Monday, September 21st, 2009 | Author:

I came across this story and video (do NOT skip the video, which features the poem “Beat! Beat! Drums!”, t-shirts with Whitman in slouch hat, a bad rendition of “I Kissed a Girl,” people spouting such hate it will give you shivers, and the weirdest dancing religious prostester I’ve seen in a long time) about a protest at Walt Whitman School in Bethesda last April and the counter-protest staged by students and teachers.  Here’s what one protester says to sum it up:

“Walt Whitman is a f*g who died years ago and obviously has been worshiped to the degree that he has a school named after him.”

My friends, this, too, is Whitman under our bootsoles.

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  1. Avatar of techwhit techwhit says:

    The negative messages in that video are very disconcerting. Regardless of Walt Whiman’s sexuality, the most important thing to remember him for was his influential work. Religion was an opponent of Whitman in his time and still seems to follow him today.

  2. Avatar of nataliesayth nataliesayth says:

    One of the disadvantages of relying on technology to communicate is that I have no idea how to translate my reaction of that story and video into a blog comment. My mind feels semi-paralyzed. My body position seems the best way to express my horror– I am timidly breathing and uncertain how to sit, as if moving in any way would be accepting that demonstrations of hate and intolerance move and exist in the same world I do. That the protest happened only a few miles from where I grew up, and I had no idea that had happened. That this kind of hate happens all the time and can only get so much attention and be only so overridden.

    But how about those students? I thought they did an amazing job of fighting back both in terms of morality, free speech, religion, etc. and in terms of supporting Whitman as one to be studied and revered.

  3. Avatar of emilym emilym says:

    The very notion that the Christian God would hate anybody makes me laugh. Did they consult their bibles before creating their signs and t-shirts? Very un-Whitman! Very un-American! Very un-Christian!

  4. Avatar of Mara Scanlon Mara Scanlon says:

    Amen, sisters.

    Techwhit, interesting comment about Whitman’s sexuality not mattering to his influential work. I see your point, and yet I also somewhat disagree with you about it–indeed, my colleague Mary Rigsby and I once argued for an hour and two bottles of wine with my poor neighbor Jeff, a graduate of Walt Whitman High School, about something like this because he, a Buddhist, wanted to see Whitman, his favorite poet, as transcending the body, and I just can’t do that. (Advice given to Jeff by Mary’s husband Leo that night: “Jeff, Jeff! Give it up! They’re English professors!”– but I don’t want Techwhit to feel that way because this is a serious question and he responds meaningfully and well to the video I posted and the serious limitations in thinking recorded there.) But Whitman is so gosh-darned insistent on the body– even, in the Calamus and Children of Adam poems we read here in Fred last week, saying his sexual organs ARE his poem–but really on everyone’s bodies (even if he likes his best). Sexuality is so much a part of that body and of that inseparable soul, that I think I have to read Whitman’s body into his poems, can’t separate them into philosophy or text or language that is not sounding deeply through his physical being as well.

  5. Avatar of s-words s-words says:

    “When you obey God, he blesses you. When you disobey God, he curses you. When the economy is falling, when there are no jobs, when there are no homes, when there is no money, those are curses.”

    No better illustration of the potential narcissism, and even perniciousness, of asserting the “prophetic voice” as literally as Whitman might intend it. (Ironic, of course, that those who dismiss Whitman sound Whitmanly to me.) Whitman is right to warn of the dangers of his or any encompassing unified outlook, reminding readers, as we have noted often in class, that he promises to be as much “the poet of wickedness” as of good.

  6. Even though Westboro Baptist church sucks beyond words (and what the crap at them coming from KANSAS to protest a school in Maryland…so out of their minds) it’s cool that the school took an entire day to talk about Whitman. I don’t ever remember studying him in high school, except for maybe reading O Captain, My Captain in history class. I’m pretty sure none of my English teachers even mentioned him.
    The worst part about that video is that little girl holding the sign. Ugh. Reminds me of the crazy anti-abortion people who were at UMW my freshman year (they may have been here last year too, not sure).

  7. Avatar of admin admin says:

    On another note, I hate subscription walls like the one at the Washington post that prevent me from viewing the video.

  8. Avatar of missvirginia missvirginia says:

    I hate Fred Phelps and his followers. In high school, I did The Laramie Project ( with the drama class and went to the VHSL state championships with it and WON. We all wished he and his followers would have come to the competition. In the play, Phelps was depicted and so we all had to do research. As a christian, they disgust me and it makes me rather sad. Phelps’ followers are so selective about the “bible” they believe in.

    I think Whitman would have really rallied around that one portion of the video when the kids are like, “WE LOVE YOU”. I feel like people definitely were not receptive to homosexuality in Whitman’s time, especially in rural Virginia. Whitman must have been keen on that, otherwise I’m sure he would have let things be published like, “A Man Waits for Me” instead of “A Woman Waits for Me”.

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