No matter what department or classification, all VCU students are familiar with one location on the Monroe Park Campus: the Compass. It’s a public space; whoever seeks to preach or protest there can do so. What we witness there is an expression of free speech, but sometimes, we are also witnesses to hate speech.
Among these demonstrations, most notably, are the street preachers: zealous “Christians” who occasionally stop by to inform students and other passersby that they’re going to Hell. The issue I have with demonstrations like these isn’t so much with the message, but with the undeserved and often hostile attention the demonstrations receive by our student body.
It’s great that students care enough to display their opposition to what these people profess, preaching which often broaches into the realm of hate speech. It shows that we’re a progressive community that’s concerned about the welfare of individuals who aren’t us. We all want to make a difference in our world; some of us choose events like this to express our beliefs and be a voice of opposition and there’s nothing wrong with that. There are definite merits to fighting against what you perceive to be hate speech or a myopic viewpoint, but my concern here is that what students engage in is a zero-sum game or worse, a battle where only the offender wins.
Although we like to believe that we’re being supportive of equality for women and the LGBT community by surrounding a religious zealot en masse and subsequently ridiculing and debating him, while occasionally performing feats of amusement, there is a better way to express your support for equality and it doesn’t involve standing around in the cold, listening to a madman speak: Just keep walking.
Walking past something that disgusts you can be seen as cowardly and even as a tacit approval of what’s going on, but it can also mean you’re not investing yourself into a losing situation.
Say what you will about the preachers, but they are determined and persistent. When faced down by dozens of angry faces shouting against them, they don’t back down. That doesn’t make them brave, but it shows their persistence and dedication to their own beliefs. It also further exemplifies that they are, to an extent, people who can’t be reasoned with. It doesn’t matter what students do to make their opposition and it doesn’t matter that mountains of evidence disprove whatever said preacher espouses: They are married to their message.
Keep in mind that these individuals and anti-choice groups who protest and preach on the Compass are a vocal minority. They are an ebbing demographic and not representative of our country. Few, if any, people on this campus believe in what they preach. They aren’t what we should consider serious threats to our liberty. They vote, but they don’t legislate.
Although they may be symbolic of a movement, they are, at the end of the day, a relic of America’s past. They’re not the voice of our generation. They’re not the prophet of a movement. They’re not a government official legislating your rights.
Fighting against them fuels their determination. It makes them proselytize harder and more vigorously in defense of their beliefs.
It’s also important to keep in mind that, even though you don’t agree with what they say, free speech cuts both ways and they have a right to voice their opinions. Being rude to them, shouting at them, yelling profanity and other universally obscene things doesn’t make you seem any better than them.
Instead, fight fire with blissful ignorance. Ignore them. Walk on by, go to class or find an organization that’s supportive of LGBT or pro-choice causes and donate your time or money to them.
By not engaging and not investing, we avoid fueling that fire and engage in a more productive and effective mission. No amount of reason or displays of perceived blasphemy will dissuade them from returning, only further encourage them that their message is, in their own mind, correct.