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Update From the Streets of Jackson

Update From the Streets of Jackson
By Beth Lynch
August 2, 2006

Much has occurred since we arrived in Jackson for Oh Saratoga! Before it gets away from me, here are some highlights from the streets during our first two days. There are about 20 of us here, some from OSA and some from Oh!

Monday, July 31, 2006

En route from The High Place Retreat Center to our first stand at Jackson 's Women's Health Center abortion mill, the hot humid Mississippi morning gave way to a noonday cloud burst. We arrived amid peals of thunder. We unwrapped emergency ponchos and shared our umbrellas against the downpour. When the sun came out, we once again wished for the cool rain.

The mill is on a corner. The preaching and music through our sound system was in front of the clinic on the busy thoroughfare, State Street .

Sidewalk counseling is done on the side of the building on Fondren Street where a wrought iron fence separates us from the women going into the mill. We can also stand on either side of the driveway and offer brochures as the women drive in, and we can hand them information through the fence. Portable metal barricades that look somewhat like bicycle racks surround the clinic lawn in the front, and border the curb on the side street. We are to stay on the sidewalk, out of the street and off the clinic property.

Jackson police were parked across the street from the driveway on Fondren. It is a narrow street so they were very close.

Harriet, from Jackson , told women going in, “If you're pregnant you are already a mother. You'll be the mother of a dead baby if you have this abortion. Please let us help you. Come talk to us.” She admonished the men going in to “Stand up and be a man and protect your children.” She was on a first name basis with some of the staff.

One of the deathscorts was on her cell phone. Through the wrought iron fence, Jim handed her a poem he had written from an unborn baby's perspective. She read it to whomever she was talking to on her cell. She was smirking a bit, but Jim said he gave it to a young couple in California some months ago. The man read it, gave it back to Jim and said, “This is disgusting.” After a few other disparaging comments, he and the women went into the mill. Within minutes they reemerged. The man approached Jim and apologized for his behavior. “You have a right to your opinion,” he said. Instead of going back into the mill, he and the women left.

There was “Choose Life” lettering on a taxi cab that pulled into the parking lot. I was told the taxi company is prolife and displays that slogan on all of its cabs. Yet it enabled at least one woman that day to reach the Jackson Women's Clinic. The driver would do well to take note of one of our signs: “Friends don't drive friends to abortion mills.” Harriet noted the number of the cab.

We sang several Oh Saratoga! songs. Flip Benham of OSA preached as did Pastor Ed Martin, Father Francis McCloskey and Butch Berget, our host at The High Place. Fr Francis prayed that this intersection of Fondren and State Streets would become an intersection of life, love and family. Beatrice, the little retired lady from Florida , pled with women to keep and to love their babies

A blonde woman in her 40s approached the witnesses in front of the mill. She was crying. She said she lost her job today and that she was going to score some cocaine although she had been off of it for several years. She drove past the Jackson Women's Clinic and heard the preaching over the sound system. The Gospel message changed her mind. We learned that she goes to the same church as one of our witnesses so the two of them connected. Flip and others standing beside her prayed over her. Others of us came over and put our hands on those closest to us and joined in prayer. The corner of State and Fondren Streets was already becoming an intersection of life, love and family.

“You saved my life,” she said, wiping tears from her eyes.

Fr. Francis commented later that if we ever doubt that we need to come out of the upper room and into the streets, remember that woman. The incident was “a spark jumping the gap.” She represents the many others whom we do not know about but who have been helped because the Gospel was brought out the church buildings and into the streets

A most interesting character with us today was an effeminate young person named “Haley.” We could not decide if Haley was male or female, although later consensus was that he is a male in process of becoming a female. He refers to himself as female. He was dressed in knee length black shorts revealing bruises and sores on his calves indicative of drug use. He had many tattoos, one of a skull and cross bones on the back of one calf. He wore a floral design shirt. A brown visor sported a piece of leopard material and spikes in the back. There were also silver spikes and studs on his platform black sandals, and large safety pins clipped to the satchel over his shoulder. He had red scars, an inch or two long, on his upper chest just below his throat that may indicate he is a cutter – a practice among young emotionally disturbed people who cut themselves as a physical way to release emotional pain. Part of a tattoo could be seen below the scars.

