Friday, February 25, 2011

Final Flight of the Discovery...

Twelve thousand, half-million, million and more
Picnicking out on the warm-water shore.
Nobody notes that we're always at hand
To watch all the space-ships that take off and land.
Politicians ignore us, the media too...
But if they don't notice, the ships always do.
See her landing so lightly, you'd swear that she cares
That she flies on two wings and a good million prayers.

Witness' Waltz
Leslie Fish

Friday, February 18, 2011

Counter Protest - Fourth and Final Part...

Prophet H. Walker is questioned regarding True Light Pentecostal Church's picket permit.
A final post on the Counter Protest to Westboro Baptist Church's scheduled picket of the screening of Anatomy of Hate...

As we now know, Westboro Baptist Church was a no - show, though we happily went ahead with our counter protest. However, there were evidently some individuals who showed up in SUPPORT of Westboro, which is something I have never heard of occurring before. Not to say it hasn't, but I sure have never heard of it, or seen pictures of any other church or organization ever supporting or turning out to join Westboro's infamous hate filled picket lines. Until this past Monday. 

True Light Pentecostal Church  showed up with eight people to support Westboro.“We're protesting because we're against these rallies that the sodomites (and) lesbians have. We're trying to show another side of America — the true side of America,” said Prophet H. Walker, overseer of True Light.

One wonders if they even understood the original reasoning Westboro scheduled to turn out? The Phelps picketers scheduled their protest to oppose Anatomy of Hate; Dialogue of Hope because it, rightfully so, identifies them as a hate group, not as a direct protest of anything GLBTQ related. True Light's statement referring to our counter protest as a rally of sodomites and lesbians is utterly ludicrous, given that the percentage of GLBT in the crowd of students was actually very low - most were straight, and a fair amount were both GLBT and straight identifying Christians. Also, based on all the photographs and information I have been able to turn up, True Light appears to be an African American Church. Anatomy of Hate opposed racism of the most virulent sort - the Aryan movements that would despise and seek to destroy a church like True Light. Over all, this very much boggled my mind. True Light, it must be pointed out, does have mission projects that house and feed the homeless and the hungry, and despite their extremely conservative stance on scripture, appear to be a positive influence in their venues.

It was still disturbing to realize that my area of the world produced a picket line in support of Phelps and Westboro's virulent hate message, particularly since it was obvious that they had not truly researched what they were protesting in actuality. It kinda blows my mind, actually. 

I also learned that money was raised based on the public's counter protest! The money, totaling $550.00, went to  Piedmont Care, a local AIDS non profit advocacy organization and for Upstate Pride, the local organization for the Gay Pride in this area. This is excellent. So...lets see...a hundred or so students on the campus counter protesting, a hundred or so counter protesters from the local community and surrounding colleges also taking a stand, a packed out showing of Anatomy of Hate, funds raised toward two excellent organizations, Westboro was a no show, and even though it disturbed me that they showed at all, only eight very mistaken picketers for Westboro. 

All in all...I am proud of my community and very glad to have been a part of it that Monday night! 

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Counter Protest Part Three...

So, what then, why then, do we kill? Why do we hate? Why do we do these horrible things to ourselves as a self aware sentient species? The Documentary explored this – that we are very much wired for survival by our evolutionary heritage. Our Limbic systems are wired for survival, for finding food, for procreation, for fight or flight. However, as self aware intelligent species, we have the capacity for Love, for culture, for science, for learning, for growth beyond imagining – we imagine. And we also Hate.  Carl Jung’s idea of the Shadow self that we are uneasy with, the dark, survival oriented, aggression that is in all of us – we perhaps project it outward – no, not me, I can’t be like this – he’s the demon, he’s the bad guy, he is the focus for all my aggression…I am good, I am saved, I am superior. And when we are told that we are threatened by the Other, when we are told that the Other are monsters, we hate. We damn. We kill.

So, what about the other half of the documentaries title – “Dialog of Hope”? Where in all these gory, pitiless, nightmare scenes does the Hope come in, when does dialog start?  

The Israeli/Westbank has a growing number of Israeli and Arabs who have withdrawn from the armies and the insurgents, and have begun to sit down and talk. The call themselves Combatants for Peace. They are dialoging. They are discovering that there are no demons, only people who have been trapped in this cycle and that there is a better way out – they have begun a school for Israeli and Arab children together, so that they can play together and learn together and grow up without hate and talking to each other and finding their best friends among each other.

The US troop who lost one of their members to the Iraqis, later found themselves teamed up together in a mission against Al Qaeda with the very men who had most likely killed their buddy. It was hard going, but they sat down and talked and slowly realized that they we all people, more alike than different, able to talk, able to understand that they did not have to hate each other, that they both had friends who had died because they were caught in the machinery of war, but they did not personally wish anyone to die or to kill each other. And they became friends and teammates together.

