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Sniper rifles and naked baby photos
Throughout October, a group of protesters mounted a pro-life demonstration at the Womenservices abortion clinic here in Buffalo, NY. I'd pass them anytime I traversed the city's northeast side on Main St., and the prospect of a counterdemonstration nagged at me for days.
I don't have anything against people mucking around outside a clinic. As long as they don't go contradicting themselves by firebombing the place, protesters are protected in their right to express their stance in public zones. And as much as the abortion argument--which hinges on whether conception or birth demarcates the beginning of life--continues to inspire both sides, it's pretty damn useless to shout noise at the opposing side.
After all, the idea that birth marks the beginning of life removes the male from the role of creator by nine months. This distancing of power is as much of a theft of control to pro-life men and their subservient womenfolk as the theft of a pregnant woman's right to choice. No amount of rational argumentation or street-corner sermonizing can make someone within a power structure willingly give up control, wherever it manifests. As a result, the dispute stagnates in its un-resolvability. And everyone just keeps shouting.
But Buffalo is too critical a battlefield in the War on Fetuses to not do anything. This city boasts a newsworthily volatile Life-Vs-Choice historiscape. In 1992, Mayor Jimmy Griffin invited Operation Rescue, a prolife organization, to Buffalo to harangue area clinics. "If they can close down one abortion mill," Griffin had said to reporters--no, really--"they've done their job." A thousand protesters showed up, with over 600 arrests occurring in the ensuing chaos--a period lovingly reminisced upon as the Spring of Life. Fortunately, they didn't do their job--outnumbered by counterdemonstrators, they left town two weeks later. Buffalo ain't Wichita.
And it wasn't ten years ago that Barnett Slepian, one of the few abortion-providing doctors in Buffalo at the time, was sniped in his home by the appallingly inconsistent "pro-lifer" James Kopp. To celebrate, 250 pro-killing-in-some-cases-but-not-in-others demonstrators reconvened in the city the following spring. The resultant demonstration rapidly escalated into a hostile mish-mashing of religious hate platforms, with sub-protests against homosexuality, feminism, and public education sprouting up around the city. Protesters even utilized their freedom of expression to contest freedom of expression itself, as captured in an April 1999 Village Voice piece:
"Once outside the [Barnes & Noble] bookstore, a few dozen Operation Rescuers unfurl a 'Boycott Barnes & Noble' banner and--unaccountably, given that the action is against child pornography--haul out the standard fetus pictures. Meanwhile, David Lackey, who's been jailed 17 times for demonstrating, preaches from the highway divider outside the strip mall, waving photocopied examples of child pornography. Though the store stocks little of the material that Lackey finds objectionable (books of photography by Jock Sturges, David Hamilton, and Sally Mann), he holds his own copy [emphasis added] of Mann's Immediate Family so he can easily demonstrate its pornographic nature to passersby. Save the throng of reporters, however, there are none."
This year's protest was not quite as glamorous. It consisted of a few dozen suburbanites, taking turns waving "Life is God's Choice" placards until about 9pm each day. They even had an old blind guy man the post on a few exceptionally cold evenings. I wanted to ignore them until they went away, but I found myself inadvertently planning out anonymous pranks and subtle maladies in my head each time I'd pass. Halloween was coming up, after all, and I hadn't properly celebrated in years.
God One, Constitution Zip
I was passively concocting a trick for the pro-sniper bunch when news of the Phelps settlement broke.
Fred Phelps is a controversial figure who defies blue state liberals' ability to holistically categorize religious botards as pro-war. Actually, Phelps' position on the war is unclear, but he and his organization, the Westboro Baptist Church, stage protests at the funerals of American soldiers who have lost their lives in Iraq. Their goal is to remind America that God is punishing our troops because, of course, the United States embraces homosexuality. The group notoriously waves signs with slogans like "Thank God for Dead Soldiers," and "Fags Die, God Laughs."
Largely in response, President Bush signed the Respect for America's Fallen Heroes Act in 2006, which prohibits protests within 500 feet of cemeteries within an hour of a soldier's funeral. And on October 31 this year, Phelps was forced to pay an $11M award to the family of a Marine at whose funeral the group had protested.
Phelps' unsightly argument suffers from several lacunae. First of all, America doesn't embrace homosexuals; it fucking hates them. After the momentary penetration of "Will and Grace" /" Queer Eye" unstraightness into pop culture started a few years back, America responded with near-unanimous support for a deluge of anti-gay legislation. During 2004, for example, fourteen states moved to ban same-sex marriage, and as much as the media may have made a fuss about it, a huge majority of Americans supported it.
Secondly, Phelps is so clearly haunted by hidden homosexual inclinations that his tragic, pulsating repression emanates to anyone who has ever double-taken the man's ferociously homophobic platform. Fortunately, Phelps' constitutional jouncing-about will inevitably lead him to the one place that can alleviate his fixation: Prison, or as we all know it: Gayrape Agonytown, USA.
The most common reaction is to regard Phelps as a lunatic. People just tend to write him off as a sick, cruel bastard, pointing out that, while war may be unfortunate, it is unavoidable, and everyone knows that God supports our troops. He's on our side. No one in their right mind would ever speak ill of an American Hero, right? But it takes a bit of selective cognizance to ignore the "God Hates Fags" position. God--as far as anyone can really tell--is a sick, cruel bastard himself. I mean, if he can just go gallivanting around, inventing wars here and waging famine on infants there…then why can't he be a gay-basher like everyone else?
Regardless, this is a case where you have to assume the most absurd, frontier interpretation of the Christian religion to be the most likely, and accept it anyway. And, alternately, this is where you assume that the most absurd, frontier interpretation of the First Amendment is also as plausible, and start warming up to wacko advocacy groups like the WBC.
No matter how distasteful or deplorable someone's message might be, they still have a right proclaim it. Representative Barney Frank (D-MA), who along with Ron Paul (R-TX) and David Wu (D-OR) opposed the Fallen Heroes Act, summed it up best in a Washington Times interview: "It's true that when you defend civil liberties you are typically defending people who do obnoxious things... You play into their hand when you let them provoke you into overdoing it."
Phelps is right; this is free speech. You signed up for it. Everyone signed up for it. This is what it entails, reductio ad absurdum, right? So let's get used to it. Or else let's get out the red pen.
A botched civil liberties science experiment
Hypothesis: Bird poop sucks.
Materials: 10 lb. Bird seed.
At 2:30am on Sunday, October 28, I rounded up a few friends to help me with this experiment. As we gathered around my car in a cold Buffalo parking lot, I popped the trunk to reveal a ten pound package of bird seed. I then filled three large plastic groceries bags evenly with the seeds and distributed them to my cohorts.
We pulled up to the curb and filed out of the vehicle when we got to the clinic on Main St. As we began to walk southward on towards the Tri Main Center, we sliced our bags open. Once the seed was liberally scattered about the sidewalk, we ducked into a bar across the street for a drink.
Unfortunately, the experiment didn't quite fuel the merciless shit storm I had imagined. When I returned the next day, the protesters were still gathered in front of the building, smilingly sedate. There were white splotches here and there, but no mayhem, no people running and screaming in the street. I cursed and shook my fist furiously at no one in particular.
But I am happy, looking back, that I'd participated to some extent in the madness. Freedom of Expression protects anti-abortion protesters. The WBC tried to push the envelope when they protested soldiers' funerals. And I was prepared to push it too.
What, can't someone express themselves through bird shit? It's sort of like paint.
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