His hair was jet back and hung out in straggles from under the visor. He was pale, and had a blue eyebrow tattoo. The most striking thing about him was the two silver piercings in his lower lip. Their positioning made it appear from a distance as though he had fangs. He had a vacant, flat demeanor.

At first we thought he was hired by the clinic to photograph us. This was not the case. He was there on his own. When I asked why, he said this was the most interesting thing happening in Jackson . He video taped everything including close ups of the sidewalk counselors as they spoke to women entering the mill. At one point the police stopped Haley as they drove past and Haley talked to them through the passenger window.

He seemed harmless and engaged in minimal conversation. Several of us approached him in the three hours we were there. He was quiet and gave a weak smile to our questions. He answered with a coy “thank you” when I told him he had a sweet face which in spite of the piercings and tattoos, he did. Noting the track marks on his legs, I asked “How is your health?”

“Alright, I suppose,” he responded.

John had spoken with him at intervals throughout the afternoon. As we were getting ready to leave John asked if he could pray for him. Haley consented. John put his hand on Haley's head, and Mike had his hand on John's shoulder. John's prayer for Haley was thanksgiving that Haley had spent time with us today, and that he would return tomorrow a changed person. Haley's coy smile remained.

Tuesday, Aug 1, 2006

This was a very hot day. We used umbrellas, hats, sunscreen and lots of drinking water and juice to maintain.

Haley was there in the morning, more relaxed and talking with us. We learned he left New Orleans after the flooding. He was staying with a friend in Jackson . He used to work construction, renovation and demolition. We invited him to lunch with us in the park but he did not show. A young blonde woman named Grace came looking for him later, referring to Haley as “she.” Haley had left his video camera with Grace and she was to meet him here and return it to him. He did not come back in the afternoon. But Grace stayed with us for some time, read our brochures and asked very innocent questions. She also had fled New Orleans .

The police left their post near the clinic driveway to tell Pastor Ed that the signs in front of the mill are blocking the view for traffic turning onto the busy street. Ed asked where he should move the signs. He indicated one location asking, “Is that one OK?” The officer said, “You know the difference between right and wrong.” Ed wanted to cooperate but the officer would not verify if the placement was correct. But there were no further problems in that regard with police.

Then a slim woman in heels, skirt and blouse came walking up the side street past us to the police. Two officers walked with her back down to State Street where the sound system and signs were. She said that her office is directly across the street, that she was having a meeting with clients and that the signs and the preaching were very distracting. She said she respects our rights but we should respect hers as well. “I design kitchens and baths. My clients and I have to be able to concentrate and that is difficult to do with the loud noise.”

I suggested she issue this complaint to the Jackson Women's Clinic. If it would stop doing abortions, we would go away. The woman did not see it that way and said, “I have no control over that.”

Many business communities have successfully banned from their neighborhoods businesses such as Wal-Mart, strip clubs, adult video stores. If our presence is so troublesome to this business woman or others like her, why don't they apply that strength in numbers and principle to running the abortion mills out of their cities? They do not know the power they have. This woman, who could take a pivotal role in ousting the abortion mill from her business community, instead directs her complaint at us. She totally missed the source of the problem. Get rid of the abortion business, get rid of us. But it is easier to go for us. We are visible. Abortion is not. Our sound was turned down so she could concentrate on her cupboards and counters while babies are being torn apart outside her window. And all is right with her world.

When the abortionist drove into the parking lot Butch, a white southerner and our street musician, introduced a hot button southern issue. “The clan would be happy with you,” came his message through the loud speakers. “They don't have to lynch black people anymore. You are doing their killing for them.”

A slim black man, probably in his 50s, escorted women from the parking lot to the walkway of the mill. He wore a T-shirt that read, “Security.” The sidewalk counselors confronted him about his line of work. He said he knew all about killing from having fought in Vietnam . He had several angry responses to the counselors before disclosing, “When I was a kid my mother had to hide me under the bed to keep me from getting castrated.” Butch said he probably has many horrible memories of what happened in the south in those days, and suggested this could be a reason he is working for a killing center. “You hate white people,” he said.

