Last night, Richard Spencer spoke at Michigan State University, a venue he had sued to secure as a stage for his white nationalist speech. Nearby, All Saints Episcopal Church hosted a Diversity Fair, an alternative event designed to allow participants not only to avoid the white supremacists gathering to hear Spencer speak, but to do something positive instead.
Protesters prevented some attendees from reaching Spencer’s event, and police made several arrests, but a diverse coalition of civic and religious organizations had a different kind of counter-protest in mind.
Well north of the pavilion, a broad coalition of organizations including the city of East Lansing, the undergraduate and graduate student governments, MSU’s College Democrats, College Republicans, the local chapter of Black Lives Matter, and an interfaith clergy group were collaborating on a full day of activities in an effort to ignore Spencer.
Ashley Fuente, president of the Council of Graduate Students, planned to first spend two hours with about 30 volunteers, packing food for Meals on Wheels. “I think the way the community has come together has been absolutely incredible,” Fuente said of the Spartan Day of Love & Solidarity.
It was important to unite both the university and the larger community for this, said Aaron Stephens, an MSU senior who is a member of the East Lansing City Council. He said that having all the major political groups on campus — Democrats, Republicans and libertarians — join together signals that “if you believe in white supremacy, you don’t disagree with me politically, you disagree with me morally. Even if we disagree on issues, we agree everyone is equal and we deserve to be treated as such.”
The student government was also sponsoring a free screening of “Black Panther” later in the evening, and bought out a 270-seat theater to accommodate the attendees.
At the All Saints Episcopal Church north of campus, the Rev. Kit Carlson, the church’s rector, admitted she’s “a little bit overwhelmed” by the magnitude of the response to the celebration of diversity they hosted Monday afternoon: More than 1,000 people RSVP’d online for the fair.
“This is an opportunity to bring the community together, reaffirm our shared values of tolerance, love and diversity and really try to ignore what’s going on at the pavilion as much as we can,” Carlson said.
“Absolutely, people need to say hate is bad and probably need to say it to his face. That’s not our role here today,” Carlson said. “The only thing that concerns me about the anti-fascists and the counter-protesters is that sometimes that devolves into hate, too, when the two groups get face-to-face. When that happens, then basically you’ve bought into Spencer’s narrative.”
Michigan Live spoke to more civic and faith leaders from the Monday evening event at All Saints:
“I want to thank everyone for coming here instead of the Ag Building,” [East Lansing Mayor Mark] Meadows said. “This is about celebrating what East Lansing is all about, what Lansing is all about and what our region is all about. It’s diversity, it’s acceptance and it’s welcoming. It’s not what they’re talking about over there.”…
Rabbi Amy Bigman of Congregation Shaarey Zedek said she stood with faith leaders from across the wider Lansing community supporting a place of tolerance and diversity.
“All of our religious traditions uphold the primary value of love,” Bigman said. “In the end, it is only love that will matter.”
Featured image: Rabbi Amy Bigman shares a poem intended to bring unity during the “Celebration of Diversity Festival,” hosted by All Saints Episcopal Church and sponsored by the Interfaith Clergy Association of Greater Lansing. The event was held at the same time white nationalist Richard Spencer spoke at Michigan State University.(Martin Slagter l MLive.com)