bunch of rabble-rousers. It means calling domestic terrorism by its name when it happens, even though it will probably mean condemning people who look and think like you.

You already live in a society where terrorism is real. And you can handle it. 

So don't be too afraid of the Syrian refugees. The security promised to you by Governor Ricketts and others like him is false. You can't stop terrorism by keeping all immigrants out. And the price we have to pay — relinquishing the best parts of our humanity — is too steep for the rather meaningless comfort to be had by keeping out the people who need our help.

Leastways, I'm not afraid.