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Thanks, but No Thanks

Troy’s Planned Parenthood asks supportive counterprotesters to stand down

 

The anti-abortion protesters who have appeared every Friday afternoon for a dozen years in front of Upper Hudson Planned Parenthood’s Troy site have become such a fixture around Monument Square that passersby may not have given them a second thought unless they found themselves face-to-face with a large color poster of a dismembered fetus.

It was the routine, unchallenged nature of the protests that struck an off-chord with a small group of women students from Russell Sage College as they walked by the scene one day earlier in the spring. And so a handful of these women—joined by a few other activist women from the area—started staging counterprotests at the site on Fridays in support of abortion rights. They did so for three weeks until they got a plea to stop from an unexpected source: Planned Parenthood itself.

“While we appreciate your support of Upper Hudson Planned Parenthood, we ask that you please discontinue your counter-demonstrations outside our health center,” a leaflet distributed by Planned Parenthood staff to the counterprotesters April 28 read in part (bold type in the original). “Your intentions are honorable, but your actions have contributed to the increase in hostility around our building. . . . The protesters want to intimidate our patients and discourage them from using UHPP services. Your counterdemonstrations are helping them accomplish that goal.”

Planned Parenthood has offered to meet with the counterprotesters to devise a different way for them to show their support, said Blue Carreker, a Planned Parenthood spokeswoman. Several of the women, for example, are interested in becoming patient escorts.

“We really do appreciate the fact that women are willing to stand up for reproductive rights and reproductive choice,” Carreker said. “But we need to balance that appreciation with concern for women who want to come in for medical services.”

Laurieellen Mose, a Sage student who’s also a Sage College employee, said the group will respect Planned Parenthood’s request, but finds it disappointing.

“I understand their point that it is scary to their patients going to use their services, but I feel that it’s defeating our cause—that we were here to support them and we’re not wanted,” she said.

The Sage women decided to protest on their own initiative, but Russell Sage College is supporting their decision to do so. “All our seniors take a course called ‘Women Changing the World,’ and we’re proud of them when they take that seriously and are responsible and respectful,” said Sharon Robinson, dean of Russell Sage College.

The situation became heated April 21 when the two groups merged as they circled Monument Square in front of the office building at 200 Broadway that houses Planned Parenthood and several other tenants, said group members. The groups exchanged words and waved their signs at each other, prompting the Troy police to stand by April 28 and tell protesters on both sides that they had to keep moving as long as they were carrying signs.

Troy Police Captain Paul Bouchard cited state court decisions governing the obstruction of sidewalks in preventing the protesters from standing still. Anti-abortion protester Frank Murray complied with the request, as did the others, but questioned the legal interpretation offered by Bouchard. A spokesman for the New York state attorney general’s office said that without knowing all the facts, he could not comment on Bouchard’s interpretation of court rulings.

The anti-abortion protesters are a “spontaneous, ad hoc group,” Murray said.

“We do not see the killing of any human being as the solution to any problem,” he said. As for the counterprotesters, he said, “We don’t seek conflict; we respect their right to express themselves just as we respect our right to express ourselves.”

The counterprotesters said their three-week stint made a point.

“I’m just a citizen here of the city of Troy and I’m delighted to see that there are women here protesting,” said Gerri Fitzgerald, 59, who joined the students April 28. “I’m old enough to remember when abortion was illegal, and I don’t want to see it go back.”

For the time being, it’s likely that the anti-abortion protests will continue unopposed and—if last Friday’s demonstration was typical—largely ignored by passersby. Debbie Dwyer, who works in a branch of the attorney general’s office in the same building as Planned Parenthood, watched the demonstrators during a cigarette break and recalled arriving almost a year ago for her job interview. As she prepared to get out of her parked car, she found a graphic sign of a dismembered fetus being waved outside of her car window.

“I found that in bad taste,” she said. “It freaked me out.”

