If the name Reiley Baker sounds familiar, it might be because one of her viral videos promoting pro-choice activism showed up on your TikTok ‘For You’ Page. You might be one of her over 460,000 followers, or even in her environmental studies or public policy classes.
Baker, also known as @loveurmother, came across Charlotte for Choice, an independent abortion clinic, on TikTok in July 2020. Soon after, she began serving alongside other volunteers as a clinic defender and patient escort.
As a clinic defender, Baker advocates for patient comfort by directing patients to the correct parking lot and drowning out the noise of anti-abortion protesters. Baker said escorts deal directly with patients, using large rainbow umbrellas to shield them from being exposed to protesters as they walk the patients safely into the clinic.
Baker volunteers at the clinic several times per week, and uses TikTok to document her experiences and interactions with anti-abortion protesters.
“It goes a long way because people don't know sometimes that this stuff happens to this extent, like how extreme it is,” Baker said. “Through TikTok we've gotten so much support and so many donations to our organization and other people to get involved in their area.”
Emma Lamberson, a student studying economics, is one of the volunteers who learned about Charlotte for Choice through TikTok. Lamberson – or rather, @mantisshrimplvr – also uses the platform to promote pro-choice activism to her over 150,000 followers.
Both Baker and Lamberson have encountered hateful comments and even death threats for their activism. Lamberson has an interesting response strategy to cope with negativity – when she receives a negative comment on TikTok, she creates a video reply and discusses something related to the popular band One Direction.
Baker and Lamberson also worked on the Gen Z For Change campaign, a TikTok campaign that worked to elect President Joe Biden.
“We got to meet so many celebrities, and we got to work alongside Biden’s campaign, and that was really, really cool,” Lamberson said. “I wouldn’t have been able to do that if I didn’t have a platform to talk.”
Baker and Lamberson both said their social media activism has led to positive interactions, including clinic patients thanking them for their support.
The subject of activism is rife with questions about the First Amendment and which types of expression are protected.
Brooks Fuller is a media law professor at Elon University who wrote a dissertation on protected and unprotected expression and conducted his research at abortion clinics.
What makes threatening speech acceptable or unacceptable, he said, is whether it's perceived as hyperbole.
This was something Baker experienced up close and personal when the Charlotte for Choice clinic received a bomb threat the week of Jan. 30. The building and surrounding area were swept by law enforcement, and patients were evacuated. It ended up being a false alarm.
Fuller said it doesn’t matter if a threat like this is credible or not – the fact that it causes mental anguish and emotional stress is enough to render it unprotected speech.
Part of Baker’s and Lamberson’s volunteer work consists of confronting anti-abortion protesters who attempt to discourage patients from entering the clinic. Baker said sometimes they do this by drowning the protesters out with kazoos, recorders or cowbell, a tactic Fuller said is protected by the First Amendment.
“The idea of counter protest is as integral to the First Amendment as the idea of protest,” Fuller said.
In terms of advice to students wanting to get involved in activism, Fuller recommended having a means to document anything that happens. He said this information can be powerful in case anything happens to anyone involved.
“The line between unprotected violent speech and fully protected political speech is notoriously murky,” Fuller said. “There’s a long tradition in the country and across the world of political speech being shrouded in violent imagery and violent language.”
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