19 September 2009

I was so irritated at Randall Terry.  My disgust at his technique and his use of James Pouillon’s death for his own propaganda campaign spurred me to write and post on Terry’s actions, before setting down my thoughts on the murder itself.

When I heard about the murder (or most probably read it somewhere online), I stopped in my tracks, teared up, went digging for information with a very heavy heart.  Murder is tragic, regardless of politics or passions surrounding the victim.

Searching for information on an event which is both remote and striking did help me process my sorrow.  It also deepened the sorrow and painted a limited picture of the situation.

I imagine Pouillon was the type of elderly, hard line anti-abortion protester I’ve seen many times on the sidewalks outside clinics, and not a person I would want to discuss abortion with in any form.  Usually nice folks, just not folks I agree with. I sincerely wish he and others wouldn’t hold up gruesome signs and draw such deep lines in the sand.  But this is no justification for murder.  His killer is rightly being held and presumably will be incarcerated for the murder.

Without knowing why Pouillon was targeted by Harlan Drake, it is hard to know where Pouillon’s anti-abortion stance figures into the reasons for the murder.  But it gets me thinking, following tangents that don’t specifically have to do with this particular murder, but spin off the speculation around it.

I asked myself whether someone on the pro-choice side had finally reacted in kind to the murder of abortion providers, arson, intimidation and violent rhetoric of the anti-abortion movement.  And that thought scared me.  All of the years I’ve been following or involved in women’s reproductive rights (a much broader field than just abortion), the left has never struck back in kind.  Pro-choice activists, however extreme, haven’t stalked and killed people in the anti-abortion movement, haven’t fire-bombed their offices, or harassed their co-workers, friends and family with pictures of women dead from botched, illegal abortions, in an effort to get anti-choicers to stop their activism.

I believe it’s the responsibility of (dare I say it) good citizens to engage in civil debate, and not solve their problems by, oh, for example, killing people they disagree with.  Of course, there are folks on the extremes of both right and left who can’t quite wrap their minds around that concept, but I’ve seen a lot less of it on the left.  Not none, but considerably less. 

The extreme left is not at war with society in the same way that the extreme right is.  That, again, goes back to the Frank Schaeffer post I wrote about the other day.  The aim of the left, even the extreme left, is to create a harmonious society which works to the benefit of all citizens.  It gets crazy when you look at totalitarian systems on the left (think Mao), but most of the left is not interested in tyranny, but rather pluralism, a flexible society.  The presumption is on bringing together the diverse strains, not eliminating them.  The aim of the right is… well, it takes various forms, but getting everybody on the same page – religiously, politically – looks to be at the heart of it.  The extreme right-wing, the religious far-right, proudly states their aim to remake the United States as a “Christian Nation” and not just any ol’ Christian nation either.  The adherents of this view promote a very specific type of Christianity, one in which most progressive Christians and often Catholics, have no place and are actually considered agents of Satan.

Suffice it to say that in my view the left permits a larger diversity of opinion within its vision of a good strong America, and the right prefers to see a closing of the ranks.  In the middle, the more moderate left and right simply pushes and pulls at each other, progressive America pulling us forward in response to changes in our society, conservative America pulling back in worry that changes will come too fast, too hard, too recklessly.  If politics is a spectrum, good sane policy is founded in the middle (moderates, centrists), the factions just left and right of center do their jobs of promoting change and urging caution, and the fringes on either end yammer away, usually ineffectually but occasionally stirring either critical thinking (yeah!) or crazy hysteria (boo!).

These days, to the extent the fringes of the spectrum are pretty extreme, it is much more extreme on the right hand side.

The extreme left has targeted the physical, the properties of what it doesn’t like: buildings, logging equipment, SUVs.  People have been harmed in the process, but haven’t generally been the actual target, and the extreme left generally doesn’t promote or condone murder of its opposition.  The extreme right has also targeted buildings and equipment, but have specifically advocated and sometimes practiced violence against particular people, targeting clinic doctors and escorts, and ultimately killing some of them.  Rhetoric condoning the killing of abortion doctors is an example of how this violence is sanctioned on the extreme right.  The left and right approaches (property vs. property and people) seem to me to be two different versions of reprehensible and terrible actions – but the degree to which the differ speaks to something really disturbing.  I don’t sanction the violence of the extreme left, but the violence on the extreme right scares me even more.

And back to Mr. Pouillon, a victim of his murderer. 

I don’t know if Drake killed Pouillon because he disagreed with him about abortion, or didn’t think he should hold signs up, or because Mr. Pouillon just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  What I do know is that someone is dead because his killer couldn’t figure out a better way to deal with his anger or frustration or whatever it was that drove him to pick up a gun and start firing.  And, I don’t know which is scarier – that Pouillon died because of his beliefs, or that Pouillon died as a random target of a raging man with a weapon in his hands.

I’d like to think that this kind of violence will someday be a thing of the past.  But I doubt very much that will ever be true, and certainly not in my lifetime.