The Westboro Baptist Church founder, Fred Phelps has a stunning unknown past. He was a Civil Rights Lawyer who in the 60’s took on many Civil Rights cases for the black community and won. He is honored by the NAACP. During that time, he and his family were called nigger lovers and suffered abuse at the hands of the community, as he fought the Jim Crowe laws.

And then there in the movie, there is the story, in his own words in an interview, of the White Supremacist who went into a gay church to plant a bomb on a Sunday morning which would have killed close to 100 people. He sat there, in the service, brief case in hand with the bomb…and looked around and thought, these are people just like me. They are here to be close to God, just like I do at church. How can I do this? And he turned to his buddy who was with him…and said, “Come on. Let’s go.” And walked out, taking the un-triggered bomb with him.

 When we stop projecting hate, when we stop listening to rhetoric that says “Any one different is a monster, is not like me, I must hate them, I must kill them”, when we start talking to people and beginning that dialog, that discussion and see the person as another human being, more alike us than different from us, the cycle of fear and aggression and hate begins to break. It does not mean that we must AGREE with each other, but that we can disagree without making the other into an enemy to focus our hate on. I cannot agree with Shirley Phelps Roper…everything she stands for is anathema to me, as I am sure I am to her. But I can look past it, and not hate her, and see instead a human being just like me. Not a monster, but one with pain, and inner struggles that have landed her where she is. And I can take a peaceful stand against what she believes, wearing a shirt that says “Love is…” instead of Hate. Hate is easy. Love and dialog are harder. Both are learned. And dialog is our hope and our salvation.

It was an amazing night, all told, with the counter protest and the incredible turn out, and getting to actually hear and speak to Mike Ramsdell (you betcha I got the DVD autographed!) and seeing this amazing Documentary.  In the end, the fact that the Westboro Baptist Church and their picket weren’t there became irrelevant. What we came together and shared became so much bigger, and I suspect many of my classmates and fellow students left that documentary and that event with their lives changed.  I am honored to have been a part of it, and frankly…

Westboro, we're sorry you weren’t there…you missed something really amazing. 
We missed you! 

The Counter Protest Part Two...

The Documentary covers four groups – The Ayran Nation white supremacists, the Westboro Baptist Church (hence our being on their list for picketing on their website.), the Israeli/Westbank Conflict and the Iraqi/American conflict. Mike Ramsdell went in and filmed among these groups, openly telling them his purpose and why he was filming. There were chilling scenes that I will never forget…Each section here has been linked to scenes from the documentary, so please click the link to see clips of what we saw. 

Billy Roper, white supremacist leader of the White Revolution
The deliberate hatred of the NeoNazi white supremacists, and their cool, calm erudite leader Billy Roper was the most difficult part to watch. 

Klansman at white supremacist festival.

There was a White Supremacist summer festival, with kids who were encouraged to chase a greased pig…we live in the south and greased pig chases at festivals are not unheard of around here. However, they end with the pig being given to the victor who catches it – sometimes it goes home to become a pet for the kids, sometimes it goes home to the farm to grow up to become bacon and breakfast. Not a very animal rights sort of thing, but not the horror that we saw on the screen in front of us. The cute little pig was goaded into running with the kids in high pursuit; however when it was caught hours later in the dark, the kids kicked and stomped and beat it to death. I saw one very young child bring his foot down in a vicious blow on the pigs head…the adult with them was encouraging the carnage and cheering them on, and then gutted the carcass with his knife right there in front of the children. The kids ended the segment by proudly holding up the body for the camera. No child was horrified, or turned away in disgust or fear – it was clear that they had done it before and knew what was expected at the end when they ran the piglet to earth.  Think about it – the kids learn killing from this, to treat life with contempt, and then hear their elders and parents call “niggers”, “Jews”, and “fags” pigs…it may have been the worst scene in the film.

Children of the Westboro Baptist Church on the picket line. 

On to Westboro Baptist Church, and here again the Hate and it being taught to kids was appalling. They put their small children on the picket line with them, teaching them to sing songs, like God hates the USA and carry signs that say “God Hates Fags” and “Mathew Shepherd – in Hell for six years”. They showed a church service in the Westboro Baptist Church , with hymns that literally had hate lyrics and the looming presence of Fred Phelps, ranting that God hates everybody, that he laughs when people go to Hell, and rejoices in their suffering.  

Shirley Phelps-Roper, organizer of the picket lines. 

