Can I sidewalk counsel people on their way to…?

I got an idea from Katha Pollitt on Twitter – she’s making suggestions for sidewalk counseling. Like:

Can i sidewalk counsel women on their way to Mormon temple? Stay away from that sexist place where 12 year old boys have more power than you.

Let’s play.

Can I sidewalk counsel people on their way to a yoga place? Hey, don’t go in there, you can’t twist yourself into a pretzel like that!

Can I sidewalk counsel people on their way to a rock concert? Stay away from that place, you’ll damage your hearing!

Can I sidewalk counsel people on their way to get a haircut? Don’t waste your money in there, get a friend to cut it for you!

Can I sidewalk counsel people on their way to a basketball game? Go home, those people are way taller than you!

Can i sidewalk counsel people on their way into McDonalds? ARE YOU KIDDING, you don’t want to eat that shit!

Your turn.


  1. Kevin Kehres says

    Can I sidewalk counsel people on their way into Catholic mass? Don’t eat that cracker — it’s made of HUMAN (sorta kinda if you truly believe and clap real hard so Tinkerbell will live…or something).

  2. culuriel says

    Can I sidewalk counsel outside the Playboy Mansion? Don’t go in there, those guys don’t care about your great personality!

  3. seraphymcrash says

    Unfortunately the answer to most of these is yes. Of course you can, and probably no one will stop you. Which is how it should be, because there isn’t a history of people denying access, harrassing, and committing violence against people trying to go to McDonalds or yoga.

    If the only thing that was happening outside of these clinics was calm councilling, this ruling wouldn’t be so horrible. I still think it is massively inappropriate to council complete strangers on any medical choice, but it doesn’t need a buffer zone mandated by law. What actually happens outside those clinics absolutely does demand a buffer zone.

    And of course, the supreme court buffer zone is the height of hypocrisy.

  4. Kevin Kehres says

    I think that clinic escorts need to be carrying video cameras at all times, aimed not at the clients, but at the “counselors”.

    But here’s another one. Probably the ultimate one.

    Can I sidewalk counsel sidewalk counselors outside of women’s clinics? Don’t be a scumbag asshole and leave the women alone!

  5. Kevin Kehres says

    Can I sidewalk counsel people going into the Burzynski Clinic? It’s a SCAM!

  6. says

    Can I sidewalk counsel people going into a church?? They’re going to be exposed to immoral concepts like collective guilt, second-party punishment (scapegoating), and arbitrary authoritarianism!

  7. badgersdaughter says

    Can I sidewalk counsel people going into a Brazilian restaurant? Man, you’re going to hurt yourself in there.

    Can I sidewalk counsel people getting on a plane? Um, just kidding, NSA.

  8. MyaR says

    Can I sidewalk counsel men going to the urologist? Don’t go in there, viagra is against everything natural and sacred in this world!

    I feel that’s a much better parallel, since most men aren’t (well, maybe they are) going to the urologist for viagra, same as most women aren’t going to PP for an abortion.

    Some of these, though, people might should maybe do.

  9. screechymonkey says

    I’m probably making the mistake of taking a playful post too seriously, but it feels like there’s supposed to be a point being made by the satire, and I think I’m either missing it or I just don’t agree with it.

    As seraphymcrash says @4, the answer to all these things is “yes,” at least legally speaking — and that’s what I assume the question “can” means. If you think the Massachusetts case was wrongly decided, it’s because you think that abortion “counseling” is different from all these other things because the history and context justifies the very mild restriction at issue. Or you have a radically different view of the First Amendment and centuries of case law.

    “Should” you do these things? Would you be a jerk for doing these things? I find pretty much all sidewalk counselors/petition-gatherers/donation-solicitors/protestors to be at least mildly annoying, even when I agree with their cause, but so what? People do all sorts of things that annoy me.

    But what the “abortion counselors” do is much worse than any of the examples you’re giving. It reads to me like you’re trivializing the issue, though I know that can’t be your intent.

  10. Bruce Martin says

    I don’t see it as trivializing the issue, #10. I see it as holding a bad policy up to ridicule by imagining applying it in other contexts.

  11. screechymonkey says

    janiceintoronto@11, perhaps so, but on Twitter Ophelia seems to be saying that there’s a point behind it. So at the risk of overanalyzing the joke (and not having my Penn Jillette-approved degree in Comedy Studies), I’m going to respond to:

    Bruce Martin @13, I’m not seeing how that works:

    (1) the “policy” does, in fact, apply in other contexts. You can do all of the things Ophelia describes if you want. The Supreme Court didn’t create a special rule for abortion counselors; if anything, they did the opposite, rejecting the state’s special rule against them.

    (2) Where’s the ridicule? I mean, yes, Ophelia’s suggestions are silly, but I don’t see how that exposes the abortion counselors to ridicule. (Though they richly deserve to be ridiculed.) Just because a particular mode of expression can be used to express silly points of view doesn’t mean that all views expressed in that mode are silly. It just reminds me of the people who dismiss the entire blogosphere, or all of Twitter, just because some people use it to blog or tweet about “what they had for breakfast this morning.”

    Sure, you can “sidewalk counsel” people about silly things like Ophelia’s suggestions, but you can also “sidewalk counsel” them about serious and important things like “that business you’re about to patronize uses sweatshop labor (or discriminates against this group, etc. etc.).” And people do those kinds of sidewalk counseling all the time. Not to mention, I don’t think the problem with abortion counselors is that they’re silly — the problem is that they’re targeting emotionally vulnerable people at their most vulnerable moments, and that’s nothing like making silly comments to people on their way to a basketball game.

