A UCSB alumna claims she was verbally assaulted yesterday as she placed wire hangers on campus for an abortion demonstration that criticized the Pro-Life views of U.S. Senate candidate Carly Fiorina.
Alumna Taylor O’Connor, a student organizer of Pro-Choice Students for Boxer, said the hangers were meant to symbolize the back-alley abortions performed illegally prior to Roe v. Wade and denounce Fiorina’s politics. According to O’Connor, she and her husband Neal Wyglie were installing hangers in the Arbor around 10 a.m. when a passerby began insulting her and destroyed 50 of the 200 hangers they had tied up.
At first, O’Connor said, it was a traumatic experience — she was initially caught off guard when the passerby approached her and proceeded to destroy the hangers she was placing in trees.
“This guy just comes ripping through and starts angrily tearing [the hangers] down,” O’Connor said.
The assailant told O’Connor that her actions were disgusting and accused her of several offenses, including abandoning property.
“He was completely wrong,” O’Connor said. “[He is guilty of] assault or destroying our property. He just bent [the hangers] and folded them up and twisted them,” O’Connor said. “I was kind of freaked out but there was nothing I could do. … He says, ‘you can’t do this’ and grabs more and starts twisting them in my face.”
The Campus Democrats, who were tabling in the Arbor at the time, notified two police officers of the incident. O’Connor said authorities asked the man to leave and threatened to arrest him if he returned.
“[They] called over these two cops and said this guy is really scaring us and is really not acting rationally or at all in a way people should act in public,” she said.
Miranda Peterson, a Pro-Choice Students for Boxer campaign member, said the man was stopped before he caused more damage.
“Police had to remove him from the premises and tell him he could not come back,” she said.
Furthermore, O’Connor said several onlookers came to her aid and told the assaulter that O’Connor was exercising her freedom of expression. Another bystander helped collect the scattered hangers.
“A few strangers came up and said, ‘This is her right, this is free speech,’” O’Connor said.
Despite the protest she witnessed, O’Connor said the wire hanger demonstration was a success.
“It went really well, a lot of positive reactions,” she said. “Several people came up and said we were doing a great job and it was a good way to get out the message. It was all really positive after that.”
As of press time, the UC Police Dept. was not available for comment.
This just goes to show that such distasteful, incendiary political theater is an invitation for controversy. Of course, Ms. O’Connell is perfectly within her rights to place wire hangers around campus, but she has to understand the potentially angry response that abortion opponents may have. Personally, I support a woman’s right to choose, but even I think that placing wire hangers on trees is slightly offensive. At the very least, I doubt these tactics of Pro-Choice Students for Boxer will help Senator Boxer in her reelection bid. Instead, yesterday’s controversy will distract attention from Barbara Boxer.
Is this more distasteful or incendiary than showing large posters of fetuses, putting the names and addresses of doctors who perform abortions on websites with the pictures in a gunsight or target? Regardless of anyone’s position on a woman’s right to choose, assault is not justified. The anti-abortion groups have made a practice for the past two decades of stretching the boundaries of free speech—firebombing clinics, chaining themselves across the entrance of full service woman’s health clinics, following patients home—-in this context putting up hangers to remind us all of the times before Roe v. Wade seems tame at best.
Crying fire in a crowded building is “incendiary”; practicing constitutionally guaranteed speech is not — at least to stable, rational humans. Civic (and civil) discourse is an essential feature of our Republic and its current bumpy road is in large part the consequence of such outrageous affront to what is clearly a First Amendment Right, affirmed many times since 1789. Perhaps unfortunate it was not escalated to a physical level and, thereby, converting the behavior from civil to criminal status.