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.

12 comments on “A Criticism of “Celebrate Brandeis””

  1. Art Says:

    Let the record show, your honor, that Mr. Hirschhorn and I agree wholly on this matter.

  2. Tony Says:

    Brandeis was afraid of any contact with the WBC because they didn’t want the university or any of its students to get sued by these crazy people that look for any excuse to sue you. I’m sure Harvard set some limits as well, or else it would of probably been a shit show.

  3. Lev Says:

    Tony says (in short): Brandeis students can’t be trusted.

    Police presence is fine to make sure that thing don’t get out of hand (and so that no one gets sued), but enforcing a 15 foot perimeter (as they tried to do) is a little bit extreme. It was good the police were there, or things could have gotten out of hand – but its not the job of the police to prevent students from talking to the WBC.

    It wasn’t just the police either, student organizers of ‘celebrate Brandeis’ were chastising those who decided to witness the WBC protest instead of participating in the official ‘celebrate Brandeis’ event on the great lawn.

  4. Rachel Says:

    Lev: The fifteen foot boundary that people were attempting to enforce was requested by Public Safety and the Waltham PD. The Department of Public Safety was afraid that actions would get out of hand if students went too close to WBC. Technically, if one were to lean over the fence between Brandeis property and the public sidewalk too far, WBC could sue for infringing on their right to protest by blocking the public space. It’s a legitimate concern.

    In addition, the student mediators were an attempt to keep things between students, rather than having Public Safety officers shoo students away from the WBC protesters. The organizers of Celebrate Brandeis and Public Safety agreed that ideally, this discussion could remain between students, with Public Safety merely supervising.

  5. alex Says:

    their entire goal is to make us feel like dirt. I think it’s a perfectly fine response to spend a day remind ourselves of why we’re so wonderful, completely independent of anything they have to say to us.

  6. Esther Brandon Says:

    I agree that the WBC are very silly, but counter protesting only brings more awareness to their existence. I only saw them for about 30 seconds as I was driving to T lot to park, and seeing hundreds of students on the Great Lawn was an inspiring sight. To see Brandeis students coming together to celebrate LOVE was the message. We had media coverage about Brandeis and our values as a community, instead of the WBC. The WBC members could have not shown up and it wouldn’t have mattered because Celebrate Brandeis was NOT a counter protest. It was to recognize the strength of the student body. I am very sorry you didn’t get a sense of “inner reflection”, but I did.

  7. Art Says:

    I think that people missed an opportunity to have fun. Not everything has to be serious/end of the world like Michael Oren

  8. Doug Says:

    I’m gonna ask a favor of the celebrate brandeis people. Can someone show me a documented case of one being sued for disrupting a WBC protest. Not for someone assaulting them, or suing them for indecency, but someone actually being sued for blocking their protest. I cannot seem to find a story of someone being sued just for being there with them, in fact I have plenty of friends who have gotten pictures with them, carrying ridiculous signs themselves.

    I agree with 100% with lev, these people are trolls. The Celebrate Brandeis thing was overreaction to a group of people who hated by even the most bigoted of Americans. Them protesting was not gonna gain them a fan base here in Waltham. As usual, its just Brandeis students overreacting to some event they could be having fun with. Which is the norm that I’ve experienced for the past 4 years. The entire student body should have been down there; screaming Rick Roll, Bel Air, Giga Pudding the entire day. In fact here is a picture that I think best describes the situation, http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?pid=1248906&l=0d508ed933&id=1242270090.

    Furthermore, shame on the people with celebrate brandeis who kept trying to silence me when I was singing memes and counter sayings (God Hates Xenu, You are tearing me apart WBC, etc). You had every right to protect me from assaulting WBC, but I had a fucking right to be there trolling the shit out of these people. I should have threatened to sue you for infringing on my right to free speech.

    Thank you again lev for posting this, it put into words what I was afraid to say for fear of being labeled an asshole.

  9. an alumnus Says:

    Brandeis was able to channel the Absurdity of the WBC visit into something Tangible and positive namely a Donation to Keshet, a local Jewish LGBTQ organization. That is what made our protest much better than Harvard’s.

  10. Dana Prescott Says:

    First Kudos to Sahar for allowing a dissenting opinion to be posted on his site. That is a refreshing change from the usual brandeis appreciation of diverse opinion as long as it agrees with us. So credit is due.

    Lev makes some salient points in his article regarding the histronic over reaction by the student body to the so called WBC protest. However, I cannot over emphasise that there is no way to “legitimize” the WBC. They are universaly despised across the political spectrum. Really nobody takes them seriously and that fact is not about to change. Furthermore, it seems that only seven individuals were present and only three being the age of majority. That really isn’t much of a protest on their part. What saddens me is this: seven fools were empowered to disrupt the daily affairs of students,faculty and residents and the celebrate brandeis committees played right into their hands! How irresponsible. It is not as if the WBC was defiling a service member’s internment as they infamously do. Where is the Brandeis outrage over this? I read little or no mention by Brandeis students regarding this WBC practice. Ok, people were upset that they came here. Three fools and four poor children. C’mon guys, really an occasion to break your arms patting yourselves on the back? Student mediators in uniform!! Whoa, that just sounds a bit frighteningly suppressive of free speech. If folks desired to go out and scream and shout at these pithy morons then so be it.

    The celebrate brandeis event was no more than feel good about ourselves dramatics and misspent energy. I guess some people just can’t help themselves when they feel a need to congregate and make some noise.

    I would recommend the celebrate Brandeis folks suit up in their Sunday or Shabbat best and pay solomn respects at the and I’m sad to use these words next funeral of a local soldier’s funeral. That would be a worthy and community appreciated action that would bring high esteem to the Brandeis community as well as celebrate a life truly worthy of praise.

  11. Gideon Says:

    I agree with Lev.

    This is a Jewish school; who knows the story of the prince who thought he was a chicken? A guy starts thinking some absurd things, but the only way to interact with him at all is to play his game. They hold up signs about God Hating? We should do the same or else stay in bed. Since there was a strictly orthodox (lowercase O), official, regimented response with fucking bouncers, I thought that bed was the right thing to do.

    I agree with Doug. A portion of us didn’t want to say that our response was run by little girls, but yeah, it was.

    God Hates Bicycles.

  12. Art Says:

    I won’t stand up for a nation being polluted and de-sensitized to those dirty fogs! They’re ruining our air AND our visibility. How can our brave men and women of the armed services fight with fog by their side?!