`Bleeding Kansas' Threatened with Bloodshed by Anti-Abortion Extremists
A place; a state of mind
Kansas: a place, a state of mind, a state of contradictions. Kansas is John Brown's liberation army and Sam Brownback's conservative crackdown. Its storied history encompasses critical pre-Civil War battles over slavery, the rise of populism and the home of the largest selling socialist newspaper in the country. One-hundred fifty years later and the state embodies a curious blend of the Religious Right's "culture wars" with Koch Brothers free-market fundamentalism, which over the past decade has produced a school board immune to scientific data, and a ruthless anti-abortion movement.
Nearly two years ago, Dr. George Tiller, who ran Women's Health Care Services in Wichita, Kansas, was gunned down while attending worship services at the Reformation Lutheran Church. Tiller was one of the few doctors who, in accordance with Kansas state law, was willing to perform late-term abortions. Tiller, whose clinic had been bombed and who already had been a shooting victim in 1993, was a long-time target of harassment and violence by the anti-abortion movement. This year, as it marks its 150th anniversary of state hood, "Bleeding Kansas," once ground zero in Free State vs. Slave State battles of the mid-19th century is now a modern-day battleground over abortion. And abortion opponents have shown that they are willing to spill blood in pursuit of their cause.
Named after the Kansas River that flows through it, which in turn was named after the indigenous Kansa Indian tribe, Kansas, settled in part by folks from Massachusetts, has gone from being has gone from being known as "Bleeding Kansas" to a bastion of Populism and women's rights, to now, a stronghold of conservatism.
Its earliest settlers seemed to have something to prove: Perhaps it was that they could withstand the unbending hardships of life on an unforgiving prairie; perhaps it was that they were forward-looking people concerned with the rights of all its country's citizens.
"Bleeding Kansas" was coined to describe the battles between anti-slavery Free-Staters and pro-slavery forces that took place in the Kansas Territory and the western frontier towns of Missouri. Eastern Kansas was an abolitionist stronghold, from where John Brown launched his anti-slavery crusade. During the Civil War, the pro-slaver Kansan, William Quantrill, led a band of "Border Ruffians" that "pillaged" and "terrorized the Kansas countryside almost entirely for profit: to rob the citizens and loot the towns," Albert Castell wrote in his book, A Frontier State at War: Kansas, 1861-1865.
Quantrill's 1863 raid on Lawrence - with more than 400 men at his side -- "cleaned out all the banks, and the taverns were drained of whiskey," and resulted in a death toll of 150. (For more on the raid see an excerpt from Gun and the Gospel: Early Kansas and Chaplain Fisher by Rev. H.D. Fisher, D.D. @ http://xroads.virginia.edu/~hyper/hns/kansas/fisher3.html.)
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, after the start of the Civil War in 1861, "two-thirds of Kansas men of military age enlisted in the Union Army, and, with nearly 8,500 dead or wounded, Kansas suffered the highest rate of casualties (in proportion to its population) of any state in the Union."
Interestingly, as a sign that not all animosities between Kansas and Missouri have healed, for years "Border War" was the name used to describe the athletic contests between the University of Kansas and the University of Missouri. A few years back, that name was changed to the less inflammatory "Border Showdown."
The Populist awakening
In the late nineteenth century, Kansas was a hotbed of Populism, "a specific movement associated with the Farmer's Alliance and the People's Party," Thomas Frank wrote in his book, What's The Matter With Kansas?: How Conservatives Won The Heart of America. Frank pointed out that tough economic times in the 1880's and `90's brought the state's farmers together "in huge meetings where homegrown troublemakers like Mary Elizabeth Lease exhorted them to `raise less corn and more hell.'"
Demanding assorted "farm programs, state ownership of railroads, a graduated income tax to pay for it all, and a silver or even a paper currency," the Populists were "damned by the respectable for their radicalism." None other than the iconic William Allen White, who is a revered figure of journalism and whose name is attached to the University of Kansas' School of Journalism, "savaged the Populists in an 1896 essay titled `What's the Matter with Kansas?'" Frank pointed out.
Viewed by many as the most radical state in the union in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Kansas became home to the newspaper "The Appeal to Reason" - a name borrowed from Thomas Paine. At the turn of the 20th century, the Girard, Kansas-based "Appeal to Reason" was the largest circulation socialist newspaper in the country. In 1900, the paper's paid readership topped 147,000, according to Howard Quint's The Forging of American Socialism. Citing the work of Quint, Tim Davenport noted in his history of "The Appeal to Reason" (http://www.haldeman-julius.org/historical-notes/the-appeal-to-rea son.html) that a special Election Day issue on November 3, 1900 appeared in a press run of 927,000, and later on some "single issue press runs reached as high as 4.1 million."
