Note: Leslie Wolfgang, wife of the executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut, wrote about her children’s expereince at the Providence rally where pro-SSM protestors stormed the podium, harassed mothers and children. The following is excerpted from the FIC blog.
Note: When protestors began to yell at the kids, Leslie and several other mothers, suddenly became “mama grizzlies.”
Leslie says her family came “to show our support for traditional marriage.” It ended, she writes, “with my family having to be escorted to our minivan by the police for our own protection.” She continues:
“Having little children I tend to stand near the back of all public gatherings. Suddenly three squad cars pulled onto the grass behind me and the children. The protesters eventually gathered about 100 feet behind us. Between us and them were the 3 police cars, hastily parked. The incoming protesters gathered at the end of this grassy area near the street and, though upset that they were permitted to gather so close and interrupt our rally (Jennifer Rorback Morse was giving a talk about adoption), I thought surely they would not come any closer. I was used to CT, where the police forcefully keep each rally on their side of the capitol. Not so in rough and tumble RI.
Their chanting (“take your hate out of our state” and vulgarities I have mentally blocked) and the marching in unison started again and each time I peered in back of me (again, we were on the fringe), they were closer. . .They were angry and were trying to punish and provoke us. It worked; I was scared out of my mind. My heart raced and I tried to stay strong for the children, the speakers and other peaceful gatherers. I couldn’t understand, and still don’t, why the police and their “leaders” permitted what happened next.
My children were not completely afraid because Peter and I were with them so they knew they would be protected. But some of our children began to whimper as the protesters moved closer. It was at this point, about 30 feet away, that my children got a good look at the face of hate. I periodically looked back over my shoulder only to be treated to sneers and chants. The chanting continued and we could no longer hear the speakers. Isaac, my six year old boy, frighteningly asked me if they were going to “get us”. I told him to rest assured that the police would protect us. But oh Dear God, what was happening, I do not know, because the police did NOT protect us.
I have a stubborn streak when it comes to democracy and standing up for the right to petition the government, vote, speak, and peacefully assemble. I don’t back down from a fight, but it was at that point that I started to look for a way to exit. I gathered my bewildered and frightened children to the double stroller. Grabbed my giant purse/diaper bag and looked around. To my horror, it was at that point that the police completely failed. Our small group of pro-marriage attendees was surrounded on every side by the protesters. And, I’m not speaking “metaphorically” surrounded. I mean that they formed a tight circle with a perimeter about 3 feet from where I was standing. We could not leave. Rosie, my 3 year old, informed me at that point that she REALLY had to use the potty. It increased my urgency to find an escape.
My friends. I enjoy a good debate. I think rallies and protests are a wonderful part of the democratic process. But nobody has a right to interrupt our right to peacefully gather and petition the government.
I am so proud of Brian and the other speakers. I remember quotes from Chesterton and William Wilberforce being loudly expounded as they wrestled with the protesters at the microphone. It gave me courage.
Each speaker was shaken. I could barely see them but their voices periodically squeaked or shook. I admire their bravery greatly, and they gave some pretty excellent and inspired speeches. The children took up a game of backward duck-duck-goose and things were looking up. We were instructed to pray heartily for the protesters, remember where we came from and who we were, and not to react with violence if confronted.
I was apprehensive at the time of dismissal. How was this going to end? Rather dramatically it turns out. As Brian gave the signal to disperse, the protesters started to sing “Hey, Hey, Hey – Good bye!”. Gladly, other music was played over our sound system. The crowds were breaking up but my children were playing so sweetly with the Browns. And I wanted to make the re-connect and stay. Unfortunately for us, a small band of protesters that earlier stormed the microphone was still “hopped up” on hate. Looking for a little more action they turned to my little children. “Hey, don’t let your parents teach you to be haters.”
Sue leapt like a cougar across the grass separating the children and them. She told them to mess with a mother, if they wanted action. I jumped in right away (in my mind) and told them they were asking for trouble, and to “beat it” – poor choice of words, I know. The protesters refused to retreat and more red shirts showed up. My little Frannie and Rose kept coming to my knees, and Max to Sue’s. Did I tell you that Sue is about 6 months pregnant and had 6 children there herself? Anyway, statements such as “I’ll make your children gay” and “what about me, I used to be a boy too” were spat at us. I tried to pull Sue away because it was obviously not going to end well, and honestly, these protesters looked like they were about to pass out (remember, they had been in the sun). I exclaimed to the police that they were “attacking” my children. Which, in addition to approaching them on foot – if you accost me in front of my children, you’re attacking my children. Perhaps a poor word choice, but I was scared. Then, the one red shirt who was actually trying to convince the others to leave – turned on me and started shouting that I was a “FREAKIN LIAR!!!!!” A “LIAR” she kept yelling and pointing at me. I ran up and said, “are you going to attack me! Come and get me!” and nearly chest-bumped her companion. I think that is when the photographer for the local newspaper captured the moment for posterity. Sigh.
Things started to break up and the police stood between us and them. We asked the police to discourage the protesters from yelling to my kids that they were going to “abduct them and make them gay”, etc. In response we were told to “move our kids”. To where!?!
I was actually concerned about the long walk back to the car – we were about 5 minutes away and at one point had to walk through a train station. After re-connecting with the Browns for a few minutes we realized we should go. Sue and I decided that it would probably be unsafe for them to give us a tour of their Marriage Bus (I did see crowds around it as we were driving away). I asked for a police escort to our van. A hefty officer and a seminarian friend escorted us away from the Capitol to the street. Where, at that point, the officer saw a buddy in a car and poignantly abandoned us. So, we slowly made it back to our car with our seminarian friend. I checked the van over, as I regularly do for key marks, loaded the children, and split. I drove around the Capitol to check on the Browns, who actually had to “break down” all the sound equipment and travel on the marriage bus to their hotel. I lay in bed that night whispering prayers for them because I couldn’t get out of RI fast enough. I hope they are safe. On the way home we debriefed the children. They seem high-spirited, but I have the sort of kids that like to mull it over. They all said that was “crazy”. Yes, indeed. I expect them to talk more about it in the upcoming weeks and months. And the Lord knows, they will have something to “remember when” with the Brown children when they get older.”