A Call to Action: Why I am Attending the Stanford United Gathering

Opinion by and
Jan. 28, 2010, 1:12 a.m.

This Friday, at 8:10 a.m., the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) will be coming to Stanford.

When I received the e-mail last Thursday night saying that “some pretty awful people” were coming to Stanford, I was confounded. I had never heard of the WBC before and never would have guessed that a group of people would protest with such a message of hate at Stanford. But the fact is they’re scheduled to come.

From all the talk generated on Stanford chat lists, I see two ways that the Student Body can handle this situation: we can ignore the WBC and their message of intolerance, or we can counter them with our own gathering of love and unity. I will be outside Hillel at 8 a.m. on Friday morning joining in that unity, and I encourage the Stanford campus to do the same.

I want to briefly acquaint you with the WBC so you can understand why I will be at the event. The WBC is a church built on the concept of hate. Not actually affiliated with any Baptist convention or association, this church uses narrow interpretations of Biblical texts to sanction their protests. Officially characterized as a hate group by the Anti Defamation League, the WBC travels all over the country spreading, among their various beliefs, their anti-gay, anti-Jewish, and anti-American messages. Their strategy is to display provocative signs and messages to antagonize others into verbal or physical action. The WBC then interprets this action as impeding on their rights to protest peacefully and pursues legal action, the profits of which fund their next protest.

So why this Stanford United gathering? Why are we giving them the audience they crave? Because, as I heard at the Martin Luther King, Jr. interfaith service, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” To not take this opportunity to join together and spread Stanford’s message of unity and openness would indeed be a betrayal of our student identity.

Our dedication, as students, to become educated citizens active within the world revolves around the concept of coming together, of forming a united, diverse community. Religions, ethnicities, and academic majors all blend together to create our great campus. To be silent while the WBC protests one of our fundamental values as a University would be a grave betrayal to what we stand for.

Morally, I cannot stand idly by. Though Stanford United was created in response to the WBC, it is foremost a celebration and is not an anti-protest. We will not face the WBC picketers nor engage them. On the contrary, we will celebrate. We will use the energy and enthusiasm of our campus to create something productive: an event the whole campus can take pride in. Members of the Jewish community, the LGBT community, F.A.I.T.H, Challah for Hunger, the Catholic Community at Stanford, the Asian American Students Association, Sigma Nu, Talisman, and so many others will be outside, standing side by side, in song and cheers, celebrating the diversity of our community. This gathering is our party, our chance to rejoice with our friends in Stanford’s awesomeness; facing away from the hate and toward Hillel, which will be decorated to represent the diverse array of student groups.

Besides the symbolism of standing together, united as one community, there is a practical reason for the gathering. Even if the Campus decided to officially ignore the WBC, refusing to stoop to their level and provide an audience, people would show up. The original warning e-mail spread like wildfire throughout Stanford; people would know about the protest and, despite warnings, they would come. Instead of risking that individuals would fall prey to the WBC tactics, this event was envisioned to give structure to the response, engaging the whole Stanford community in a peaceful, celebratory event.

So please, I encourage everyone to come out, and to follow the guidelines of the event organizers to ensure everyone’s safety: Stay on the grass areas designated for the Stanford United gathering. Listen to and cooperate with the Stanford Police and student volunteers who will be there to help keep our event safe and dignified. DO NOT engage any member of the WBC. We are there to focus on our own values and commitments, and the best way to keep the event safe for everyone is to avoid engaging the protestors. Please, no outside community members. In order to keep everyone safe, we would like only Stanford affiliates to be present at the gathering.

Be on the lookout for e-mails detailing event specifics. I hope that you will join me Friday morning so that we can show the world that Stanford stands United.

Thank you,

Jeffrey Sweet

Social Action Chair of the Jewish Students Association

For more information, you may contact the Jewish Student Association president, Joe Gettinger ([email protected]), Hillel Executive Director Adina Danzig Epelman ([email protected]), or myself ([email protected]).

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