I wanted to do a brief follow-up to my previous post. After writing that post I was invited to participate in the counter-protest at Drake University in response to the Westboro Baptist’s demonstration. I wasn’t able to go out to that (though it looks like it went quite well) but it did get me thinking about the effectiveness of protests and counter-protests.
I wanted to participate in something like that because a gathering like that would have the effect of showing solidarity with a group who’s right are being infringed upon and demonstrate that we believe things can be different. At the same time, I have always been a bit wary of such demonstrations because I fear they may be perpetuating a deeper problem. You see, with demonstrations like this the default mentality is us verses them. Battle lines are drawn and any kind of real discourse becomes nearly impossible and when discourse becomes impossible so does any kind of real understanding.
Indeed, it seems that the primary purpose of a public demonstration is not to gage points-of-view or even gain converts but to simply establish what camp people are in. For this particular issue I don’t really believe that is what’s needed.
On this issue I have made my position quite clear but from that position I often have to remind myself that people on the other side of the fence are not to be treated as enemies. The vast majority of these people are not bigots as they are made out to be but are simply following what they believe to be right. When you believe that your view is right no number of placards is ever going to change your mind. No, the only way to achieve anything here is for people to bring their ideas into the public forum with sincerity, logic, and mutual respect.* It is in this sort of forum that freedom of speech can more ideally be practiced.
*Ironically, it was this sort of forum taking place at Drake University that caused the Westboro protesters to show up in the first place.