When J.A. Wayland, the publisher and founder of "Appeal to Reason," first moved to Girard, he "was thoroughly unwelcome," an "Appeal to Reason"-published history pointed out. "He and his family were ... social pariahs. His children were hooted in school and on the street. He himself was shunned. Dark clouds of suspicion, scorn, and hate hung above the Waylands. At times, personal danger even threatened."
Kansas: Land of myths, legends and myriad images
Those not of the Plains rarely think of Kansas as anything but fly-over country, or, it's the celluloid images of tornadoes, Dorothy, Toto, the yellow brick road to Oz, and the sham Wizard himself. (The state's most iconic song, "Over the Rainbow," was penned by a couple of New York City-based Jewish fellows -- Harold Arlen and E.Y. "Yip" Harburg.)
A snapshot of the state should include: Langston Hughes' poetry, Gordon Parks' photographs, Annette Benning's performances, Dwight Eisenhower's presidency, Amelia Earhart's flights. Think early film pioneers, Fatty Arbuckle and Buster Keaton, Charlie Parker's jazz, Melissa Etheridge's rock, and the athletic accomplishments of Dean Smith, Walter "The Big Train" Johnson, Barry Sanders, Wes Santee, and Kansas University's storied basketball tradition.
Think geographic center of the continental United States, and the largest sisal twine ball built by a community (Cawker City).
Think women being enfranchised before it became a national mandate. Think Susanna M. Salter, who served as mayor of Argonia, Kansas, becoming the first woman elected as mayor and the first woman elected to any political office in the U. S. Think "Appeal to Reason" and the "underground" newspapers that blossomed in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Topeka, Kansas, the state capital, was the home of the nation's landmark desegregation case, Brown v. Board of Education, and today it's the headquarters for the mad ravings of Fred "God Hates Fags" Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church clan.
These days, Kansas, home of such iconic Republican Party political figures as President Eisenhower, Alf Landon and Bob Dole, is governed by a man far more conservative than any of them, former Republican Senator Sam Brownback, who was overwhelmingly elected Governor in November.
The Wichita crusades
Wichita was once home to a thriving aircraft industry. According to Wikipedia, Clyde Cessna, Walter Beech and Bill Lear "began projects that would lead to Wichita's nickname as the Air Capital of the World. " Such corporations as Stearman, Cessna, Mooney and Beechcraft were all founded in Wichita in the late 1920s to early 1930s. While some companies remain, Wichita has fallen on economic hard times.
Since the early 1990s, Kansas has become a modern-day version of "Bleeding Kansas." No Wyatt Earp-like gun-battles in the streets, but the anti-abortion movement, centered in Wichita -- the largest city in the state and home to Koch Industries - has used disruptive, harassing, intimidating tactics, as well as murder to press its cause.
In the summer of 1991, as part of what it called the "Summer of Mercy," Operation Rescue, an anti-abortion organization known for its vigorous protests - including harassing clinic workers and patients outside abortion clinics -- conducted "a seven-week occupation of three women's clinics in Wichita," according to a historycommons.org timeline (http://www.historycommons.org/context.jsp?item=a1985scheidlersher
In May 2009, sixteen years after Dr. Tiller was shot be one anti-abortion activist, another murdered him.
Since Dr. Tiller's murder, abortion services have been unavailable in Wichita. Now, nearly two years later, a courageous doctor, Mila Means, is trying to set up a clinic that will provide similar abortion services.
In another attempt to limit choice, a lawsuit against Means has been filed by Foliage Development Inc. to prevent her from using office space that she leases from the company to perform abortions.
Ironically, Foliage Development "claimed that by offering abortions, Means would create safety issues and a public nuisance due to the daily protests by anti-abortion groups," Feminist Wire recently reported. Operation Rescue is now targeting Dr. Means; having gone so far as to put her home address on its website.
"I felt very much that the lawsuit was a tactic of the anti-abortion movement in Wichita," Means recently told MSNBC's Rachel Maddow. "Its effect has been that some realtors and properties that won't even talk to us or let us look at a property that's been open for two to three years now."
In late February, the Rachel Maddow program visited Means' current medical office in Wichita and interviewed office manager Andrea Hamil. The show's Laura Conaway reported that Hamil stated that "so many elements that mirror those in a literal war -- territory, strategy, intelligence-gathering, camaraderie, bravery and fear," are palpable. "The murder of Dr. Tiller is still very fresh in the minds of everyone here, a constant reminder of the violence at the fringe of the anti-abortion movement."
For now, the anti-abortion movement has succeeded in Wichita. Since Dr. Tiller's murder, no one has been able to take his place. Poor women in need of health care services and women in need of a safe and legal abortion have to travel hundreds of miles for services.
In January, Means received a signed letter from a person alleged to have worked with an organization called "Kansan's for Life." The letter contained this chilling passage: "thousands of people are already looking into your background, not just from Wichita, but from all over the U.S. They know your habits and your routines, they know where you shop, who your friends are, what you drive, You will be checking under your car every day because maybe today will be the day someone places explosives under it."
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