WSU Vancouver was sent into a tailspin after a student-comprised letter circulated around campus last week regarding a group called Patriot Prayer. Even before the group’s scheduled protest on Tuesday Oct. 23, many students feared for their safety and were given the the okay from professors to not attend classes that day.
Moriah Gonzales, a humanities major, said she favored peaceful protests, but prefers not to hear from hate groups. The issue was not with the protest itself, according to Gonzales, but instead the risk of violence associated with the protest was her reason for not to attending classes Tuesday.
“I don’t necessarily believe there will be violence on campus that day,” said Gonzalez on Monday. “I would rather stay away to avoid the situation altogether, just to be safe.”
Senior strategic communication major David Koon said “My education means more to me than the possible actions of a radical or extremist group,” adding, “Nothing will stand between me and my degree.”
On Monday evening in FSC 104, a small gathering of students took part in “Having Our Say: Creating banners of inclusion and solidarity.” The event, organized by Sky Wilson and Shameem Rakha, allowed students to paint posters and discuss the anticipated events. The signs, which were placed in the courtyard late Monday night contained phrases such as “Love not hate” and “Cougars want peace.”
Signs from the Monday night event awaited the planned demonstration Tuesday morning, along with additional security from Vancouver Police Department and the Clark County Sheriff’s office. Several students chose not to attend classes in light of the events and some faculty cancelled classes or provided alternative class arrangements, such as online lectures.
The campus was pretty eerie, according to Koon, adding that not many people were in his classes.
Like Koon, senior strategic communication major Kenny White was another one of the few students at the protest. White said he agreed with the student- organized letter in terms of student safety being important and because of it, didn’t expect many students to show up to the protest.
“I hope the other groups who are violent don’t come,” White said.
Around 11 a.m. students, staff and community members gathered around the Firstenberg Family Fountain on campus in anticipation for Patriot Prayer’s visit. Robert West, who identifies as a “cop watcher,” that records and documents police presence at protests attended the event. He said he was there to “support Joey Gibson.”
Police stationed themselves at building entrances around the WSU Vancouver courtyard. Group leader Joey Gibson and more Patriot Prayer protestors arrived on campus around 12 p.m. Once on campus the group passed out pamphlets and literature advertising to vote no on Washington State Initiative 1639 which imposes stricter gun laws.
Near 12:30 p.m. following a Gibson’s speech, Tusitala “Tiny” Toese, another prominent member of Patriot Prayer, stood on the rock wall surrounding the quad and spoke. A plane can’t fly without both wings, Toese paraphrased when discussing the relationship between liberals and conservatives.
The protesters left before their scheduled end- time around 2:00 p.m. with police following after.
“There were no incidents,” Commander Michael McCabe of the Clark County Sheriff’s office said.
On Wednesday, classes resumed as expected. Patriot Prayer returned to Clark College which had been closed on Monday due to the group’s visit. Clark College remained open on Wednesday and the protest went without any abnormal incidents.
Students remained quiet with regards to Tuesday’s demonstration when back on campus Wednesday. With signs in the courtyard removed and classes operating as normal, WSU Vancouver operated as usual.
On Sunday, Oct. 28, WSU Vancouver adjunct professor Elizabeth Hovde wrote an opinion article in The Oregonian with the headline “The misunderstood Joey Gibson” regarding the group’s visit to WSU Vancouver.
“For two hours, I watched challenging, inquisitive, respectful conversations happening on the campus plaza between people of different political persuasions.” Hovde wrote. “Instead of the violence predicted, [Joey] Gibson brought something we need more of: talk that leads to increased understanding about opposing thoughts and the people behind them. It was the kind of conversation that helps people find common ground.”