Idaho’s 2014 legislative session may well be defined by protests. Gay rights advocates stepped up pressure on lawmakers to extend discrimination protections to gays, lesbians and transgender people. More than 100 people were arrested in numerous protests. Those were well choreographed and featured people standing silently, each with a hand over his or her mouth. Now, organizers are bringing this distinctive strategy to other parts of the state.
Nearly 30 people gathered in Moscow Sunday to learn from Emily Shannon how to carry on the “add the words” cause now that the legislative session has ended. Shannon is an organizer with the group Add The Four Words Idaho. She says people all over the state heard about the protests and have asked how they can get involved. So over the next few months, her group will host trainings across Idaho on their particular brand of civil disobedience. Their mantra is silent, peaceful, respectful.
“We’re not just telling people to be silent," Shannon says. "We actually have a reason, you know, we’re silent because we’ve been silenced, because lawmakers are silent.”
For the eighth-straight year lawmakers refused to hold a hearing on a bill to add the words 'sexual orientation and gender identity' to Idaho’s human rights act.
Shannon says the symbolism of silence resonates with volunteers and makes it easier for them to embrace the strategy. They may have to stay silent and still for long periods, and not engage with people who try to engage with them. Those things can be difficult. James Blakely has participated in the protests and the training that goes with them.
“A lot of [the training] is just practicing our stance, left hand over mouth," Blakely says. "And just going through a bunch of role-plays and scenarios.”
Those role-plays include scenarios like ignoring people who start shouting obscenities. Shannon tells her trainees to think about someone they love who has faced discrimination for being gay or transgendered.
“When you are holding someone in your heart who has been harmed by this it is much easier to remain silent, peaceful and respectful,” she says.
Shannon says her group has received requests for training from people in Sandpoint, Lewiston, Pocatello, Idaho Falls, Twin Falls, Coeur d’ Alene and McCall. Her group will try to get to each of them in the next few months.
Knowing how to do the protests is one thing, knowing where is now the hard part for activists. While the Legislature was in session, protests at the Capitol seemed an obvious strategy. But lawmakers have gone home. Shannon says she won’t tell the people she trains where to protest. She’ll teach them the technique and it will be up to them what to do with it.
Copyright 2014 Boise State Public Radio