Originally created 03/15/03

Off on wrong foot

Martha Burk said this week that the fact that the Augusta National Golf Club owns the land where she is being offered a protest site is "quite a statement."

Yes, it is. And she appears to be taking it all wrong.

It's understandable that the chairwoman of the National Council of Women's Organizations would want a site closer to the Augusta National's gates. The point is to get attention, after all.

But Richmond County Sheriff Ronnie Strength believes her requested alternative - right by the gate, on both sides of Washington Road - is unsafe. He may be right, too: That area gets enough traffic for accidents and injuries each year during the Masters tournament even without 200-plus protesters.

It's not the sheriff's job to find a better place, necessarily - but he's been trying to do just that. And forgive him for thinking that the proposed site - a 5-acre plot in front of Savannah West Apartments farther down Washington Road - is a magnanimous gesture.

It is unfortunate that the gesture was made simultaneously with the sheriff's denial of Burk's requested site, for it is the latter that seemed to dominate headlines around the country. Most news consumers were forced to go beyond the headlines to learn the rather remarkable fact that Burk's own chosen adversary - the National - would make land available for her attack on its membership policies.

Only in America.

Sadly, Ms. Burk has chosen to overlook this gesture and assume the worst. That's just unfortunate.

Worse yet is the stated position of the Rev. Jesse Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH organization, which has applied for three likely problematic protest sites at intersections near Augusta National. A spokeswoman said if a lawsuit fails in its challenge of the sheriff's action and the city's protest ordinance, "It's certainly not out of the question" that protesters would ignore the ruling and the law. In other words, Rainbow/PUSH leaves it to itself, not the courts, to determine what is unlawful and what is not.

There is still time to do this right. Let's get the egos out of the room and come up with a consensus on how the expected April 12 protests can be accommodated - safely.

Augusta officials should continue their efforts to be accommodating, and protest organizers should do their best to work within the law and within the confines of public safety.


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