If socialists are going to take your money, it might as well be us.
GOD HATES PHELPS
WNY to westboro kooks: Talk to the hand
By IAN MURPHY
“The media plays on this weird sort of shit!” Kitty Lambert says to a Buffalo News reporter. He doesn’t write down the counter-protest organizer’s observation. “We love what Alison stood for,” she adds. He scribbles that in his pad.
Dr. Alison Des Forges was among the fifty killed when Continental 3407 went down in Clarence, NY. She was a board member of Human Rights Watch, an expert on Rwanda, a historian and a well respected member of the world community. There’s an early afternoon memorial service being held in her honor at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. Naturally, the lunatics from the Topeka, Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church plan to protest this moral decency.
Pastor Phelps and his gang of merry morons have made a name for themselves by protesting the funerals of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their basic motivation is that “God hates fags,” and American military deaths are divine punishment for our nation’s immorality. That’s low. Picketing a tragic civilian plane crash is even lower.
Despite the bitter cold, about two hundred and fifty counter-demonstrators are out in force. A hundred or so people wear homemade angel wings they’ve fashioned out of PVC piping and white garbage bags. The frigid wind throws some off balance, tattering their wings. Others struggle to hold wind-catching white sheets. It’s a postmodern statement.
“No messages; just a simple sign,” says a wing-clad student named Kim. “Funerals aren’t supposed to be political events.”
“We’re going to block their hateful signs,” chimes another angel. The banners have a function beyond performance art. Besides, some doubt the Baptists can read.
“We’re here to act as a buffer between the people who’re trying to celebrate this woman’s life and the hate of Fred Phelps,” says a plastic-winged Kathleen McGriff Power. This well-meaning multitude have already effectively shut down an WBC earlier protest today in Clarence. “There were about three of them,” says Power. They haven’t shown up here, so far.
“Aren’t you worried that this huge counter-protest just draws attention to the Phelps fundies?” I ask. Power stammers a bit, pondering. “No,” she says finally, “it needs to be shown that people are supportive.”
The double phalanx lining both sides of Main Street get their marching orders. “They’re here!” an angel shouts. They walk briskly north. “Just remember,” says another, “we’re not allowed to punch them in the face.” Too bad.
Three WBC nut jobs are charging south toward St. Joseph’s. Phelps is not present, but there is a squished dog turd sullying the snowy concrete in his place. On one of their placards is written their slogan: “God Hates Fags!” Another placard reads: “Planes crash, God laughs”. The swelling crowd blocks the sidewalk in front of a Subway franchise. Within seconds they’re enveloped by wings and white sheets. The Topeka threesome try to weasel through sideways, but are rebuffed. They quickly retreat and are escorted away by police. The three didn’t make it within a half-mile of the church.
“Thanks for maintaining your composure, folks” one flatfoot tells the exhilarated throng.
The solemn cheers subside quickly, however, as the activists move south—in case the defeated bigots try to flank them. But the homophobic God warriors are thoroughly demoralized. They dare not resurface. “We blocked them,” one man says quietly, pumping his fist.
A pack of angels and reporters circle Lambert, who stands near a garbage can full of broken wings. She’s a well known social activist around these parts. People call her Grandma. She’s a woman of conscience, as was Alison Des Forges. “All right, sweethearts,” she barely raises her voice, “it’s time to call it a day.”
A large man next to Grandma whistles loudly and circles his pointer finger in the air three times. The crowd disperses peacefully along the slushy sidewalks. Within minutes, they’re all gone.
Phelps hasn’t been in the news much lately. The shock of him has worn off. Another, somehow more scandalous Phelps, with his Olympic golds and bong hits, now occupies the perverted minds of America’s news rooms. Our appetite for weird shit is unending. Americans are the hungry dung beetles of moralization.
WBC is still out there doing their worst. But today, decency has won a quiet victory.
Is that news? Probably not.
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