Left In Lowell

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June 6, 2005

Dracut Protest Report

by at 1:56 pm.

Hi all, I’m back from the Dracut equal-rights counter rally. Sorry it took a while to post, but I had some stuff to do. I do have a few things to report.

First, for the pledge drive, the total number of minutes Phelps’ people stood in Lowell and Dracut on both days was 120 minutes, or 2 hours. They were there an hour and a half yesterday, and only a half hour today. For my final count, we got a total of about $5.05 per minute in pledges, or a total of $606.00 in funds raised for MassEqality, GLAD, and other gay rights groups. [Update: The sign had a higher number than that, mostly because some people gave flat cash donations and it had to be calculated on the fly.] Way to go guys! You are amazing. I will be emailing everyone whose information I have to remind you what you pledged. I will also post a follow-up diary at DailyKos.com.

[Update: Yay! Susan, a sign-maker and person extrordinare, has sent me a link to her two galleries with photos from both rallies.}

More is on the flip…

Now, for the events of the morning…did anyone else feel like the police and officials were a little too paranoid? It was like a police convention on the street in front of the Englesby School. Obviously, they didn’t know how many would come out on both sides (no more than 15 on their side, and that’s being generous, and I swear - it was at least 70 people on our side). But they had enough police force there to wrangle a Fenway-full mob there. I saw Lowell police, and someone else mentioned spotting Bedford uniforms! I have to wonder how many towns’ worth of police force were pulled in, if Bedford was invited.

Second, they cut off traffic on Lakeview Ave, which in my opinion, was a little much, and also prevented us from being seen by the public. But I suppose they were erring on the side of caution, even if it was unnecessary.

The pro-equal-rights crowd was amazing. High schoolers from Dracut High were abundantly in evidence, and there were quite a few parents of Englesby students. Most of us arrived long before the Phelps crowd, and got to watch as the police escorted them to their area - via the school grounds! That could have been planned better. I’m sure they were happy to march past the school’s windows, but if they were interested in not having school disrupted (and that was what they said), they certainly screwed the pooch on that one. Between the squadron of motorcycle cops, cutting off traffic, and marching the hate crowd near the school, they pretty much garnered as much attention as possible on today’s events.

A small crowd gathered across the street - I’m guessing people who work in the small businesses there. News Channel 5 had a van on site, as did NECN. The Dracut Dispatch and the Lowell Sun were also there (no article yet, here’s one from yesterday though). Here’s a web articleaccount from Channel 5. This is the part I find ridiculous:

Lakeside Avenue in Dracut was shut down while 90 police officers kept guard.

“I had SWAT on standby. I had 30 units. I had 12 to 14 mountain bike officers, plus I had a compliment of 37 of my officers,” Dracut Police Department Chief Kevin Richardson said.

30 units? 37 officers? Can we say, overzealous? Not to mention, we were not allowed to walk down the sidewalk to get in view of the street barricade. From what I remember about most loitering laws, one is allowed to protest on sidewalks so long as one keeps moving. I mentioned this to an officer but got no sympathy. I got the impression they were there to keep the whole thing as quiet and out-of-the-way as possible. One kid told me she got yelled at for stepping off the sidewalk and over the white line (of the side of the road). Considering there were no cars on the road, what was the point of that?

And here’s NECN’s broadcast (I can’t link direct to the video so you may be scrolling after a little while).

On some level, I can see the point of those who didn’t want to make a big deal of their visit - because they love just getting the opportunity to spout hate on TV. I wonder though; would they still have gotten interviewed if there were no counter-protests? It’s possible, but there would be no opposite viewpoint given. And that would be unfortunate.

Once the Phelps people were finished with their little demonstration, the police escorted them back down the middle of the empty street (so why did they have to come in via the school grounds, again?) and we all turned our back on them and sang, “na-na-na na, na-na-na na, hey hey hey, goodbye!” A little impromptu farewell to Kansas, in the hope they stay the hell away from the Lowell area from now on.

9 Responses to “Dracut Protest Report”

  1. x Says:

    I owe ya $12. Where do I send it?

  2. Susan Says:

    I do agree that escorting Phelp’s group via the school grounds somewhat defeated the purpose of the “over the top” protection. Personally, I do not believe there would have been as many police, etc. if this whole protest did not surround the essay of a 12 year-old-student and positioned in front of most of the children in town. The school complex houses the Intermediate School, High School, Jr. High School and an elementary school. Although they were escorted on the school grounds (don’t know why exactly), the shades to the Intermediate School were all pulled, so the children could not see or read the signs. Also, the children were not in those front facing glass/window classrooms. For safety purposes, they were all moved into the center of the building into the lunch room. Therefore, my theory is Phelp’s gang was escorted behind the counter-protestors (on the school grounds) as to not aggitate the counter-protestors or give them any edge. Why the escort back down the street? Got me?
    I’m sure blocking off Lakeview Ave, was not an attempt to avoid media coverage or drive by attention to the protestors or counterprotestors. I’m sure it was an attempt to further contain the area with regards to the childrens safety. If traffic was allowed to pass through and one of Phelp’s crazy followers decided to make an 80 mile an hour attempt to crash into the school building, now that would have been something to try to stop! It’s my opinion Dracut went Over the Top on protection merely as a child’s essay was targeted by Phelps and children were nearby. If you are a parent, you will understand the relief we all felt knowing our children could not let Phelps gang stop them from attending school and were safe in the process. It’s my understanding over 200 children at the school did not attend, 500 or so did, horray for them!