Since then, she has had frequent chats with one of the anti-abortion protesters, an older man who routinely carries a statue of the Virgin Mary. They get along fine, Dwyer said, as long as they avoid the topic of the protests.

“He’s a very sweet man,” Dwyer said. “We talk every week. And we don’t talk about that.”

—Darryl McGrath


What a Week

New Jack Iraq

The Chicago Sun-Times reported this week that Iraq is getting more dangerous, but not for the expected reasons. According to their report, American gang symbols are appearing all over Iraq. Defense Department gang detective Scott Barfield says he has personally identified more than 300 American soldiers with gang affiliations from the Latin Kings to the Gangster Disciple Nation. Law enforcement agents in Chicago report having found gang members with flak jackets they say were sent to them by contacts in the military.

When Colberts Attack

During the White House Correspondents Dinner Saturday night, George W. Bush reportedly was left frowning after comedian Stephen Colbert’s act. Colbert, the featured speaker, reminded the president that his approval ratings are based in reality, and therefore he should ignore them as “reality has a well-known liberal bias.” Colbert did also get in a few shots at the press, saying he was surrounded by the liberal media except for Fox News. “Fox believes in presenting both sides of the story,” he said. “The president’s side and the vice president’s side.”

You Sure You Don’t Want Us?

One Monday, May 1, a million immigrants walked out of their jobs to protest the U.S. House of Representatives bill that would make being an undocumented immigrant or helping one a felony. Across the country, many businesses and schools simply closed. In Albany, Assemblyman Peter Rivera (D-Bronx) walked out along with 25 of his colleagues, basically shutting down the Legislature.

Number of the Beast

The Denver Post is reporting that authorities in Colorado are concerned there may be violence on June, 6, 2006. Some officials say they expect the date could trigger actions by anarchist organizations, religious groups or even terrorists. Some religious Web sites warn that “2006 AD is the year of the beast.” Others, like nationaldayof slayer.org, take a more positive approach: “The objective of this day is for everyone within earshot to understand that it is the National Day of [metal band] Slayer. National holidays in America aren’t just about celebrating; they’re about forcing it upon non-participants.”



Can We Count on Your Vote?

Albany County legislators make their voting-machine preference known

 

On April 27, after months of delay, legal action by the Department of Justice for failure to comply with the Help America Vote Act, and outcry from voter-rights groups across the state, New York State’s Board of Elections got one step closer to choosing new voting machines, and announced its standards for certifying voting machines.

Some of the new standards include ensuring that voting machines supply a paper trail for each vote and that voting-machine manufacturers must “disclose all political contributions and litigation relating to issues concerning the operation of their voting system.”

Meanwhile, some members of the Albany County Legislature have not been waiting around for the state to tell them which machines they can choose from. They have introduced legislation to ensure their voices are heard when it comes time for the county to select from the certified voting machines.

Last month, three Albany County legislators—John Frederick (District 6), Raymond Joyce (District 14), and Timothy Nichols (District 20)—introduced a bill that recommends that the Albany County Board of Elections choose optical-scan voting machines over direct-recording electronic, or touch-screen, voting machines. However, they say they have been met with some resistance and have been told by other legislators that their action is premature, as no voting machines have yet been certified by the state to choose from. At least one County Elections Commissioner also agrees.

Frederick does not. “Some feel it is premature because there is no list to select from, but that does not stop me from believing, after reading lots of articles and hearing anecdotal stories, that the DRE machines are fraught with problems,” he asserted. “The optical-scan machines are much less so.” Frederick said that optical-scan machines, although not perfect, do not rely on one single button press. “Even if an optical-scan machine has mechanical or electronic problems, you have a fail-safe, a paper trail,” said Frederick.

“The DREs, if they break down, your election is thrown into chaos. With paper ballots, they can vote all day long. It boils down to many advantages to optical and many disadvantages to DREs.” The three legislators say that DRE machines simply do not ensure that every vote is counted, because they are run on software that can easily be hacked or programmed with “Easter eggs,” malicious programming that could change the outcome of an election.

