Publisher’s Note: Jackson Hole Untied

By on May 23, 2012

Jackson Hole, Wyo.-I love protesters, but after four days of a bizarre battle for the streets of Jackson, I need a break from their self-righteous outrage and hysterical witch hunts. You probably assume I’m talking about Operation Save America (OSA), the anti-abortion protesters with the fetus signs, and I am, but I‘m not going to complain about them here because they came to town with an opinion, and I can’t do anything about that. I was distraught, however, from what I read and witnessed from the “anti” anti-abortion folks, Jackson Hole United.

Jackson Hole United (JHU) is a grassroots group formed to peacefully combat Operation Save America while they were in town for anti-abortion protests. “Jackson Hole United is not about counter-protest, we are about anti-protest. We are about using civility, compassion and love to ignore these protesters with intentionality,” reads a Facebook statement. More than 2,000 Jackson locals joined the group, primarily on Facebook, then in the streets.

I didn’t like OSA’s graphic displays around town either. They were misleading, creepy, and the whole Christian twist was even weirder. But I was not upset they were in town, in fact I vehemently guarded their right to express themselves in any way they see fit. I believe staying out of their way and allowing them to express themselves is a duty and an honor, and it’s more important to me than my kid accidentally seeing one of their creepy posters.

Here’s what I didn’t like about JHU’s anti-protest tactics. I didn’t like what they called “human detours” which required volunteers to stand out in the main roads with signs redirecting traffic around images they didn’t want people to see. This subverts democracy/free speech and the fact that so many were comfortable with this approach was unfortunate.

Perhaps more shocking were the voluminous threads and comments on the Jackson Hole United’s Facebook page, the open platform which hosted most of the communiqués between members. Despite its ostensible policies of peace and goodwill, the collective voice quietly advocated for censorship, intimidation and limiting OSA’s access to basic rights of free speech.

Here are the general themes from Facebook page comments that emerged from group think:

– The Good Guys: Most of the 2,346 members and JHU founder Rev. Mary Erickson who led by example with rational and inspiring messages. People were happy to follow her lead. I liked what she had to say. Bless her for trying to keep Facebook civil.

– The “I’m all for the First Amendment, but …” guys: These are the people who are woefully (or willfully) unappreciative of our rights to freely express ourselves and constantly look for ways to circumvent the First Amendment. They claim progressive views but would most likely be totalitarian dictators if left in charge of a country. They are vigilantes and want to see more government involvement with free speech. They don’t have a clue about the role of a free and independent press.

For instance, some lashed out at the JH Daily because it published postage stamp-sized photos of the graphic posters on the front page. In an unbelievably bizarre rant, these people mocked the role of a newspaper and conspired to confront the Daily about its news coverage. Thankfully, NaG writer Johanna Love jumped in to defend the Daily. “The newspaper’s job is to NOT ignore things that are happening,” Love wrote. But she received little sympathy from fellow commenters.

-The Boycott and Retribution Guys: These guys popped up every now and then but were smacked down quickly. The most notable effort was directed at the Virginian who rented rooms to the OSA protesters. Some people demanded retribution, prompting the poor GM of the Virginian to actually join the group and explain that hotel policy states that they can’t discriminate against people because of their opinion. (Oh gee, really?) Others threatened retribution at the polls for Town officials who didn’t have the cojones to block OSA from Elkfest.

-The Paranoid Fear Mongers: The Fear Mongers portray the OSA protesters as terrorists, attackers or violent. They often start their posts with, “ALERT! ALERT!” or “Warning!” and they’re constantly updating via mobile devices, calling the police because they saw something suspicious, posting the whereabouts of protesters, warning people not to engage OSA protesters and generally scaring the bejeezus out of parents and kids. They probably should have just stayed at home.

-The Obsessive Stalkers: There were hundreds and hundreds of real time posts via mobile device tracking the location of OSA protesters. What can I say? Everybody loves tracking the bad guy.

-The “We must be characters in the Bible” guys: I’m not going to pick on these guys because they saw themselves as transformative figures, performing miracles in the streets of Jackson Hole. Included are comments that suddenly portrayed the OSA protesters as indigent, hungry and dehydrated lost souls. There was much debate as to whether to bring them food and water. Some felt it was the righteous thing to do while others rejected this so as not to accidentally engage or mislead them.

-The “I hope I don’t lose it” guys: The seething anger is palpable all over this page, and many take the pledge not to hurt an OSA protester. They promote the Facebook page as a place to “vent” in hopes to avoid taking it out on a real OSA protester. Others remind them to take a deep breath, count to five and imagine their zen bubbles, and stay out of jail. I’ve decided I don’t like seething anger cloaked in civility, compassion and love.

Look, I don’t think Jackson Hole is a death camp for unborn babies, nor do I care if a bunch from Kansas thinks so. I found the Operation Save America easy to ignore, and I don’t understand why the thousands of Jackson Hole United followers couldn’t just do the same. While I think JHU had great intentions, the blue T-shirts, human detours and obsessive Facebook stalking and hysteria only drew more attention to OSA’s fire and brimstone and turned our town into a circus. OSA seemed pleased with the uproar and now they’ll be back.

Despite this, Jackson Hole United claimed an overwhelming victory over OSA with their civility, compassion and love campaign. They may have been successful at diffusing a few hotheads out there, but I still have lingering questions: Will JHU pressure Town of Jackson officials into more aggressive legal action against OSA, barring them from next year’s event citing pornographic and obscene imagery? And now that Jackson Hole United has officially come together, will it end with OSA or will they target other groups they deem uncivil?

So let me end here with the words of a terrific long-time editor of an unnamed local daily who advises the occasionally irate reader with this, “I’m sorry you’re upset sir, but If you don’t like what you’re reading, turn the page.” A great metaphor for life, I say. Let’s keep this in mind for next year.

About Mary Grossman

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