After violent clashes left one dead and dozens injured at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., last week, people across the Monadnock Region are responding with messages of love, acceptance and resistance to hate.
This week, Keene City Councilors Mitchell H. Greenwald and Carl B. Jacobs drafted a statement condemning bigotry and racism.
“We are opposed to any action, statement or group that supports racial intolerance, or ethnic superiority,” the statement reads. “We state unequivocally that white supremacists, bigotry, anti-Semitism, neo-Nazis and other hate groups are repulsive, and are contrary to our countries (sic) values and have no place in our society and will not be tolerated.”
The statement was written on behalf of “residents, employees and business leaders in the Greater Keene area.” So far, it has about 50 signatures, according to Greenwald.
Last weekend’s Unite the Right rally, organized in protest of the planned removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a Charlottesville park, was attended by neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan members, including former KKK leader David Duke. Participants shouted racist and anti-Semitic slogans, carried Confederate and Nazi flags and clashed violently with counterprotesters. At least one Keene resident, white nationalist Christopher Cantwell, participated.
Greenwald said he felt a statement should be written to make clear that the behavior and ideals exhibited by white supremacists in Charlottesville are unacceptable. After a recent trip to a Nazi documentation museum — which examines the causes and consequences of Nazism — in Germany, he said he’s become more aware of the way intolerance can spread.
“It starts out with little things, and then gradually it gets bigger and bigger, and it feeds on itself,” he said. “It’s promoted, and it starts to become acceptable. Suddenly, you wind up with what happened in Germany.”
Greenwald brought the statement Wednesday night to a Business After Hours event held by the Greater Keene Chamber of Commerce, where he encouraged attendees to sign the document if they’re in agreement.
It’s not an official petition, but a reminder of Keene’s values, he noted. He plans to ask the City Council, once it’s back in session, to approve a similar resolution stating Keene stands against hate.
“I think that as a city councilor, I’m in a position where I can bring it forward and really elevate the conversation and shine a bright light on it,” he said. “We need to make this kind of statement, and the City Council is a good place to do it.”
Other people in the region are coming together in other ways to voice their opposition to the violence and bigotry exhibited in Charlottesville.
Last Sunday, more than 50 people from across the region gathered in Keene’s Central Square in an event called “Keene Stands With Charlottesville” to protest racism, fascism and hate.
This Sunday, people are invited to gather in Walpole for a peaceful “justice rally,” according to a news submission sent to The Sentinel. The rally will start at 6 p.m. on the front lawn of St. John’s Episcopal Church, to “build support for efforts that combat hate, bigotry, racism, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, and other forms of systemic hatred,” the submission says.
The Keene Interfaith Clergy Association has organized another gathering, called “Be the Light of Keene,” on Aug. 27, to “surround the city in candlelight and love,” according to a news release from event organizers.
At 7:30 p.m., people are invited to gather in Central Square, where Mayor Kendall W. Lane will give a brief welcome. Then, attendees will walk down both sides of Main Street, single file, until the lines reach the roundabout near Keene State College.
Once everyone is in place, a flame will be passed down the lines until each candle is lit, and the crowd will sing “This Little Light of Mine” in unison. Candles will be available at the event, but those who have their own are encouraged to bring them along.
Elsa Worth, rector at St. James Episcopal Church in Keene and a member of the Keene Interfaith Clergy Association, said the organization wanted to create a positive moment in the midst of negativity.
“The clergy and I felt that it would be important to have some kind of event that brings all the people of Keene together in what holds us together in common,” she said, “which is being in community together and knowing that this is a city that’s filled with good hearts.”
The goal of the evening is to promote unity in response to the hate displayed in Charlottesville, Worth said.
“The thing is, I think almost everyone can agree that we can draw the line at hate crimes,” she said.
“KKK, Nazis, white supremacy — it’s not what Keene is about.”