Demonstration draws 300 on North Central Campus

Members of the NCC community display signs during a demonstration meant to counter a threatened picket by the Westboro Baptist Church. The group did not appear in Naperville.

Members of the NCC community display signs during a demonstration meant to counter a threatened picket by the Westboro Baptist Church. The group did not appear in Naperville.

As the bell tower at North Central College rang to signal the six o’clock hour, sociology major Elizabeth Micheletti had a problem. The crowd she found herself leading was too large to fit in the college’s Koten Chapel, and she needed to make a change.

So the senior called an audible, and like a seasoned activist leading a demonstration, she climbed atop a bench and delivered the speech her family said she had been practicing all-day.

“We will kill your hatred with our kindness, and disarm you with grace,” she said as if talking to Westboro Baptist Church members. Last week, the Kansas-based anti-gay group revealed plans to be on campus Monday. In response, students, neighbors and church members gathered in counter protest.

The group, best known for displaying slur-laden signs near military funerals, never showed up Monday to protest the showing of “The Anatomy of Hate: A Dialogue to Hope” on the Naperville campus. Group members, who say war casualties are God’s way of punishing the United States for tolerating homosexuality, are featured in the film.

“It’s better than I thought,” she said above impromptu sing-alongs of “All You Need is Love,” and “Somebody to Lean On. “We didn’t need (the WBC) — everyone came here and did what they wanted to do.”

This is Micheletti’s first time leading a demonstration. Though her sociology focus and a course in Protest and Change gave her some tools to organize, she didn’t expect the Facebook group she created last Wednesday to grow into an event with more than 4,400 people invited.

The crowd, which NCC Director of Public Relations and Media Relations Ted Slowik estimated to be about 300, held colorful signs with everything from “Support Our Troops” to Lady Gaga lyrics. Micheletti and other student leaders who planned the counter-protest also passed jars to collect donations for the Trevor Project, an organization that focuses on suicide prevention among gay and lesbian youths.

She also said the donations will be matched by the Levi-Strauss company.

“My big complaint about (Westboro Baptist) is the military side,” said Josh Schlapp, a member of the Navy who heard about the demonstration from friends who attend NCC. He said members of the military who are killed died fighting for the hate group’s right to protest, and he is upset when they choose to protest their funerals as they are known to do.

North Central graduate Christine Kent said she was happy to see so many people come out to demonstrate during the college’s “Anti-Hate Week,” and called the group “repulsive.”

“It’s such the opposite of anything about love or acceptance,” she said of the group’s message.

Micheletti’s family, who also attended the counter-demonstration, commended her efforts.

“It’s amazing to see what her by herself and a Facebook group has made something so big,” Katie Micheletti, her older sister, said.

The night concluded with the screening of the documentary “The Anatomy of Hate,” which details reasons why certain groups hate others. Westboro Baptist is one of the subjects, and used as an example of anti-homosexual sentiments in the film.

Elizabeth Micheletti had one more message for the group as she addressed her peers — gratitude.

“Thanks to the WBC for their threat, which brought everyone together,” she said. “At NCC we embrace love and kindness.”