Click here for video from the counter-protest.
It’s the morning of Oct. 19, and the bright stripes of a rainbow-colored sign are a stark contrast to the four sheriff cars that are parked in Cupertino High School’s bus circle. Behind an iron gate closely guarded by teachers and administrators, FUHSD students and Cupertino community members gather in the quad and sit for a five minute moment of silence to start off the counter-protest against the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church’s presence a mere hundred feet away.
“Keep Calm and Love All”, says a poster in the center of the quad. “Haters gonna hate,” says another.
The Unity Rally, held in the CHS quad on Oct. 19 from 8:00-8:45 a.m., was quickly organized after the word spread through Facebook of WBC’s official notice that they were going to picket at the school. CHS senior Al Hassani was one of the first students to hear about the news, and was one of the three creators of a Facebook event to pass on the information, along with sophomore Jackie Yau and senior Jillian Wolgast. He notes that the purpose of the protest was not to give WBC the attention it wants from this picket.
“We don’t want the hate from WBC to accomplish [its goal],” Hassani said. “We just want to raise awareness.”
CHS student representatives met with teachers and administrators on Oct. 17 to discuss their plans to organize the counter-protest.
“We had the Unity Rally involve different aspects of our school,” CHS ASB President senior Grady Li said. “GSA, Footprints Christian club and drama [all participated], and we had performances that basically brought out the happy side of Cupertino.”
The rally featured several CHS student performances, including choir students singing “We Are the World”, a senior and junior dance group, and a performance by the CHS Cheer team.
“The students really took ownership [of the rally]and wanted to spread the message of tolerance,” CHS GSA advisor Teresa Filice said. “We wanted a positive-oriented response [to WBC’s protest].”
CHS students worked to involve the outside community as well, through publicizing the informational Facebook page about WBC’s plans. Word reached MVHS students through a Tumblr titled “Unite Cupertino” started by senior Christina Aguila.
“I know a lot of [MVHS] people wanted to support [CHS] in whatever they wanted to do, but I just wanted to make sure that we were on the same page,” Aguila said. “For example, [CHS] was planning a silent protest — I didn’t want MVHS people to come with obnoxious signs.”
Although the counter-protesters on Oct. 19 were mostly CHS students, some MVHS students also participated to support the cause. The 2012 Powderpuff team was originally going to perform at the protest, but not all of their members were present. Other students trickled in starting as early as 7:00 a.m. to join in and help set up posters, banners, and music.
Not all students, however, agreed with the decision to hold a counter-protest. According to Aguila, some wanted to conduct a more vocal protest, while others opposed any response that would acknowledge the WBC.
“I believe that what the WBC is saying is kind of slandering Christians and making a bad face in front of people,” senior Peter Choi said. “[The] thing was [that]I felt that was wrong, and at the same time I felt that a counter-protest wasn’t the best solution.”
With the WBC’s departure from CHS at approximately 8:40 a.m., the Unity Rally began to wind down. While most MVHS students returned to their campus for school, some stopped by at the Apple Headquarters to witness WBC’s picket of Steve Jobs’ “celebration of life”. As the school day began back at MVHS, a small cardboard sign lays on the ground of our bus circle at MVHS to serve as a reminder of the unified counter-protest against the Midwest religious group.
“There’s a reason why Dorothy left Kansas.”