Don't scrap with abortion protesters, group advises
Town barber arrested in protests last year urges people to ‘stay calm.’
By Emma Breysse, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
May 16, 2012
Members of a grassroots group urged the community at a Monday night forum to avoid and ignore anti-abortion protestors this week.
Jackson Hole United, a 2-week-old group formed in response to Operation Save America’s plan to return to ElkFest with gruesome protest signs, gathered about 50 community members at the Center for the Arts. The evening’s goal was to get Jackson residents on the same page when it comes to a strategy for avoiding confrontations with protestors.
The anti-abortion group arrives today and plans to remain in town until Sunday. Protests featuring signs with images of bloody fetuses are planned for locations around Jackson, including Town Square and the West Broadway office of Dr. Brent Blue, who Operation Save America claims is the only abortion provider in Wyoming.
Jackson Hole United members are urging locals to refuse to be drawn into debates or confrontations during the protests.
“Each of you can be the face of this community,” said Cliff Kirkpatrick, a co-organizer of the Boy Scout Antler Auction portion of ElkFest. “You have the opportunity to present this community the way we know it really is.”
Kirkpatrick spoke Monday night as a Boy Scout representative and also as one of the founders of Jackson Hole United.
Last year’s visit from Operation Save America was marked by high emotions and the potential for violent confrontation. The tension produced by protestors’ graphic signs and no-compromise rhetoric, and local reactions to the protestors, led the town to obtain an injunction barring protesters from Town Square during the antler auction. The Wyoming Supreme Court recently ruled the injunction violated the Operation Save America’s First Amendment free-speech rights.
The affair led one protest leader to label Jackson the “most hateful” town in his experience.
Last year’s incidents included the arrest of Mike Randall, a local barber and nonprofit leader, who hit a protestor’s sign with his car. Randall spoke at Monday’s forum, urging Jackson residents to avoid his mistake.
Clad in a sweatshirt reading “Stay Calm,” Randall said he learned last year that anger doesn’t do any good and that when he lost his temper he fell into a “trap.”
“Not all of us did this a year ago,” he said, gesturing toward his shirt. “I learned that a PT cruiser will not outrun a police cruiser and that it doesn’t matter if you cut the chief of police’s hair. If you do something stupid, you will go to jail.”
Randall landed in jail last May facing charges of destruction of property when he drove his car into a protestor’s sign. He said the experience taught him the value of Jackson Hole United’s message of “Civility, Compassion, Love” and “Ignoring with Intentionality.”
Group members also spoke about plans the group has for Operation Save America’s visit.
Jackson Hole United’s strategy is to not engage with protestors. The group will instead try to detour drivers away from protests and warn visitors they are approaching anti-abortion signs.
While the group has distributed signs, buttons and T-shirts with the “Civility, Compassion, Love” motto, Kirkpatrick asked community members to leave the signs behind during ElkFest.
“If you’re there waving signs, it becomes a counter-protest, and we don’t want that,” he said. “We’re an anti-protest, not a counterprotest.”
Instead, Kirkpatrick and Jackson Hole United invited people to come to ElkFest wearing buttons and T-shirts, but otherwise prepared to participate in ElkFest the way they normally would.
Two Jackson Hole United members who are counselors offered tips during the forum on how people can prepare themselves and their children to manage their feelings about the protests.
During a question-and-comment period at the conclusion of the Monday event, the mood ranged from resignation to bewilderment and anger.
“How can the law uphold something like this?” one audience member asked of the recent Supreme Court decision. Other attendees equated the images with pornography and expressed surprise that there wasn’t a legal remedy to keep protestors away from ElkFest.
Leaders called on Paul Hayden, the pastor at Presbyterian Church of Jackson Hole, to respond to questions about Operation Save America’s intentions.
Hayden said he and other religious leaders in Jackson met with representatives from the anti-abortion group in an attempt to compromise. He said the local leaders explained various churches’ efforts to counsel and assist women facing unplanned pregnancies to give them options to abortion.
“They rejected us and our work,” he said. “They basically said, ‘We don’t care about you. We care about us and our agenda.’”
Operation Save America representatives seem to consider civility an ineffective strategy because civil methods haven’t put an end to abortion, Hayden said.
Social worker Keith Mader said that philosophy is at the heart of why Jackson residents should keep their cool this weekend.
“Do not take [their activities] personally,” he said. “What the protestors are doing is about them and their issues. It has nothing to do with you. It has nothing to do with us.”