“Death Penalty 4 Fags,” “God H8’s Fags” and “Fag Enablers,” complete with the Mizzou logo on it, were just some of the hateful signs that the Westboro Baptist Church held up Saturday as it protested against Michael Sam and his fellow supporters.
The church first took the issue to Twitter last week when football player Michael Sam announced he is gay, saying that Westboro would be coming to “Missouri, where they are famous for two things, to wit, bestiality, and persecuting the saints of the Most High God.” As you can imagine, students and faculty alike did not take well to this news and from it came the counterprotest — “Stand with Sam.”
An hour or so before the arrival of the Westboro Baptist Church, hundreds of Mizzou students, faculty and community members, including myself, began to line up over a half-mile-long stretch down Stadium Boulevard. Cars driving by honked and cheered in support and a few even leaned out their windows leading the line in a cheer of “M-I-Z, Z-O-U.” When the church arrived, the “Stand with Sam” event coordinators and fellow Mizzou students Alix Carruth and Kelaney Lakers ordered everyone to turn their backs to the street, facing toward campus and away from the hateful words of the protesters.
Once the protesters arrived, the love from the Mizzou community did not stop. We sang the alma mater an uncountable number of times while the cheers continued. Throughout the stand, more than $200 was raised by a representative from The Center Project, a pro-LGBT organization from mid-Missouri. The representative had everyone sign a card thanking Westboro Baptist Church for helping raise the funds. Finally, after about 45 minutes, the church members gave up, went to their cars and drove off.
Many students felt victorious against the church. However, it’s not likely that a couple hundred of people standing in a line will change their minds. Later that day, they once again took to their Twitter account saying, “Your weak wall can’t withstand powerful Truth.” If nothing will change their minds, then what’s the point?
What the Mizzou community did last Saturday is more than just changing people’s minds. It was about standing up for what you believe is right and doing it in a peaceful manner.
Doing what you feel is right has had a long history of erupting into violent riots. Take the 1999 World Trade Organization riots in Seattle, for example. It began with a bunch of people wanting to take a stand against the WTO for labor issues, environmental terror, etc., and instead ended up creating a war zone filled with arrests, beatings, tear gas and pepper spray.
Maybe “Stand with Sam” wasn’t exactly the same in number, but protests on other college campuses have seen their own forms of political action erupt into a worst-case scenario. During the nationwide Occupy movement of 2011, students peacefully staging a sit-in on the quad at the University of California, Davis, found themselves suddenly being pepper-sprayed by university officer John Pike after refusing to move. The result: a year-long investigation against the officer and a two-month-long blockade against the US Bank on the Davis campus. Many students lost their trust in the chancellor, as well as the university, and it has taken many years for students involved to forgive and forget this harrowing event.
But Mizzou is not UC Davis and it is certainly not the 1999 WTO protests. We are much more. We are “One Mizzou.”
It’s a phrase that has been mocked by many because it sounds a bit ridiculous and a little bit cheesy, but it’s true. Last Saturday, the campus and the community found a way to bond together in order to fight for what is right. They formed their own political agenda and defied what has been said about protests on college campuses and throughout the world. Let the Westboro Baptist Church think they won the battle because, this time, “One Mizzou” has won the war.