The three also note that DRE machines cannot satisfy the new voting-machine requirements because they cannot provide an uninterrupted paper trail. They warn that a voter can vote one way and the machine can show a different vote.

Nichols said there is another obvious problem with the DRE machines: cost. “I equate it to car dealers steering consumers towards more expensive cars. They are going to make the biggest profit off of an SUV that has a huge markup. Optical scan is a lot cheaper than DREs, and these companies make both models. They would like counties to purchase more expensive ones because they get more profit. These companies have very influential lobbyists representing them, doing their best to push the DREs,” said Nichols.

DREs are in fact cheaper per machine than optical scan. However, polling places would need to replace each of their machines with a DRE machine, while they would only require one optical-scan machine per location, as voters merely fill out their voting cards and do not have to wait for a machine to free up.

Frederick notes that while HAVA money may pay for new machines, maintenance costs will eventually fall to the state, and DRE machines require special maintenance training.

The resolution is currently in the county legislature’s law committee, and the three expect the legislature to consider the bill in May.

Meanwhile, Albany County legislator Shawn Morse (District 18) proposed a bill that would encourage the State Board of Elections to certify optical-scan machines. “I’m a strong supporter of optical-scan machines,” said Morse. “There is nothing more fundamental than the right to vote. The integrity of voting has to stay intact so people have faith that their vote counts. We have so many people that don’t vote. We don’t want them to think it is a flawed system, that they don’t have a say.”

Morse said he does not believe any action taken to ensure every vote is counted in New York could be called premature. “I don’t think anything is premature when it comes to voting rights. We have to ensure the system is not flawed. We have to instill confidence in the voter.”

Albany County BOE Commissioner James Clancy countered that announcing a preference for a voting machine before it is certified could actually shake voter’s confidence. “I don’t want to say I want machine A cause I think machine A is the best machine for us and then machine A does not get certified. What kind of confidence is that going to give the voters?” asked Clancy.

Morse insisted that it is important for people to have their voices heard in the voting-machine selection process, because in the end the two Board of Election commissioners from each county will get to choose which machines are used. “I don’t know if I’m a big fan of how the state did this,” he commented. “I don’t think two people should have a right to choose the machines that are going to be used.”

Frederick said he respects the independence of the county commissioners, but “would be confident that they would take our concerns into serious consideration. . . . They will do their job diligently and professionally, but I would expect them to take in concerns of elected officials.”

Whatever is decided, new voting machines will not be ready in time for the 2006 election. Nichols said he is glad the state is not rushing to meet a 2006 deadline. “We have to certify the machines, and we are supposed to test them as well. I don’t want to have them doing testing at the time of an election.” New machines reportedly will be in place in time for the 2007 elections.

Clancy said that he and fellow commissioner John Graziano will pick the best machine when he receives the final certified list, and not before then.

Said Nichols, “I will say that there are a lot of unknowns here, but as far as I’m concerned, the optical-scan are the best machines for integrity. We as a county can make that preference known now whether or not they are available to purchase. If there aren’t any certified it’s a moot point. But I don’t see that happening.”

—David King

dking@metroland.net


PHOTO: John Whipple

Digging Into Nature

Yusuf Burgess, from the Environmental Awareness Network for Diversity in Conservation, led elementary school kids from Albany in planting trees in celebration of Arbor Day. Children from Arbor Hill Elementary, Giffen Memorial and Thomas O’Brien Academy of Science and Technology planted a total of 110 seedlings around their campuses. The EANDC also awarded each school five copies of Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv.


Overheard

Overheard:

“Delaware Avenue’s haunted.”

“Delaware Avenue?”

“Yeah. Something bad happened there.”

—CDTA Route 18 bus, in the midst of a discussion of haunted houses.

 

Overheard:“Question his manhood.”

—Ralph Nader, at a press conference Tuesday supporting Alice Green, in response to a question about how Green could convince Mayor Jerry Jennings to participate in a debate.



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