See more images of Party Against Westboro in Christopher Victorio's photo gallery.
Saturday morning, Westboro Baptist Church, Fred Phelps' Kansas-based group infamous for their “God Hates [insert target du jour here]” signs and habit of protesting funerals, descended upon Long Beach for the second time this year. The church's latest visit, which coincided with the city's annual Lesbian and Gay Pride Festival, sparked the Party Against Westboro, an Internet-driven, pop culture-centric meet-up that drowned out antagonism with memes.
Counter-protests are nothing new, but Party Against Westboro isn't a protest. The gathering, which was based on the Steal This Protest meet-ups during the church's last trip to the Los Angeles area, is “absurdist street theater.” People dress up in outrageous costumes and carry signs bearing slogans that may or may not make sense to passers-by. The point is to obscure one spectacle by creating another.
“We're just trying to cover up their hate with absurdity and make people forget about what they see and laugh at us instead,” said Kevin Folkerts, who organized the gathering. “We wanted to get people out here and remind them that life is still funny.”
At about 10 a.m., the Party Against Westboro crowd began to gather on a small field where Redondo Avenue hits Ocean Boulevard. The group was largely young and dressed in a mish-mash of street clothes and costumes. Though some carried signs that specifically countered Westboro Baptist Church's anti-gay rhetoric, many did not. Pop culture permeated the gathering, with people referencing everything from Betty White to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, from YouTube videos to commercials. The group waved signs and elicited honks from drivers heading down the main thoroughfare for an hour. Westboro Baptist Church never arrived.
Shortly after 11 a.m., one of the party people shouted to the crowd that the protestors had gone straight the second destination on their protest route. The crowd quickly dispersed and then reconvened in front of Long Beach Performing Arts Center. The tiny group from Westboro Baptist Church was easily overwhelmed by the costumed youth and relegated to a corner of the courtyard. Within minutes, their hate-filled slogans had been buried by messages of zombies, cupcakes and Gumby.