Over the past few weeks, Lawrence students crossing College Avenue have run the risk of being bombarded with grotesque images of “bloody and dismembered fetuses, with harsh slogans comparing Planned Parenthood to the Holocaust,” according to sophomore Dalton McLaughlin who participated in a recent counter-protest. The group that has organized this anti-abortion campaign has also been active outside of Appleton East High School, targeting children.
Young people trying to go about their everyday lives and furthering their education at institutions which are in no way related to what is being demonized should be able to trust that they will not have a run-in with a stranger bearing a megaphone and graphic signs that may be emotionally disturbing. By showing up without warning on high school and college campuses to “protest” something unrelated to the work of these schools and by subjecting students to graphic and disturbing images, this anti-abortion group has disrespected students’ right to learn, work and live without interference —not to mention their right to privacy.
A video recently posted on Youtube shows Lawrence students outside of the Mudd Library interacting with an anti-abortion protestor. This video was recorded on a hidden camera and posted without permission. A second video on YouTube shows Appleton East High School students on Appleton East High School property interacting with the same anti-abortion protestor. This video was also recorded and posted without consent.
These tactics are inappropriate and unethical. Protests can be effective forms of free speech and even necessary for societal change. The Lawrentian does not discourage protests, or even necessarily protests against abortion. However, these incidents are not protests: they are harassment.
By uploading these immoral videos online, these so-called protestors are not just amplifying their cause; they are identifying the faces, locations and beliefs of the students they interact with and then vilifying them. This critical identification could potentially incite violence and shows a complete lack of respect for the well-being of the students who are just trying to get to class without being harassed.
As McLaughlin asserts, respect is an important consideration that protestors cannot overlook. “I saw these signs and these protestors as a disruption of Lawrence peace,” he said. “And if they are going to disturb the peace on campus during sensitive and stressful times, I think that shows very little respect for Lawrence students, their space and their ideas.”
During incidents at Lawrence, students have been able to band together to counter-protest, or at least to inform other students about the event so they can choose to stay away from the area, by posting in Facebook groups and through word of mouth. At high schools, it is more difficult for students to avoid and warn others of these encounters. These students may also feel more physically threatened by these incidences, as people not affiliated with the high school are not supposed to or expected to be there, while Lawrence is a campus open to the public.
Really, it’s simple: don’t try to advance your potentially hurtful and triggering agenda in a place where it is impossible for people to avoid you.
There are appropriate times and places to protest. If you wish to protest publicly, find a place that is truly public and do not directly target students and children at school. We don’t protest on your doorstep, so don’t harass us on ours.