Going Against the Grain: The Rise of the Counter-Protest - Protest Week


Gay and Lesbian counter-protesters at Oberlin College face-off against the infamous hate-mongering of the Westboro Baptist Church in May 2010. Photo by Paul M. Walsh.

They came in on camels, others were on horseback. A little over a week after the uprising in Egypt in early 2011, supporters of the President, Hosni Mubarak, came riding into Tahrir Square on their best livestock. Looking like a scene out of Ben Hur, the supporters charged into the center of Cairo in protest of the protesters currently inhabiting the area. During this time, the entire country had gone haywire in response to the successful revolution in the nearby country of Tunisia. It seemed as if every Egyptian citizen was looking for Mubarak’s head served fresh on a platter, but the supporters of the President – many of whom were assumed to have strong ties to the regime – saw things differently and wanted their views to be known. Once the group entered the square, they attacked the protesters with sticks and machetes.

The wildfire spread of political protests in North Africa and the Middle East, now known as the Arab Spring, was the start of a rising trend comprised of people grouping together to publicly state their opinions on levels not seen since the Vietnam War. People are once again reminded of the power of their voices and are using this weapon to attempt a change in what they see as wrong. And, of course, for every organized protest, there is a group that sees things differently with a voice just as powerful.

In November, 2011, small business owners near Zuccotti Park organized a counter-protest against the Occupy movement that had developed in that area. Their intentions were not specifically against the viewpoints and goals the Occupiers had in regards to the 1% (their incomes made them far from the elite); rather the business owners gathered against the protest occurring around their source of livelihood. Since the Occupiers had taken camp in Zuccotti Park, their businesses started to suffer and some companies had to lay off a few of their employees. They saw their storefronts vandalized and countless individuals making the areas outside the storefronts their own personal bathroom. The owners understood that something had to change before their businesses went belly-up, and so they gathered in an attempt to stop this from happening.

Another group famous for making its voices heard is the Westboro Baptist Church. Mostly consisting of a single family from Topeka, Kansas, these religious radicals protest military funerals, concerts, and other public events with which they take issue. Taking ignorance to a level that competes with that of the Ku Klux Klan, the WBC tout signs like “God Hates Fags,” “Thank God for Dead Soldiers,” “Pray for More Dead Soldiers,” and so on. With the help of the national media and the inexcusable behavior of the deranged message of its preaching, the church has gained nationwide attention. Luckily, this publicity has forced many individuals to come out to counter-protest the members of WBC.

The Patriot Guard Riders is one such group that does not tolerate the hate-mongering of the WBC. Once it became known that the church was attending funerals of military members with offensive signs on-hand, motorcycle enthusiasts grouped together to protect the mourning families from them. When a funeral procession drove by the members of the church, the riders made a human shield in front of the hate-riddled signs while holding American flags and singing patriotic songs. During this time, if a member of the church decided they would want to yell something at the family, the PGRs would not hesitate to rev their motorcycle engines to drown out the mindless garbage spewing from the religious fanatic’s mouth.

Since the rising fame of the WBC, others have taken action in protesting the church’s activities, making the religious organization the butt of the joke. It is now commonplace for individuals, regardless of sexual preference, to stand next to the WBC members with signs of their own mocking those messages by the church. Popular and critically acclaimed rock band, the Foo Fighters, also took part in the fun. Upon finding out that the WBC would be standing outside their concert brandishing their usual messages, the Foo Fighters made an impromptu performance in front of the church members on the back of a trailer bed and played a song called “Keep it Clean (Hot Buns).” The lyrics touched on accepting people based on who they are no matter whom they are sleeping with at night.

With the rise of the Arab Spring and the Occupy movement, it seems as if the number of protests will continue to increase for a long time to come. This will naturally bring forth a rise in counter-protests. As long as there are people grouping together to change the political structure of their country, the financial inequalities of their society, or preaching their backwards religious garbage, there will be another group gathered in defiance. It is human nature to stand up for what we believe in, and people will continue to stand and fight… or at least to drown out the noise of hate.