  12. karmacat says

    Good counseling is about listening to the client. These abortion clinic “counselors” just want to tell women what to do. Maybe someone can come up with a list of side effects from this kind of “counseling.” It include anxiety, anger, frustration, feeling judged, not being listened to, buzzing in the ears, wondering why these people are not as worried about children living in poverty

  13. anat says

    The Rude Pundit’s response: You Wanna Keep Harassing Women at Clinics? Then Let’s Play.

    From there:

    Now, we can argue over whether or not the idea of “buffer zones” violates the First Amendment and if they are ever right, whether at clinics or conventions or the miles you have to stand away from the Supreme Court, but one thing we can perhaps agree on: If this is the motherfucking law of the land now, what’s good for the motherfuckin’ goose is good for the motherfuckin’ gander.

    So let’s get out there, every goddamn Sunday, and head to the churches that send their lunatic Jesus-fellaters out to try to shut down Planned Parenthoods, and stand on their sidewalks, just like the one up there outside St. Mary’s in Grafton, and let’s make churchgoing a living fuckin’ hell for ’em. Let’s bodily block the access to the walkways that lead to the church. Let’s bring signs that have pictures of women who were killed by illegal abortions. Let’s go up to them and try to convince them to convert or go atheist, following them until we are on church property and have to stop. Let’s block the street by walking back and forth in the crosswalk. Let’s force the churchgoers to need escorts to even get inside.

    Shit, let’s plaster the telephone poles with photos of the priests and church leaders, their addresses, their phone numbers. Let’s tell them as they pass, “We know where you live.” Let’s film everyone going into the church and post those on a website. Hey, it’s a public fuckin’ sidewalk, man. Let’s scream at them about how they’re terrible people, how they support raping children, how they have given money to help silence victims. Can’t you hear their silent screams? Can’t you? Fuck, yeah.

    Going to church is a choice, no? Let’s make sure they regret that fuckin’ choice, however legal it may be for them to make it. Then let’s see how quickly they’re begging for buffer zones.

  14. Amy! says

    I’m pretty much in agreement with @4, @10, @14.

    A more appropriate comparison? Perhaps. “Can I sidewalk counsel women going to rape centers?” Except that the RWNJs would prolly think handing out bible verses on woman’s submission and Levitical punishments for promiscuity would be appropriate.

    “Can I sidewalk counsel the homeless going into shelter?” Again, the RWNJs would likely approve, but again, the critical piece here is that these are people with little to no power, doing something that is, in our society, shameful. It’s legal; it’s also despicable. Comparable?

    “Can I sidewalk counsel those entering a military recruiting center?” Here, the supporters of the decision might hesitate, but this is less comparable … there’s no shame. Where I grew up, the courts often offered teenage hooligans a deal: enlist or go to jail (serve time either way) (it was in a period when recruitment was at a historic low). But still, not really comparable, is it?

    A part of the problem is that the self-righteous can’t really imagine themselves in a situation in which they could be shamed or intimidated out of doing something that is legal, but looked at askance by a significant segment of society. So as a campaign, I think that this one is liable only to feed the sense of justification of the defenders of the decision.

    And I can’t come up with an example of a behavior, protest against which would cause those people to say “no, you must not ever shame or intimidate me when I am doing this thing!” If, for every example produced in this thread, the folks who believe in using shame and intimidation as tools of social control answer “Yes! Of course!” then you aren’t undermining them, and may, in fact, be indirectly supporting them.

  15. Blanche Quizno says

    Pliny, I was working my way down to the bottom to post just that comic of yours! Glad you beat me to it!! It’s freakin’ BRILL!!

    I don’t see why the “sidewalk counselors” can’t hold up a sign reading: “IF YOU WOULD LIKE COUNSELING ABOUT YOUR OPTIONS, COME TALK TO ME” and then wait quietly.

    Heck, they can even open a “PREGNANCY HELP: THE SIDEWALK COUNSELOR IS *IN*” booth like Lucy Van Pelt in the old Peanuts comic strip – without charging the 5 cent fee!

  16. johnthedrunkard says

    Rachel Maddow pointed out last week that the Supreme Court has a buffer zone. You CAN’T ‘counsel’ or protest within a large area near the building.

    Certainly picketing, preferably with disgusting pictures and loud chanting, SHOULD be initiated on the sidewalks of any church that sponsors anti-abortion stalking.

  17. says

    Kevin Kehres #5

    Can I sidewalk counsel sidewalk counselors outside of women’s clinics?

    Seriously, that sounds like a great idea. That’s exactly what we need; a wall of sidewalk-counselor counselors, taking up all the time and attention of the assholes and making it impossible for them to get a word in.

    If I didn’t have an ocean in the way, I’d sign up for that. Sounds like a genuinely good, productive idea. It’s not as if they can really complain about what you’re doing without undermining their own position.

  18. seraphymcrash says

    Well, I certainly understand the need for a light hearted joke in the face of this depressing mess.

    How about: Can I sidewalk counsel side abortion clinic sidewalk counselors? I would like to quitely and politely explain to them how inappropriate their actions are, and how the choices of the people going into the clinic have nothing to do with them. Maybe I could print up a few pamphlets: “When to shut the hell up”, and “How to tell when you are giant bloated bag of hot wind”.

  19. seraphymcrash says

    Apparently I missed the fact that people have already been this clever and much earlier than me…

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