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People Issue 2016: Jason Garcia, the guardian

Jason Garcia stands watch over Planned Parenthood patients.

Jason Garcia stands watch over Planned Parenthood patients.

The City Pages People Issue celebrates ordinary folks who do extraordinary things. Though their triumphs are rarely acknowledged, they make the Twin Cities a better place.

Every day of the year, sun or snow, protesters assemble outside Planned Parenthood's Vandalia Street center in St. Paul. The spectacle is easy to ignore when it's just one guy shaking a sign about kingdom come. When they come in flocks, scream-reading out of the Bible as if the word of God were some savage insult, Jason Garcia shoulders up to intervene.

Garcia is a towering, 41-year-old bear of a man. It's why the anti-abortion protesters don't get as aggressive with him as they do with other volunteers who escort women from their cars to the clinic.

He's had his fair share of harassment, like being told that he should be protecting women instead of helping Planned Parenthood hurt them. Or that he's been feminized by the media, and that his parents would be ashamed of him. But it's nothing compared to what patients endure on the most stressful days of their lives.

"I'm good at reminding myself that I'm here for the patients," Garcia says. "I'm not here for the people who yell at me."

Last spring, about 2,000 protesters descended on Vandalia Street bearing Bibles and photoshopped placards of brutalized fetuses for their annual Good Friday rally. Garcia attended the counter-rally with his 15-year-old son and a friend who was a longtime volunteer at the clinic.

It was surreal. Garcia had grown up in a religious family. "But seeing the way that got turned on its head, and having people shout condemnations while reading the Bible at you, was very strange to me," he reflects.

The following summer, when the Center for Medical Progress released a series of undercover videos showing Planned Parenthood doctors describing the process of retrieving fetal tissue for scientific research, incensed Republicans vowed to defund abortion in America. It seemed as if every time Garcia turned on the radio, pundits demonized the clinic. Even after the videos were debunked, presidential candidate Carly Fiorina claimed that Planned Parenthood was "butchering babies for their body parts."

He'd had enough. He had an able body and a smile and a willingness to stand outside for several hours at a time to shield patients from abuse, so he volunteered.

"There's really nothing exceptional about me being here," he says.

In November, after a gunman killed three and injured nine people at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado, Garcia received frantic messages from friends telling him he was a hero for volunteering. "And it's like 'No, that's not it. Anybody can go outside, say hi to people, and smile.'"

Click here to read the rest of our People Issue 2016 profiles.