Last night, at the performance of The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later, a few hundred students gathered to support the play and the LGBT students on our campus as we expected members of Westboro Baptist Church to show up with their usually hateful picketing. At 6:45, when I arrived, there were already lots of students, a full band playing music, and an all-around joviality and calmness in the space.
At 7pm, a student leader asked me for my help in getting the “wings” on the angels for their Angel Action. Kathy and I helped 23 students lift wings made from PVC and sheets over their heads, and then the students went silent. We led them out to the sidewalk where they stood, still and silent, for forty minutes looking up the road to the place where Westboro would picket. They stood there, not moving, not speaking. I don’t know if they prayed or sang; one girl had on headphones. But they stood there in glorious silence to speak out against hate. It was a beautiful sight.
The whole evening went perfectly. While some members of the administration seemed certain that our students could not maintain their composure and peaceful assembly and watched over the crowd from a window and while we still had police officers – apparently some in plain clothes in the crowd, I learned later – our students stood calmly and strongly as a testament to what people can do when they are asked to stand up for something. Some students filmed documentary footage; many took photos; even more stood and talked with friends or watched the band play. Everyone stayed the whole time, and everyone stayed peaceful. I was inspired.
Sometimes I think we – myself included – underestimate the will and determination of people. Sometimes I think we forget to ask people to speak for what we believe to be right and good. Maybe we have heard people stay away and stay, wrongly, silent for too long. But last night, I saw students organize, lead, and complete a peaceful protest without incident of any sort. Maybe we need to ask people to speak more often. Maybe we all need to don wings of sheet and pipe and speak our voices with our bodies. Maybe we just need to learn to stand in solidarity with one another more often.
Oh, and Westboro Baptist – they never showed up. But we did.