Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Summer a Success!
By Michelle Colón
President, Jackson Area NOW Chapter
Photo by Melody Drnach
NOW activist Tyffine Jones and Jackson Area NOW President Michelle Colón protest on the steps of the Mississippi Capitol.
Jackson, Miss., was the place to be in July when Operation "Oppress" America targeted the Jackson's Women Health Organization, pledging to close the last clinic in the state. NOW activists' goal: to fight back and support the efforts of the only abortion provider in the state, to protect patients and staff, and to keep the clinic open. Members of Operation Save America, formerly known as Operation Rescue, are right-wing zealots who use a nationwide network of churches to organize actions against clinics where abortions are provided and to harass doctors and patients who are visiting the clinics for a variety of services.
Mississippi NOW members, staff from Miss. ACLU, and reproductive rights supporters who form the Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Coalition, organized "Reproductive Freedom Summer: Providing a Peaceful Presence '06." The coalition scheduled events for the community to show support for the clinic, the staff, and most importantly, the courageous patients. Mississippi NOW activists engaged the community through various outreach strategies— highlighting to the community the critical importance of the clinic, which is the last option for women who want to obtain a safe, legal abortion in the state.
"Our message was simple: fanatical groups and their hateful messages will not intimidate the women or the reproductive rights community in Mississippi," said Melody Drnach, NOW's Action Vice President. "The anti-women, anti-abortion activists may choose not to have an abortion, may choose not to have sex, may choose not to use birth control. But these are individual decisions, personal choices, and it is not their right to deny other women these options," said Drnach.
More than 300 pro-choice activists attended the kick-off rally, and the majority of participants were native Mississippians. Speakers delivering rousing remarks included Nancy Kohsin-Kintigh with the Feminist Majority Foundation and NOW President Kim Gandy, who delivered the keynote. Shortly after Gandy finished speaking, the police notified participants that a suspicious package had been located and that it might be a bomb. The announcement occurred ten minutes after the arrival of Flip Benham, the leader of Operation Save America. Forced to leave the park by the police, NOW leaders, in true style, continued their efforts by simply turning the rally into a protest march around the nearby Governor's Mansion occupied by Governor Haley Barbour, former chair of the Republican National Committee
The week continued as Operation Save America protesters attempted to disrupt services at two local churches, destroyed and burned pages of the Qu'ran (the Islamic holy book) on the steps of the state Capitol, and destroyed a gay pride flag at a local church.
"We denounce the use of intimidation, violence, and fear—the mechanics of intolerance and hatred. These tactics are not in line with the definitions of freedom or democracy," said Drnach. "We strongly believe that engaging in peaceful dialogue with the people of Mississippi is the most effective way to guarantee the rights of all residents."
Mississippi NOW leaders declared the week a success. More women and men in Mississippi now know that emergency contraception is available and where they can access it, and the community was able to witness the divisive and destructive tactics utilized by Operation Save America to incite hate, violence and intolerance. Additionally, the connections made between diverse group of organizers and activists, who came together to outnumber Operation Save America protesters, is another measure of success. We also built a network with key strategies to prepare for any future legislative battle regarding reproductive health care.
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