By Brett Ashley Hawkins
After Westboro Baptist Church, a self-proclaimed propagandist congregation from Topeka, Kansas, announced several Long Beach area protests scheduled for Friday, February 19, local activists reacted by planning a series of counter-protests to match them. The protest locations included the Alpert Jewish Community Center (AJCC), targeted (from 1 to 2pm) for their Jewlicious Festival, and Wilson High School (from 2:45 to 3:15pm), selected for their Gay/Straight Alliance club.
WBC protestors arrived at locations across Long Beach with signs that read “It’s not your land” and “America is doomed.” Shirley Phelps-Roper, a controversial person of interest who has appeared on talk shows and news interview shows such as The Sean Hannity Show, headed the WBC protests. Several of Phelps-Roper’s eleven children were in attendance.
“We’re telling [people] what they need to hear. They are the walking dead. These children are at the age where they can choose between good and evil themselves,” said Rebekah Phelps-Davids of the WBC while protesting at Wilson High School.
At the Long Beach Police Department’s request, the WBC gathered across the street from the AJCC at the Harriman Jones Medical Group building on the corner of Willow Street and Redondo Avenue (the WBC would later go on to protest at the LBPD headquarters). The protestors raised their signs at passers-by and joined together in singing “You Will Never Win.” After an hour of chanting, the WBC packed up their signs and departed for Wilson High School, returning to protest the Jewlicious Festival twice more that weekend before departing Long Beach.
Another protest commenced across Ximeno Avenue after Wilson High School dismissed its students for the day. More than a hundred students joined the counter-protest, raising signs and chanting with the other activists. In anticipation of the event, locals had constructed signs that read, “Our love is greater than your hate” and “If you learn absurdities, you commit atrocities.” In anticipation of the scheduled protests, students of Wilson High either brought signs or were given signs by activists that made extras in case of a big turnout. “The students exercised their first amendment rights and passive resistance well,” said counter-protestor Jennifer Alexander. “Hate is not welcome in our city.”
Though many activists raised signs that were relevant to the focus of the protest (whether for or against the WBC’s views), the majority of the signs bore no relation to the issues. These signs included such statements as “rock hates paper,” “paper hates scissors,” and “annex the moon.” “These signs might seem impertinent, but really it’s symbolism for how ridiculous [this is]” said local resident Hubert Myers, a supporter of the AJCC.
The WBC has departed California to protest in other states, but they will return March 7 to protest the 82nd Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood from 1 to 5pm, believing the Oscar statues to be a form of idolatry.