02/2010

Ten Ways to Fight Hate: A Community Response Guide

5 Create an Alternative

Do not attend a hate rally. Find another outlet for anger and frustration and for people’s desire to do something. Hold a unity rally or parade to draw media attention away from hate.

Hate has a First Amendment right. Courts have routinely upheld the constitutional right of the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups to hold rallies and say what they want. Communities can restrict group movements to avoid conflicts with other citizens, but hate rallies will continue. Your efforts should focus on channeling people away from hate rallies and toward tolerance.

Do Not Attend a Hate Rally
As much as you’d like to physically show your opposition to hate, shout back or throw something, confrontations serve only the perpetrators. They also burden law enforcement with protecting hatemongers against otherwise law-abiding citizens.

>> In Memphis, Tenn., a riot broke out between Klansmen and counter-demonstrators on Martin Luther King’s birthday. More than 100 police threw tear gas canisters and arrested 20 anti-Klan demonstrators while protecting the Klan’s right to rally and speak.

>> Ann Arbor, Mich., was stung by a rally in which 300 police officers failed to protect the Klan from a chanting crowd that threw rocks and sticks, hurting seven policemen and destroying property. The Klan members were able to stand on the First Amendment, surrounded by what one of their leaders called “animal behavior.”

>> A 25-minute march by the Aryan Nations through 15 blocks of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, cost the state, county and city more than $125,000 for public safety. Mayor Steve Judy described this as money spent to protect free speech. “But we could have taken the money and done a lot for human rights with it.”

A World of Ideas
Every act of hatred should be met with an act of love and unity.

Many communities facing a hate-group rally have held alternative events at the same hour, some distance away, emphasizing strength in community and diversity. They have included picnics, parades and unity fairs featuring food, music, exhibits and entertainment. These events give people a safe outlet for the frustration and anger they want to vent. As a woman at a Spokane human rights rally put it, “Being passive is something I don’t want to do. I need to make some kind of commitment to human rights.”

>> When the Klan announced plans to clean up shoulders and ditches along a stretch of road under the Adopt-a-Highway program in Palatine, Ill. — and officials realized they couldn’t stop it — local teenagers flooded City Hall with so many applications that they claimed every inch of highway earmarked for the program and pushed the Klan onto a waiting list. “Truth and love and kindness and caring won out over hate,” Mayor Rita Mullins said. “It restored my faith in humanity.”  

>> Pulaski, Tenn., the birthplace of the Ku Klux Klan in 1866, closed its doors to white supremacists attempting to rally there. Racists found the town closed for business, including McDonald’s, the grocery store and Wal-Mart. “They couldn’t find a place to get a hamburger or even go to the bathroom,” the mayor said. In subsequent years, the Klan rally became a joke, and even the media got bored with it. “Last year no one came,” the mayor said. “The year before that, the only TV was the Comedy Channel.”

>> When the Klan came to Indianapolis, local museums, the state capitol and other attractions opened their doors to citizens for free. Community leaders held a youth rally in a ballroom. A huge coalition, including the mayor and the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts, placed a full-page ad in The Indianapolis Star deploring the Klan.

An Alternative to Hate in Maine
On Oct. 1, 2002, the mayor of Lewiston, Maine, sent an open letter to the town’s growing Somali community. He told them the town was “maxedout, physically and emotionally” from what the press began to call a Somali “invasion.”  

By that point, about 1,100 Somali immigrants lived in Lewiston, a city of about 36,000 residents.

One Somali resident told a local newspaper he was shocked by the sentiment in the mayor’s letter. “He thinks he’s mayor for only white residents,” Mohamed Driye said. “He’s not only their mayor. He’s our mayor, too.” Others, in a letter, described the mayor as “an ill-informed leader … bent toward bigotry.”

Two hate groups — the National Alliance and what was then known as the World Church of the Creator — saw an opportunity for “outreach.” They planned a January 2003 rally in Lewiston, hoping to attract disgruntled, anti-immigrant residents. Their own “open” letter to the town began with this greeting: “Dear fellow white people.”

Somalis and their many supporters in Lewiston planned an alternative event. Local churches, students and dozens of concerned residents joined the effort.

Working with hate-group experts, including the Southern Poverty Law Center, the group chose not to engage the hate groups directly, but rather to send a separate, stronger message against hate.

“We invited everyone together … and brought everyone under one umbrella,” the Rev. Mark Schlotterbeck said.

Added James Carignan, a professor and dean at Bates College, referring to the planned hate rally: “This is not who we are, and we have to make sure people know that.”

The umbrella group, calling itself the Many and One Coalition, planned teach-ins and a diversity rally for the same day, in a different location.

The result? More than 4,000 attended the Many and One event, while fewer than 100 showed up at the hate rally.

Ziad Hamzeh later made a film about Lewiston; “The Letter” has played at film festivals across the country, drawing praise and garnering awards.

“I went to Lewiston thinking, ‘What do these people have to teach me?’ And they taught me a lot,” Hamzeh said. “They taught me to be a better American, a better human being. I was able to relearn and re-experience again what America is.”