After the trauma of last week's tornado—the deadliest on record—Joplin, Mo. will now be descended upon by a hate group. The Westboro Baptist Church will protest President Barack Obama's visit to the town on Sunday.
News of the hate group's visit traveled quickly, sparking people to action. Amid the rubble, people are standing up in support of this town of 50,000, including the 125 dead and the more than 900 injured.
Within hours, Facebook communities popped up, planning how to respond peacefully to the Westboro Baptist Church. At last count, 18 groups had formed, comprised of between five to more than 10,000 people each. In these pages, you can find the work of ordinary citizens standing up for their neighbors. Responders plan to line two major streets with flags and pro-Joplin signs during President Obama's visit this Sunday.
But the support is not limited to those with a personal connection to Joplin: People are sending well wishes from Kansas City, MO, planning a motorcycle calvacade from Coffeyville, KS, and caravans from Northwest Arkansas. Others are pledging $1 for every Westboro Baptist Church picketer to the Ozark Red Cross.
Whether to respond to hate groups is a contentious issue. Some say anything that calls attention to the hate group is providing them the exposure they desire, and all seem to agree that direct confrontation with hate groups is counterproductive. But here at Not In Our Town, we have found that communities want to affirm their values and support each other.
As with Tucson, we want the people of Joplin to know that we stand with them. And we hope that those of you in the Not In Our Town community will stand with them as well.
Please connect with the people of Joplin by sharing your own stories of positive responses to hate groups and sending your messages of solidarity and support in the comments below. Not In Our Town will relay these messages to the many Joplin groups on Facebook who are organizing for Sunday.
Thank you for helping us stop hate. Together.
To view examples of community responses to the Westboro Baptist Church and other hate groups, visit our "Responses to Hate Groups" collection.
5/29/11 Update: Joplin Globe, "Westboro members not present at service."