On March 23rd, 2010, the Westboro Baptist Church went to the South Carolina State House to protest something or another they disapproved of. They were met by a counter protest of love, by a group who call themselves the Pastafarians. The Pastafarians outnumbered the haters fifty to one, holding signs of love, peace and tolerance.
In July of 2010, the Westboro Church decided to picket the Comic-Con gathering, in San Diego. The Comic-Con people were ready, and showed up in the hundreds to counter-protest with signs of love, hope and humor. It was obvious that the WBC people were shocked to find themselves face to face with Jedi’s, Trekkies, Robots and assorted animal costumes. The nerds were the victor.
In November of 2008, the town of Silverton, Oregon, elected a transgender mayor. Representing the hate-filled Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) were four people holding signs that stated their disdain for Obama, gays, military and pretty much anyone unfortunate to look at the sign. On the other side of the street were hundreds of Silverton residents, old and young alike, including a group of local men who were wearing skirts and boots to show their solidarity for the new mayor.
According to one news report, one of the counter-protestor signs read,
‘My Love Is Bigger Than Your Hate.’
I think of the most important distinctions concerning these counter-protests is that they weren’t communities coming out AGAINST the WBC, but instead, they were gathering IN SUPPORT OF those individuals or groups that were being attacked.
When my friend sent me the news article about the Silverton, Oregon rally, and it mentioned the men in skirts and boots, I assumed these were gay or transgender men, standing up for their own. I found out they were, in fact, straight farmers, cowboys and working men who were making a stand that intolerance was no longer welcome in their town.
That made me really stop and think about what was happening.
In Missouri, when WBC planned on protesting the funeral of a man killed in Iraq, the residents took this as a call to action. They took up all the available parking, got between the family and the protestors and held up giant American flags to block any view of what was happening. In West Virginia, the amount of people who showed up to support the victims of a mining accident, who were being protested by the WBC, sent the WBC packing within minutes.
If you go onto YouTube and type in Counter Protests Westboro Baptist Church, you will see video after video of amazing people who have come together to show that love is stronger than hate. It’s heartwarming to see entire high schools gathering to support a few Jewish students, communities rallying around gay citizens and groups of veterans attending military funerals to provide a buffer between haters and families in mourning.
One group, called the Patriot Guard Riders, is a group of veterans who offer a shield between the family mourning the loss of their loved one and those protestors who lack any sort of respect toward what is happening that day. Their website makes it very clear what their goal is: “We don’t care what you ride or if you ride, what your political views are, or whether you’re a hawk or a dove. It is not a requirement that you be a veteran. It doesn’t matter where you’re from or what your income is; you don’t even have to ride. The only prerequisite is Respect.”
I read that another, similar group of bikers, is planning on being in Tucson on Thursday. You see, the Westboro Baptist Church has announced they will be protesting the funeral of the little girl who was recently killed. The group of bikers who are coming to offer a shield for the family is called the Phoenix Motorcycle Rider Group.
I also read that a group of singers, musicians, choirs and churches were planning on gathering around the protestors to help ‘sing them down.’ Another third group is planning ‘angel action’, creating 8-by-10 foot angel wings to be worn my volunteers, to act as a barrier between the protestors and the family, an idea that has been used successfully in the past. I also heard that Tucson businesses are putting up the funds to help build these ‘wings’.
Hundreds of people have agreed to come help give the family the respect they deserve as they bury their little girl and tens of thousands more have shown their support online.
What I am finding the most fascinating art of all of this, is that there has been not one mention of race, political party or beliefs from any of these groups. No one is asking what color this little girl was, if she was a legal citizen, if she was a Christian or a Jew or an Atheist. No one is wondering who her parents voted for, if they belong to the Tea Party, are Independents or even vote at all. All everyone is concerned about is how can we help this family get the respect they deserve.
When the WBC protested in Chicago, Jason Connell decided to try something new. He started collecting money for all those groups that were being targeted by the WBC. Instead of ignoring them, or shouting back, he decided to use their presence to bring attention to those they attack. He raised contributions (in the name of the WBC) for the Human Rights Campaign, the International AIDS Campaign and the Jerusalem Open House.
Another town decided to hold a Love Bake near the WBC protest site. They sold hundreds of dollars in baked goods to support the very group that was being attacked.
I was telling these stories to a friend today. I was talking about how these biker groups require you only have respect for the dead, how the angel wing wearers, the choirs made up of different churches and all those who will gather holding flags will only be focused on providing the same thing, respect for the family.
Then I told her that I had just heard, on NPR, that the Democrats and the Republicans of Arizona had come together to enact emergency legislation that would create rules concerning funeral protesting. The state that is considered one of the most divided politically, able to come together for one little girl and her family, that is a big deal in my state.
And my friend said, “What are you saying? That the Westboro Baptist Church is actually a blessing?”
And I thought about that for a bit.
I thought about the cowboys willing to wear skirts and boots, yet probably never really thought about or felt too comfortable with a gay person before that day. I thought about the bikers who are made up of those who have fought overseas and those who would go to jail rather than ever raise a gun at another human being. I thought about the church choirs of different religious affiliations, the angel wing wearers who won’t be asking for each other to prove they are legal citizens, or wondering if they even believe in angels, or god for that matter.
I thought about the thousands of citizens around the country who have gathered at the funerals of the soldier, the gay person, the miner, the politicians’ wife and the civil rights leader to offer a ‘buffer’ from the hate. I thought about the bake sales, the Comic-Con nerd victory, the fundraising ideas and everyone else who has put aside their differences in agreement that RESPECT is more important than anything else.
What would you call something that makes the people of this country gather together to show that their LOVE is bigger than someone else’s HATE?
It happens every time we share a national tragedy. Why it doesn’t last much long after, I’ll never be able to understand. And I still haven’t been able to figure out what I would call it, or even say that I’m glad that people like the WBC exist, because that doesn’t feel right either.
However, what I do know , is when I see those 8 foot by 10 angel wings spread themselves toward the sky, held by Christians, Atheists, Jews, Blacks, Whites, moms, dads, Republicans, Democrats, straights and gays – it will make me cry and smile at the same time.
I don’t know what you would call that.
Vince is the author of Einstein’s Shutter and other works that can be found HERE.