Westboro vs. Rally of Love
January 27, 2015
On Monday, January 26, 2015, hundreds of people gathered on both sides of East 13th Street, on the front lawn of East High School, anticipating the arrival of seven members of the Westboro Baptist Church. Preparing to counter protest the Westboro members with what they called a “Love Rally,” East High School students were accompanied by what Officer Dana Wingert of the Des Moines Police Force described as “an impressive number of people.” Students from many of the surrounding school districts (Waukee, Valley, Johnston, Urbandale, Roosevelt, North Polk, and more), various churches and religious organizations, LGBT supporters and members, anti-hate groups, a handful of policemen, random community members, and even a biker gang all joined the passionate students of East High School. All of the counter protesters had one common goal: kill them with kindness.
The Westboro Baptist Church members are known for their hateful messages, frequent protests, and ideas on homosexuality. They often aggravate people with their disrespectful chants and destructive actions towards the American flag. The oppugnant (opposing) group claimed that they were protesting the Iowa State Capitol building due a federal judge’s decision in December to strike down two state laws forbidding desecration of the American flag and East High School because they feel teachers are breaking students’ moral compasses.
The students of East High School were more than willing to try to prove the radical group wrong. An enormous amount of students flooded out of the school ready to give the Kansas based group a little taste of their own medicine. One counter protester, Sarah Ha’s sign said, “We are the future,” in response to Westboro’s previously declared belief that the youth of America is a corrupt generation. Ha stated, “I believe that our generation is one of the strongest generations, we constantly build ourselves up… I don’t believe that we are a corrupted youth. We are the future!”
“I believe that love should apply to everyone, regardless of gender, identity, anyone…. We just need to love everyone,” shared counter-protester Elliot Greenhorn. Greenhorn and her friends held up signs displaying, “Do you need a hug?” and “Love who I want” in efforts to spread positivity.
“They’re a hate group,” stated Amanda Fusaro, a member of the motor bike gang at the rally, “They’re nothing but a hate group. They protest veterans funerals and that’s why I’m here. I have family that’s gay. I support gay rights. They want to keep bashing everybody? We’ll just drive them out of town. That’s what the bikers are here for, to support you guys.” Hoping to cover the sounds of the Westboro members’ chanting, the bikers revved their bikes and circled the area surrounding the school.
Despite their planned visit to the Des Moines High School, the Westboro protesters never showed. Crowds pushed through the streets in what seemed to be like a search for the missing demonstrators. A voice from the crowd announced from a bullhorn, “I’m queer and I’m here. They’re straight and they’re late.” Even though Westboro were absent to their own protest, the sea of counter protesters stayed to defend and support themselves, their family, friends, and community members who are targeted by the messages of the Westboro Baptist Church.
Even after it was apparent that the antagonistic group would not coming, the large mass of people still stood together on and around East 13th Street and East High School’s front lawn. Sharing their stories, strangers chatted with each other. Rather than tearing the community down, the protesting–or at least the protesting that was supposed to happen–seemed to bring it closer together.