The cameras went into the home of Shirley Phelps Roper (no relation to White Supremacist Billy Roper, although the name is an eerie coincidence), to show her with her kids. She is one of the older daughters of Fred Phelps now about age 50, and is now spear heading the picket lines and the driving force behind them.  That was confusing…at home in this scene, she was a loving gentle mother to her children, in a perfectly normal house (if you ignored the stack of Hate signs in the corner…) I have to say, I…actually like her. I see a strong, powerful woman. She is intelligent (she holds a law degree and is a practicing lawyer), loving, and amazing in her own way. But I disagree violently with everything she stands for and what she does to promote Hate. And I do think she has been damaged emotionally on the way by the poisonous upbringing she grew up in. 

Violence in Gaza - the Israeli/Westbank conflict.

The Israeli/Westbank Conflict was heart wrenching – soldiers in the streets, constant attacks, children praising “martyrs” who died bombing buses,  fear in everyone’s hearts of suicide bombings, families who have lost husbands, wives, children on both sides. One of the opening scenes about this was a gathering of  Israeli women, outside in a pleasant spot for a picnic – it was called a Widows Dinner – they gather to support each other in the loss of their husbands. 

Car bombing in Israel.

Both sides expressing hate, both sides expressing that they’d stop killing if the other side would stop killing them – but who will be the first to stop? 

American Troops in Iraq.

Then the American/Iraqi troops.. While Ramsdell was there filming these scenes, one of the soldiers in the troop he went out with, was killed. Ramsdell was deeply shaken by this. A few days later, he was contacted by one of the other soldiers in the unit who said that the father of the young man who died wanted Ramsdell to come film his funeral! Ramsdell , stunned, went, and had a long talk with the father about what the documentary was about. The father still said, “Please film the funeral”, so he did. Then, Ramsdell went back 4 months later, and talked to the father again, to be sure that he understood the purpose of the film and was ok with it. He was. 
And so it goes back and forth, in a cycle of hate and killing, mistrust and unwillingness to talk, unwillingness to be able to look beyond idealogical differences. How do we break the cycle?  Continued in Part three....

The Counter Protest Part One...

So, on Monday, Valentine’s Day, I headed over early to School for the counter  protest to the Westboro Baptist Church. Like really early. I had contacted my teacher that morning and told her that I would be late to class due to the possible Picket line by Westboro Baptist church because of the Anatomy of Hate, Dialog of Hope documentary that was being screened that night at my campus. My going over early had a lot to do with parking concerns – parking is always tight, and I figured that if you started to add in protesters, and people coming to the documentary on top of students fighting for spaces for night classes, I’d better get there early if I wanted a shot at parking at all. Also, I have to admit I was a little wound up. As a member of the GLBTQ community, having WBC come to picket us was pretty big! My small all women’s college has a small Gay Alliance Group and I knew they would be front and center on this, but I wasn’t sure how many others would be there.
            Also exciting  for me, I had contacted my teacher  to tell her I would be late to my not very conveniently scheduled class because I was participating in the counter protest and why, and that I would get there as soon as I could. It had made me a little sad, because I would have to miss the actual documentary, but missing classes in Grad school is just not a good idea. Imagine my delight, after getting a return email from my teacher saying she had not heard anything about this, and was going to look into it, I then received a second email, sent out to my whole class –
            Hi all,
Part of EDU683 Advanced Techniques is developing cultural competency and awareness when working with clients, as the syllabus indicates. We have a really great opportunity tonight to take advantage of. As part of Black History Month, Converse is showing the film, Anatomy of Hate: A Dialogue to Hope at 7:00 pm. I’d like for us as a class to attend the showing.  The maker of the award winning documentary, Mike Ramsdell, will be present to lead a discussion following the showing.  Honestly, I think this will be a great learning experience, much better than a class lecture.  I’ve copied below some information about the film that was published when it showed in Atlanta and pasted it below.  We’ll meet class at 5:30 as usual, have a brief lecture, and then attend. We’ll go at 6:30 in order to get a seat.  As you’ll note in the Dean”s email below, members of a church have threatened to protest the showing of the film. If they follow through, they will have to stay off campus. In a counter-protest, the students are staging a “Love-In” to show their support.  See you tonight.

How wonderful! So instead of missing my class, we would all be going over together! 

After some waiting around, I finally tracked down where the counter protest was setting up and found a miraculous nearby parking space.  That was when my jaw dropped…close to a hundred students were crowded in the open area next to the student union building (where they were going to show the documentary, picking up t-shirts and magic markers. 

 Here was the idea behind the counter protest; since WBC’s message was Hate, our message would be Love. So, the “Love in” had been provided with T-shirts (free, I found out later, by the campus services) that said “Love is….” And we were all provided with magic markers to write in whatever we wanted the shirt to say. 