The sidewalk counselors were busy talking to men and women going into the clinic, distributing literature about the truth of abortion. Roy McMillan is a local witness. Roy rushed cars on the side street so aggressively it looked almost like he would get hit. “Please, ma'am, may I have a word with you?” he said in that thick southern drawl. For those who stopped and rolled down their window he gave them literature. To those walking into the clinic, he'd say loudly, “Flee that wicked place, ma'am! They don't want to help you in there! All they want is to take your money!”

In the afternoon we were joined by the “anarchists” we had been warned about from OSA's experience in Jackson ten days before. At that time, an anarchist threatened the life of a prolifer sitting in his car, and smashed the car windows with PVC pipe. The Jackson police stood by watching and did nothing. Some of these anarchists wore dark bandanas around their faces like terrorist masks, and there was a bomb threat in the park that week.

The ones who approached us this morning were not violent but intrusive and disrespectful as they tried to intimidate us. There were four young men, all with tattoos and dark clothing. A heavy set woman was with them. Her t- shirt read, “I Carry No Cash.” She invited us to give our testimonies then laughed and made sarcastic comments for doing so.

At first this group was only verbally challenging. They stood in close proximity to us as we continued to hand out literature to women. They mocked us and our belief in Jesus. They asked for proof of this Truth of ours then laughed at any attempt of explanation. They argued the tired slogan of “a woman's right to choose what to do with her body.” The Bible means nothing to them. One of the men said, “Yeah, I used to believe in fairy tales, too. ‘And the Little Mermaid got her voice back from the wicked sea witch …'” They all laughed. The woman commented, “One good thing about our generation is that we cut on ourselves instead of infringing on the rights of others.”

But in the afternoon they were more aggressive. They sauntered toward us, all walking in step, unsmiling with gaunt vacant expressions. They positioned themselves against each of the sidewalk counselors like they were on a basketball court. They were within a foot of our counselors and opened their arms to block the literature they tried to hand to women like a basketball player would try to block the ball.

One especially threatening looking man in a dirty gray t- shirt and black shorts followed little Beatrice around like a zombie. He was well over six feet tall and very thin. Bea is in her 60s and is about five feet tall, and is a bit stooped due to a spinal curvature. To see this angry, young man hovering over her was outrageous. It looked like a ghastly demon was stalking the most vulnerable among us. When she tried to hand out literature he blocked her, bumped into her, putting his hands on her.

The police officer sitting in his vehicle across from the driveway got out of his car and walked directly to this man telling him he is not to touch her or anyone. That is considered assault. The man opened his arms in a gesture of innocence. I did not hear what he told the police officer. The officer then took Bea aside and said he had given the man a warning. If he touches her again, she can press charges. Bea said she would do that. The anarchist stayed with us until the end of the day but there was no further physical contact.

The same man followed one of our male sidewalk counselors as he walked up and down the fence line. He yelled at the counselor for talking to women about not killing their babies. “Stop yelling at them. This is hard enough. You're making it worse!” He said he has seen enough women who have abortions to know it is difficult and they don't need us in their faces. Like the business woman across the street, he does not see that the problem is not with us, it is with abortion.

Another anarchist stayed very close to Nancy , another retired Floridian. After hearing Nancy speak to a woman driving into the parking lot, he accused Nancy of cussing at her. “You called her a bitch because she wouldn't take your brochures,” he said. “I heard you.” Nancy was stunned and denied it. “I didn't say that. I don't talk like that!” The father of lies was working the crowd today.

The heavy woman was particularly vulgar in her sexual references and comments about children. When she argued that a woman has a right to do what she wants with her body, she was asked if the baby has rights. She said, “Yeah, a baby has rights after it's born, after it's able to kick and bite and spit and sh-t and all those things I can wait another 30 years for.” She became very animated while talking about taking the abortion pills. This woman is in emotional and spiritual pain. She yelled about it to a physician who was with us, saying “I don't need to talk no physician!” The young woman walked away momentarily then came back to challenge us further on our own past transgressions and our outreach to ministries other than prolife. She too was displaced by Katrina and carries many scars.

We hope that what the anarchists heard from us about Jesus planted a seed that will one day take root in them. The best advice I heard given to them is what a local preacher told the young woman. He said, “Some day you are going to be tired of living like you do, and you won't be able to get out of it, not without God's help.”

They do not see now the harm they are doing to themselves.