In a state where it takes approximately an hour and a half to drive from one end to the other, the interconnectivity and ties that bind us all together as Rhode Islanders are many. One would certainly think that it would follow that living together in such close quarters would lead us all to find ways to cohabitate, co-exist and make the best of our differences.
Regardless of political affiliation, birthplace or birthright (often brought to the forefront in our little Mecca of colonialism and pilgrim pride), and regardless of religion, color, ethnic origin or sexual orientation, Rhode Islanders rub elbows frequently because of simple demographics.
Why then, can we not come to terms with differences of thought?
Why, in this century do we still insist on boxing, labeling and defining individual peoples due to unique characteristics bestowed upon them, not by choice, but by birth?
Why in 2013 are we still discussing racism in open forum as if it is acceptable? The answer is one that we hold dearly here in our little Ocean State. It is our right. We have been given the right to express our opinions and to hold them out for public consumption. We have been given the right to speak our minds, to voice our opinions, no matter how hateful or hurtful those opinions may be.
This week, Rhode Island has been chosen as a stopping ground for the voice of the Westboro Baptist Church, a group of individuals who spend their time preying on a group of people whom we have no right to discriminate. Today, the people of the Westboro Baptist Church will travel our streets, step foot on our land, knock on our doors and voice their opposition to our laws.
How we conduct ourselves as Rhode Islanders remains to be seen. Will we honor the rights of the protestors? Will we have a collective voice for or against their right? Or will we protect the rights of a class of people for whom we established laws to protect?
We will be there to watch the protests, to see democracy displayed on the doorsteps of our city halls and government buildings. And hopefully as Rhode Islanders, we will once again rub elbows, honoring our close-knit connectivity and conduct ourselves in a noble and just manner.