I waded into the crowd, snagged a shirt, a magic marker and this is what I wrote out on mine, which I had carefully chosen with WBC in mind – “They that Love not, know not God, for God is love… 1 John 4:8” Since the WBC relies so heavily on out of context scripture from the Bible to support their hate, I wanted a verse to counter it. (I was not the only one to use that particular verse, either. ) 

Set up to the side of the open square was, believe it or not, Fox News, filming us milling around and writing on shirts. About that time, Dreamweaver, who was on her way over, had called and was on the phone with me. She reached the campus, and began circling the school. No one knew where the Westboro’s were going to set up – they were not allowed ON the campus itself so it could be a sidewalk anywhere around the outside. The main gates at the entrance were, of course the most likely spot. For a moment, Dreamweaver thought she had spotted them at the Gates, but it turned out to be ANOTHER group of counter protesters from the outside community and other colleges set up to counter Westboro. The WBC was supposed to get there at 6:15, and the minutes were ticking down. Dreamweaver kept circling – we figured if she could spot them, I could let the group know, and we could all head that way.

Meanwhile, the 100 or so, excited, milling counter protesters, including myself, had grouped up in front of the Fox News camera’s, begun waving our signs, wearing our t-shirts and cheering and singing – yup. Singing. Seems like music goes with protests the world over! We had really good harmony going with “Lean On Me”, I might add. The minutes ticked by, getting closer and closer to 6:15. The Fox news team decided to tear up to the gate and get footage of the counter protesters there. It was getting darker, as the sun set. 6:15 came and went, then 6:30.

So my class trooped over to the Student Union and got in line for the documentary. I went and found Dreamweaver who was at the head of the line to try to get us front row seats due to my hearing disability. The crowd at this point had swelled to twice its number and maybe more, with alumni and teachers joining. One teacher, herself a lesbian, came over and threw her arms around me and said how proud she was of all of us! Then we heard that a picket line had indeed formed out at the front gate moments before the Documentary started. At first, we assumed it was WBC, late to the party. I have to admit, I was frustrated – I knew that they were being met and countered by the public protest out front, but I wanted to be there myself, and there was no way to get there at that point – too far to the gate. However, we then heard that it was not Westboro, but a local church that had turned out to support THEM! Unbelievable. I have to say, I have never heard of anybody supporting a Westboro Picket Line. That was a first. 

Then, we were in our seats and the room was packed out, every chair taken, people sitting on the floor, standing in the back. Mike Ramsdell was introduced to speak, before his film ran. He was amazed – I was too. You know how documentary films go at colleges. 20 people show up, 5 of which want to actually see the film, and 15 who are there because they are required to be for a class report. There were easily 200 and more jammed into that room any way they could fit, and he was awed. 

Mike Ramsdell spoke of the purpose of the film, and why he made it. That he wished to counter Hate with dialog, with compassion. With seeing each other not as the Enemy or the Other, but as human beings, even if we disagreed, and not demonizing the Other. He then said this, which made me so proud of my fellow students, prouder than I ever have been. “Whenever I speak at showings of my film, everybody asks afterwards ‘What can I do?’ Well, you people have already done it. You could all go home, now. You have done it. Countering Hate with Love, and peaceful intervention. I am amazed!”  Wow. 

And then the lights went down, and the Documentary started. And make no mistake, despite its powerful message of hope – it was a trip into Hell. Continued in part two.  

Sunday, February 13, 2011

A month ago, we were looking at this...

Yesterday, I took this picture, from our garden...  

Tomorrow afternoon, I will be standing on a counter picket line protesting the arrival of the Westboro Baptist Church to picket us with hate signs and abusive spiritual behavior. The students, rather than shutting their doors and hiding, have risen up to organize this counter protest. I find in this hope. I find in this the power of community, friendship and love. I find in this the kind of hope that you see in the beauty of the first flower of spring that bravely blossoms, even though winter may not have lost its grip yet on the world. 

May we all find Hope in this world, for it is all around us. 

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Day Has Come...

Believe it or not...
Westboro Baptist Church is coming to protest at my college


Yep...the Phelps crowd is descending to protest a showing of "The Anatomy of Hate" on Monday night. I am looking into possible responses. Counter picket/protest, ignore them out of existence, what the college's official policy is, etc. 

There have been some very effective counter protests against the Phelps....the Angel Action in Laramie when Mathew Shepherd was murdered and the "Not Today, Fred" protests. On the other hand, piling protest on protest can get them all the publicity they want - that is what they want! Ignoring them into oblivion is often the better answer, and there have been a few places where the Westboro protest has packed up or cancelled altogether because of lack of visibility or publicity. Another good counter protest strategy is to set up a donation pledge, where for every x amount of minutes or hours or whatever that Westboro is picketing, people can donate money or volunteer time or whatever to GLBT and other pertinent causes. That tends to get them to shut down early too. I have to say that in protesting this hate group, we need to remember WHO we are. We don't wish to become like them. We must behave better than them. We must behave with dignity, compassion and common sense, and not descend to their level. I mean that! 

I have to say...I am rather proud of my school...this entirely indicates to me that we are doing something right!