Let's protest better
This week, the Grand Valley State University community suffered through the radical, religious rantings of at least one protester on the Allendale Campus. Upperclassmen, staff and faculty know to expect this type of display at the beginning of the fall semester every year when representatives from fundamentalist organizations verbally accost passersby with their doomsday talk and condemnation of a wide swath of the population. For freshmen peacefully walking on their way to class, though, the sight and sound of one such demonstrator condemning "homosexuals" and other "sinners" to "hell" may have been an unexpected, unwelcome and shocking experience.
The fact is, protesting in a verbally aggressive way is not an effective way to communicate ideas or convince others to change their views on sensitive topics. An individual who yells their beliefs at someone in a disrespectful, tasteless and cruel manner is not going to get anywhere, assuming their goal is actually to persuade, not simply to aggravate.
That being said, it seems obvious that demonstrators who hold signs painted with inflammatory messages and loudly proclaim that entire groups of people are doomed to hellfire for eternity are not actually trying to persuade: They are trying to rile up their ideological opponents. Why they actively choose to go about looking for heated, fruitless verbal sparring matches is another question, the answer for which is surely far more complicated from a psychological standpoint.
Wisely enough, a lot of people at GVSU make a conscious effort not to engage with these types of demonstrators, while some individuals are understandably too bothered to pass by silently. It is difficult to ignore people who choose to be outwardly hateful, especially in a setting filled with thousands of people (in this case, students) whom they have never met before. Still, it's usually a better idea to just keep walking.
If someone is genuinely looking to persuade, not incite vitriolic or violent reactions, they would have more luck demonstrating peacefully with appropriate signs and handouts. Thoughtfully engaging with passersby in polite discussion is a far more effective method of getting people to listen to a message than shouting unwarranted, hateful comments.
We can't keep malicious protesters off campus, and we can't silence their free speech rights. But we can control how we react to their comments. We can choose to keep walking and not give them the satisfaction of getting riled up and stooping to their level. And we can choose to protest better ourselves, engaging others in thoughtful dialogue and listening to what they have to say.