A white supremacist, Richard Spencer will speak at Michigan State University this evening – much to the dismay of many in the community. Spencer’s request to speak was initially denied by the campus – but a lawsuit resulted in a compromise between the two sides. Spencer is permitted to use the MSU pavilion on the outskirts of campus during spring break.
"Honestly from where I’m standing, I see it as an attack," says Erin Paskus. She's is an undergraduate student organizer with the Stop Spencer Coalition. It’s been planning events to prepare for Spencer, including sign making and a workshop on direct action, protest rights, and safety.
Paskus was recently at an information session about how to become a legal observer. They keep an eye on the police and keep track of interactions between protestors and law enforcement. The session is led by members of the Detroit and Michigan Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild.
Paskus says the coalition wants to have a strong showing against Spencer. It’s a way to prevent hate from being mainstream.
"And to help people not be scared. Like, my friends are terrified for their lives, and if I can do anything to help them not feel that way, I will," Paskus said.
The coalition plans to protest Spencer for several hours before and during his speech. It’s unclear at this point how many people will show up, but Paskus says they’ve been working with several groups.
Spencer’s presence has sometimes sparked violent response between protestors and his supporters.
And Spencer kinda likes the protestors.
"These people underestimate me," Spencer says. "I kind of like a fight. When I get pushback that’s a sign to me that I need to go forward harder and harder."
A few miles away from the pavilion where Spencer will speak, East Lansing’s All Saints Church, is taking a different approach.
"You have to imagine it just packed with people tracking dirt in, a big pile of cookies here, people painting signs, people singing in there," says Reverend Kit Carlson. He and members of other faith organizations and multiple MSU student groups, are putting on a Celebration of Diversity Festival.
Carlson says, during the hours of Spencer’s event, All Saints rectory area and parking lot will be a place of welcome and acceptance. There will be food, music from around the world and opportunities to donate to good causes. Carlson says they’re doing this in large part for the groups that white nationalists hate.
"It’s not the target groups jobs to stop white supremacists," says Carlson. "So we’re hoping that people who are target groups, members of target groups, will feel safe and like this is a good place to be on a day when hate comes to town."
While the church community is organizing the event, a lot of the money is coming from MSU student groups. Including tickets for a showing of Black Panther after the event. Those groups include the MSU College Democrats, Republican and Libertarian student groups, Associated Students of MSU, Black Student Alliance, and more.
"If we disagree on the issue of white supremacy, we don’t disagree politically, we disagree morally. And I think having all those organizations come together really shows that," says Aaron Stephens, a senior at MSU and an East Lansing City Councilman. He’s been acting as something of a go-between with the school organizations and faith organizations
When it comes to the protests outside of Spencer’s event, Stephens says he respects what protestors doing – but he doesn’t want to give Spencer the media attention.
"We should, you know we have to address it, but I think that we can, you know, kind of just not give them the weight that they want," Stephens says.
Spencer has rented the facility and will control who is allowed into the ticketed event.