  3. Lynne Says:

    Yes, I can imagine that parents have all been on edge on this one. It’s totally understandable. And I suppose knowing that high school kids will be there means needing to keep an eye on them (teens can be pretty easily agitated after all, though they surprise you).

    It still seemed just a wee bit more than required even for that…

    And damn Phelps for disrupting the school day like that. Not only a waste of taxpayer money (the police and school disruption) but also disturbing these kids and their parents’ peace of mind. Of course, that’s what he lives for. That the world has such hateful fearful people, I still have not come to terms with that. I don’t think I ever will.

    Thanks for your insight on the matter, Susan.

    Hi X, you can send the money to Mass Equality if you so choose, this link will send you to their donation page. They are the coalition which has been working hard on preserving gay marriage against the state constitutional amendment, and are excellent folks. Or, feel free to choose a local gay rights group in your area, or GLAD, depending on your preference!

  4. Nio Says:

    Lowell is a great city–I used to work there.

    Great blog too.

  5. Lynne Says:

    Wow! Thanks so much. I still have so much to learn…without a jouralism background, and being a non-analysis type, I have to formulate my opinions with some tools missing, but blogging is also awfully fun (and addicting too, I might add). I see you are also addicted. :) You have some damn funny things on there!

  6. x Says:

    Lynne, I sent it to HRC. Here’s my receipt:

    On behalf of the Human Rights Campaign’s staff, board and volunteers, thank you for contributing to HRC today!

    Your generosity reflects your outstanding commitment to equality and investment in efforts to end discrimination.  We rely on the contributions of members like you to fund our important work.

    Thank you again for supporting HRC! Equality truly begins with you.

    Other ways to get involved:
    1. Join the HRC online Action Center at: http://www.hrc.org/actioncenter.
    2. Support marriage equality by signing the million for marriage petition at: http://www.millionformarriage.org/.
    3. Pledge to vote and spread the word by telling a friend. Visit http://www.hrc.org/pledgetovote.

    Member Services
    Human Rights Campaign
    1640 Rhode Island Ave., N.W.
    Washington, D.C. 20036
    1 (800) 727-4723
    e-mail:membership@hrc.org
    web site: http://www.hrc.org

    Congrats on your success. Making it a fundraiser is a very cool touch.

  7. Mariposa Says:

    Awww…. You’re more than welcome for the picture galleries. I’m happy I could help.

    This is a great post. I would just like to add a comment or two, if that’s okay.

    I agree with you, Lynne, that the police presence was a bit… over the top. There seemed to be many more officers at this rally, than the previous day in Lowell. I spoke to one officer who told me that this rally had triggered some sort of “tactical alert” and that Dracut had assistance from many surrounding towns including my own town of Townsend. (where? *g*) The officers that I had contact with were all courteous and professional.

    After the police started diverting traffic off of Lakeview, I and a few other pro-equality types walked down to the detour and stood with our signs and waved to the drivers and passersby who were mostly supportive, if not somewhat confused about what all the fuss was about.

    For me, this was the best part of the rally. I like to interact with folks. The idea of a rally is to be visible and supportive. If we’re all herded together, away from the public, it’s like preaching to the choir. We were allowed to stand at the detour for 15 minutes or so before we were asked to return to the “free speech area.”

    After the Haters left the traffic was crazy, so I passed the time with some fellow pro-equality folks in the parking lot. While we were standing there with our signs a woman approached us and asked us if we had children at the school. We told her that we did not, but that we felt it was important to be there to support the school and the students and the community. She told us that she felt that we all (meaning the Haters and counter-demonstrators) should just mind our own business.

    I understand that point, but I respectfully disagree. Yes, there is something to the argument that if we just ignore these fanatics they will go away. Except they don’t. Phelps and his group aren’t the first bunch of anti-gay bigots, and they won’t be the last. I cannot, in good conscience, stand by, in silence and allow a group like this to spread their hated and intolerance while exploiting children, in the process. I just can’t. I’m sorry if that is inconvenient to those who tried to drive through that part of Dracut today (and Lexington, and Bedford) and I’m sorry if that annoys people who think I should mind my own business. Because on this issue. I can’t.

    On second thought. I’m not sorry.

  8. stomv Says:

    Let me say that I definately line up on the side of equality, and that I was not at the event. That being said, I’m going to “devil’s advocate” against some of the points made here.

    * “And damn Phelps for disrupting the school day like that. Not only a waste of taxpayer money”

    In my opinion, peacefully protesting — regardless of how off-the-deep-end one’s cause — is never a waste of taxpayer money. Public assembly is an essential part of our democracy, and its essential that citizens make their beliefs known to socity at large in public displays. There is no better way for the government to spend money than to encourage free speech and public discourse. In this case, they kept everyone safe, to ensure people could feel free to exercise their free speech. That’s a good thing, and not a waste of taxpayers dollars.

    * As for the “excessive” police presence, here’s two additional ways to look at it: (a) better to be overprepared than underprepared. (b) it gives the police departments a chance to review their procedures related to public events, practice their assignments, and review the process to make improvements.

    Great blog, great idea, and great way to raise money. Hats off to ya.

  9. Bob Says:

    What a great idea! ($5.95/min) Should have been higher - That would have got them out sooner :) - So glad to hear you raised $606 - I wish I could have made it. Those people are sick and glad that they are gone!!

    Hats off to the Dracut Police taking the extra measure to protect our children and residence!!!! - And hats off to the 5th grader that wrote what she thought was someone she respected!!! Gay/Straight - who cares - Everyone should be equal!

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