What if more than 100 activists turned out to protest an anti-Muslim speaker, lined a busy street, chanted and waved signs for a few hours — but the speaker never showed up to feel the force of their reproach?
What if the speaker instead slipped away to an alternate location, a safe place where she found nothing but praise for her extreme views?
Would the protest be a bust, deprived of energy and meaning, like a crowd of Seahawks fans given the wrong address for a playoff rally?
That certainly wasn’t the case last week in Gig Harbor, where scores of protesters were undaunted by the absence of the person they’d come to protest, a woman they anticipated had come to town to purvey hate speech.
Good for them for stirring up the city’s Uptown shopping area on an otherwise unremarkable Friday evening.
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Heidi Mund is a darling of far-right conservatives, known by them as “the Brave German Woman” for her outspoken denunciation of Muslims, whom she calls “people of darkness,” and against the wave of refugees she believes may doom Europe. Mund was scheduled to speak Friday at the Gig Harbor Library for an event hosted by the Tacoma Narrows Tea Party.
Protest leaders promised their peaceful demonstration would stay off library property. When it became clear that Mund wasn’t going to show up, the activists were unfazed. Their extraordinary display along Point Fosdick Drive grabbed passing drivers’ attention, eliciting friendly waves and car horns.
They handed out fliers that concluded: “We want to see Gig Harbor grow more and more into the loving and welcoming community that we know it can be, and we know that it will only happen if we stand up for our fellow neighbors.”
They held signs with messages such as “Stop Islamo-phobia,” “Inclusion means all” and the ubiquitous slogan “Love, not hate, makes Gig Harbor great.”
One sign, which seemed a bit disingenuous, said: “Everyone is welcome.” Clearly Mund was not, and it’s unfortunate that several people arrived at the library to find locked doors and no explanation of what had happened to the speaker they came to see.
A tea party representative told the TNT’s editorial page editor they decided Thursday to move the event (though they never updated their Facebook page) because projected attendance had outgrown the library meeting room. She said they spread the word only among those who’d RSVP’d in advance.
Tough luck for everyone else. Some people would’ve liked to hear Mund share her personal story; many would like to hear her explain what caused her Christian beliefs to take a sharp turn toward intolerance, a broad-brush condemnation of an entire faith group.
What went unsaid by event organizers was that by moving the location unannounced, they spared Mund from being exposed to protesters and prevented the potential disruption of her talk.
Indeed, the threat of disruption is very real in an era when controversial speakers are shouted down (and roughed up) on college campuses, and when political town hall meetings can quickly go sideways. New York Times columnist David Brooks last week aptly lamented how “society has become a free-form demolition derby of moral confrontation.”
Still, we wish Mund and her handlers had taken the risk. There’s little chance of minds being changed, much less hearts reconciled, when people isolate themselves in thought bubbles with like-minded people.
Thank heavens we still have connection points, such as public libraries, to try to burst those bubbles. On April 18, the Pierce County Library’s Lakewood branch will host Turan Kayaoglu, a professor at University of Washington Tacoma; he will lead a discussion on how Muslims in the U.S. have helped shape the American experience for four centuries.
Tea party members are as welcome as anyone.