Initiatives canvassers report harassment

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Jeanette Pidanick (with microphone) speaks at an oil and gas protest in Thornton in May while Maria Orms (far right) listens.
Joel Dyer | Boulder Weekly

Canvassers collecting signatures to guarantee two initiatives impacting oil and gas regulations make it on the November ballot claim they have been harassed while circulating petitions in public places. Both volunteer and paid signature-gatherers for Initiatives #75 (local control) and #78 (2,500-foot setbacks) have been canvassing at public parks, ice-cream socials, in front of community centers and other public spaces throughout the state.

A press release from Yes for Health and Safety over Fracking reports incidences in Windsor, Greeley, Steamboat Springs, Loveland, Thornton, Denver and Boulder. It says canvassers have been followed by cars, petition signers have been intimidated to cross out their names and opponents have posted threats on social media.

Maria Orms and Jeanette Pidanick, co-captains for the petition drive in Adams County, have both experienced increased harassment in recent days.

Both were with a group of canvassers outside the Broomfield Community Center on Monday night where there was an Extraction Oil and Gas, LLC community meeting going on inside. Orms says a woman drove up in a hurry and told them, “Do me a favor and give them a whole story. Don’t just give them half the information.” She then preceded to stop everyone gathering signatures for Initiatives 75 and 78 until she had a chance to talk to potential signers and hand out opposing information.

“This woman, who was passing out flyers for oil and gas, she was trying to prevent a man from signing,” Pidanick adds. “She was very aggressive and literally he couldn’t sign because she was really close to them … He got through his first name but then he stopped.”

Pidanick asked the woman to stop harassing the citizen and as they stood there debating, he was able to finish signing the petition.

“This hasn’t just happened to us but it’s happening to other volunteers by people holding signs or verbally harassing them or trying to intimidate people as they are getting a signature or are in the middle of signing,” Pidanick says. “I knew it was going on, but [this week] was the first time I had ever witnessed it and I stopped it.”

Pidanick says she’s also been accused of lying while collecting signatures outside other community meetings with oil and gas companies. One man yelled at her while taking her photo before someone pulled him away and made him walk inside.

“I’ve been at public places where they take your photo, they take video of you,” Pidanick says. “Just real aggressive intimidation tactics, and now they are at a point where they are physically trying to block signatures and it has to stop.”

Orms says in other incidences, managers of buildings or organizers at public events in parks have talked to her about complaints. The police have been called several times when their group has been out canvassing, although they never do anything other than stand and watch them.

“Every single place we go, the first tactic is to ask us to leave and then the second tactic is to try and tell us they have an ordinance or something that says we can’t be there,” Orms says. “And we just have to keep saying, ‘No, sorry, we’re going to be here.’ … We have to tell them that we do have the right to be here and we have to stand our ground.”

Although this is Pidanick’s first time canvassing for a cause, Orms has walked around registering voters before and says she was never harassed this way. Additionally, she’s talked with people circulating petitions for other constitutional amendments such as the State Minimum Wage and Medical Aid in Dying, and they haven’t experienced the same level of scrutiny.

“They tell me they don’t get any harassment at all,” she says. “They don’t get the police called on them.”

As the Aug. 8 deadline for signatures draws near, Pidanick is worried the harassment will only increase.

“It’s growing and it’s getting more intense, and quite frankly I’m afraid someone is going to get hurt,” Pidanick says. “This is our right, this is part of our democracy and they’re trying to block that.”