Does a tree still fall in the forest if there’s no one there to hear it?
Logic tells us that it does, but the skeptics would like us to consider otherwise.
Last Sunday, a small contingent from the Westboro Baptist Church, which is famous for promoting hate, homophobia and opinions that usually shock people’s senses, visited our town on their way to the Oscars. They stopped at four churches, where they intended to proselytize to the attendees as they left their respective houses of worship.
Upon hearing the news that they were coming, several local residents decided to greet them and counter the Westboro message with one of love and tolerance.
By various accounts, there were six people from Westboro and 200 locals.
That is a lot of love. No incidents were reported and I saw only one mention of the Westboroians making it to Hollywood and Highland on a prominent website.
We struggle with that fine line between reporting the news and rewarding bad behavior. One of the newsroom fights of my career included a discussion of whether or not we would cover the Westboro folks when they were rumored to be enroute to the funeral of a fallen local soldier. I said we should cover them if an incident occurred, management was of the opposing opinion, wanting nothing to appear about them at all.
In other words, don’t reward their offensive nature, it’s only a way to give them the attention they crave.
I reluctantly agreed, reserving the right to report if one of them threw a punch. Fortunately, that never happened. In my recollection, they didn’t even show.
A few days after the recent love fest in the church parking lots, someone posted online about “Passages,” a traveling exhibit from the Museum of the Bible that features the Green Collection of biblical artifacts, which is owned by the founding family of Hobby Lobby, that will open in April in the abandoned Orchard Supply Hardware space that Hobby Lobby will take over some time in 2017. The conversation was spirited, as emotions in the community are mixed about the controversial craft store, which was singled out by the US Supreme Court for its stance on employer-supported birth control.
In other words, there was a little hate in the mix.
We protest intolerance, yet practice it in online forums. Is the keyboard mightier than the picket sign? More importantly, has this replaced sitting around the kitchen table, face to face, and working out differences that can be resolved?
Speaking of protests, remember when Albertsons closed their market on Lyons Avenue in 2005 and Vallarta Markets moved in? Nearly 100 angry villagers – neighbors surrounding the shopping center at Old Orchard Road – filled the City Council chambers to protest Vallarta’s opening, contending that it didn’t “fit in” with the community. I got calls from people who told me that drug dealers and (gasp!) THOSE PEOPLE (Hispanics? Mexicans? People who liked to cook and appreciated a wide selection of fresh foods?) would overrun the center and surrounding apartment complexes and neighborhoods, surely causing property values to plummet. It was one of the ugliest displays of racism since Signal publisher Scott Newhall faced down the Ku Klux Klan in Saugus back in 1966.
Conventional knowledge says that if we ignore something, it might go away. Operative word: might. Another theory is to keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer. That’s the same logic that gives us pause when we’re tempted to unfriend or block someone on our social media pages, because we might miss something that we want to react to later. I believe it’s also referred to as one step away from stalking, but that’s another blog.
The good news is that in our crazy quilt of community, there are people willing to stand up and offer the best they have to give – love and tolerance – in the face of adversity, whether they are a group on Facebook or a sea captain who would not let the bastards keep him down. The Westboroians left, Passages will be open to all, a second Vallarta opened in our city just this week (the parking lot was packed, as it has been in Newhall for the last 10 years, by customers of all races, ages and creeds) and people have the freedom to spend their money at a craft store the size of an aircraft carrier – or not. Their choice.