Forty residents of Arlington, MA, gathered at the Calvary Methodist church on March 16th to participate in a CCP workshop. They had requested preparation for a possible visit to our town by the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church. In January WBC had threatened to picket the Arlington Children’s Theater’s production of “The Laramie Project” about the life and death of Matthew Shepherd. The Boston area has been a frequent target of the WBC and their hate-filled signs and scriptures. Although they didn’t end up coming to Arlington this time, they did picket in several surrounding communities, and there is little doubt they will arrive in Arlington someday.
I was trained as a CCP Facilitator by Janet Chisholm in February, 2005. A few months later, I developed a 2 ½ hour workshop drawing upon the exercises and skills I had learned. It was clear that our community wanted a way to respond actively and nonviolently to a WBC picket of five Christian Churches in Lexington, a neighboring town. The workshop prepares participants to stand in silence, a powerful silence, in a “shield of loving kindness” between the WBC and those they have targeted. In this way we trained over 150 people in 5 teams who made the nonviolent witness, one team from each church. In March 2009 the WBC returned, this time to picket the local High School. Again we offered the workshop, and again the Lexington community responded nonviolently. We trained more than 250 people! It was a powerful moment to see the large number of people standing silently in “shield,” offering their support to the 1500 high school students who were being targeted by the WBC.
This March was the third training. As I had done previously, I shared with the forty Arlington residents four fundamental Principles of Nonviolence handed down to us from leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr:
1. Study the oppressor
2. Design an appropriate action to commit moral Jujitsu
3. Vigorously train
4. Covenant with each other to remain disciplined throughout the action.
During the training, the Arlington residents also learned about the history of the WBC and their tactics. They strengthened their own compassion by “standing in another’s shoes” during the “Circle of Truths” exercise, and they practiced remaining firm and silent in the presence of hateful rants during the “Hassle Line” exercise. Everyone left feeling that they were ready to form the “shield of loving kindness” should the WBC visit Arlington.