The Supreme Court made a unanimous decision on June 26, 2014, that there should be no buffer zone around abortion clinics. Effectively, this means that protesters can get right into the faces of women and their partners or other accompaniers as they go about their constitutionally guaranteed right to exercise their reproductive freedom. This decision is based on the First Amendment, so these poor protesters do not have their freedom of speech curtailed. Courts have of course seen cause to place limits on freedom of speech in many instances. For example, you cannot call your ex-boyfriend or girlfriend and leave 200 messages on their voicemail without receiving charges of harassment. You cannot make terroristic threats or threats against the life of the President. The justices should have been able to see the logic of giving people space when a known group of protesters with a history of rabid harassment and physical harassment asks to be able to get into close physical proximity of people they intend to harass. For goodness sake, they impose a 100 foot buffer zone around the Supreme Court building. However, the Court feigned ignorance, and issued this blatantly egregious decision.
Therefore, it is incumbent upon liberals to take this newfound freedom and put it to good use. There are scores of locations where we could be exercising our freedom of speech by getting into the faces of employees, customers, and executives of businesses, corporations, and organizations that pollute, exploit, discriminate, or otherwise undermine our society. For example, we can create pamphlets with stories of swindled homeowners who have had their mortgages foreclosed under shady circumstances. Pepper these pamphlets with pictures of now-homeless families in front of their foreclosed homes. Next, we can start campaigns to take turns in front of the big banks that were responsible for the subprime mortgage rip offs, handing out pamphlets to customers and employers. Remember, we can follow them closely as they walk into the bank, right up to the door, talking to them the whole time about how their choice to do business at these banks contributes to the huge government bailouts that already happened and are likely to occur again according to experts.
What about churches? The Catholic Church sends people to harass women going into Planned Parenthood. Why not go to the church and get into the faces of people to ask why they support a sordid institution that continues to stall in cooperating with law enforcement in prosecuting priests who sexually abuse youth? Create pamphlets that discuss the consequences of sex abuse on young people, both in the short term and in the long term.
The Koch brothers sell a lot of products in stores. Protesters could briefly station themselves outside grocery stores with literature about all of the ways the Koch brothers businesses harm the environment, giving people a list of products to avoid such as Georgia-Pacific paper products. Remember, you do not have to keep your distance. Freedom of speech allows you to walk right alongside people, talking to or shouting at them as they try to go about their business trying to walk into the store. This also works for Wal-Mart or other low-wage businesses. Stand outside on the sidewalk with signs and literature telling people that by shopping there they are contributing to the lowering of wages for the whole country.
This is a new right, so we have to use our imagination and remember to find out the parameters of our freedom. Sidewalks and other public locations are the only limitations to the harassment zone. Worried about backlash to your cause? Anti-choice protesters never seem to worry about that. They are convinced their methods work. Maybe they do. Maybe it is worth an experiment to test the waters and see if this “in-your-face” method of protesting has results after all?
Deborah is a former social work professor who taught social policy, mental health policy, and human diversity. Proud to be called liberal, she happily pays her taxes after being raised in a home that needed long-term welfare. Contrary to the opinion of many, she is living proof that government investment in children leads them out of poverty having received services from Head Start to Pell Grants. Deborah works with low-income, first generation, and disabled college students who are at high-risk for dropping out of college in a program designed to help them graduate. She lives with her husband, stepson, and an aging cat.