Under clear skies and generous sunshine, hundreds of undergraduates—many holding “absurd” signs—gathered outside the Harvard Hillel to respond to protestors from the Westboro Baptist Church.
Various undergraduate student groups collaborated to host the “Surprise Absurdity Protest,” intended to dismiss the anti-Semitic messages of the Kansas-based religious organization, which is known for hosting anti-homosexual protests across the country.
On Friday, six Westboro protesters stood in the traffic island at the corner of Mount Auburn and Linden Streets, holding signs that read “God Hates Fags” and “Your Rabbi Is A Whore.” Half of the Westboro demonstrators were children, one of whom held a sign that read “Santa’s Little Helpers” accompanied by a caricature of two individuals engaging in anal sex.
Across the street, 200 to 300 counter-protesters, including undergraduates from several local universities, Harvard Chaplains, and a Cambridge Quaker organization, stood behind barriers in front of Hillel.
Lilli R. Margolin ’11, Hillel’s vice president for community relations, and Chelsea S. Link ’12, a leader at the Harvard College Interfaith Council, both contacted various student organizations and Houses to attract counter-protesters to the event.
Both Link and Margolin said they thought the event was a success.
“The protest on Friday was fantastic. It was more than anyone could hope for.” Margolin said. “Our gathering really outshone them.”
Margolin praised the outpouring of support Hillel received from other student groups, saying it provided a “heartwarming feeling” to counter the mood of the Westboro Baptist Church’s protesters.
Emma Q. Wang ’12, co-chair of Harvard Queer Students and Allies, expressed similar sentiments but added that there were not as many members of QSA at Friday’s event compared with Westboro’s protest at Harvard Law School and Cambridge Ridge and Latin School last March.
Organizers of the counter-protest said they were taken aback by the fact that the Westboro Baptist Church protesters neither engaged with participants of the Surprise Absurdity Protest nor overstayed their scheduled time from 10 a.m. to 10.30 a.m. In Cambridge, protesters are not required to secure a permit, prompting many Hillel members to believe that Westboro members might remain on Mount Auburn Street past 11:00 a.m.—and leading some would-be-counter-protestors to arrive after Westboro members had left.
Security was tight for the protest, with several dozen police officers from the Harvard University and Cambridge Police Departments on hand.
The city set up barriers to control the crowd.
Despite Westboro’s message, the mood among the counter-protestors remained lighthearted and celebratory.
Alice X. Wang ’14 and her friends said they stayed up late to make signs that read “I <3 Juice” and “My poster brings all the boys to the yard.”
Lexis B. Ross ’13, for whom Friday’s event was her first protest, commented on how many students in the crowd had never been politically active before this protest.
She added that she thought the event was a great way to get individuals to come together in the name of tolerance and interfaith values.
Margolin echoed that sentiment.
“There’s still hope for our generation to be able to lead in a positive way and come together,” she said.
—Staff writer Kelly K. W. Lam can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer David H. A. LeBoeuf can be reached at email@example.com.