I’ve been pretty silent amidst the sea of self-congratulation in the wake of ‘Celebrate Brandeis,’ but there were a lot of things that bothered me about this response to the WBC. But after reading Liz Posner’s op-ed in the Justice today, I had to respond.
Titled, “In legitimizing WBC, Brandeis trumps Harvard,” Posner notes that Harvard responded very differently when WBC came to protest at their Hillel the same day. They held a “Suprise Absurdity Protest,” with John Stewart-esque signs (God Hates Flags, etc.). Posner posits that our protest was better because we legitimized the views of the Westboro Baptist Church.
Oddly enough, this was exactly my problem with the way we responded. If the purpose was to ignore the church, than we failed miserably. Instead we spent an entire day congratulating ourselves by comparing ourselves to the WBC. Well of course we came out looking good! We’re not a bunch of kooky extremists! Its not such a great thing to be proud of. There was no sense of inward self-reflection throughout the day to challenge the idea that ‘Brandeis is so great because we support social justice.’
People were so determined that the ‘Celebrate Brandeis’ be the only response that students (wearing “Celebrate Brandeis Mediators” t-shirts) and police officers were on site in order to prevent Brandeis students from engaging in conversation with members of the WBC. Are these people’s views so serious of a threat that we can’t trust Brandeis students to even talk to them? The whole event seemed to legitimate WBC in a way that they didn’t deserve.
Posner writes, “Harvard’s ‘Absurdity’ protest missed an opportunity to take the WBC seriously. Harvard students decided to scoff at the church’s despicable and archaic values instead of recognizing them as a true threat.”
That’s exactly the problem I had with ‘Celebrate Brandeis’, the Brandeis protest acted like the WBC was a real threat. These guys go around holding signs that say “Your Rabbi is a Whore” and “God Hates Your Feelings.” They write and sing silly parodies of Lady Gaga! If that’s not worth scoffing at, I don’t know what is! If you look at what the WBC actually does, the reality is that they do nothing. They’re mission isn’t to raise political support for anti-gay or anti-Jewish causes, its simply to inform us that we are all sinners and that god hates us and our way of life. They do it because they want to help us change — very altruistic, and also completely harmless. The best way to counter-act something that ridiculous is to show everyone just how ridiculous their message actually is. An action along the line of Harvard’s would have be appropriate.
But instead, Brandeis acted like their message was serious, not ridiculous, and thus legitimized the message. The WBC is small-fry, they are not something worth being scared of. If we want to rally the community in a serious way, there are serious groups that are real threats that more or less espouse the same message. For instance, just up the road are the headquarters of Mass Resistance, a Waltham-based political anti-gay hate group – those guys are a real threat.
Next time, lets take the Harvard route.