A rally to “Rise against Hate” will be held this Saturday, June 8 from 1 to 2:30 p.m. in front of the Elting Library, 93 Main Street in New Paltz.
Organizers say they felt it was time for a community response denouncing hateful incidents in schools and the community and to show solidarity with students and others who have been targets of bigotry and intimidation.
There have been ten incidents of racism and anti-Semitism in New Paltz schools in the past four months. According to Alexandra Zissu, an organizer of the event and mother of a New Paltz Middle School student, the incidents include swastikas found in the middle school and high school and students calling each other the n-word.
“There is frustration among many people in the community that the level of alarm about this isn’t higher and the response hasn’t been immediate,” said Zissu.
“We felt like we needed to do something to publicly and directly call out these incidents, to come together as a community and to stand in solidarity with anyone who feels threatened by them. We hope to see many students that day.”
The two main sponsors and organizers of the event are New Paltz Women in Black and Moms for a Non-Toxic New York. New Paltz Women in Black, a familiar group to New Paltz residents, have been standing demonstrating in front of the library every Saturday for nearly 18 years.
“When Alexandra approached us with this idea, we immediately wanted to be a part of it,” said Barbara Upton of New Paltz Women in Black.
While the event is focused on the New Paltz School District, the organizers say the issues are part of a broader problem that needs to be addressed.
“We are inviting vulnerable and marginalized members of our community to come to address how prejudice and hatred affect them,” said Upton. Organizers are inviting representatives from the immigrant, Black, Latino, LGBTQ, Muslim and Jewish communities.
The organizers of “Rise Against Hate” have also invited people from all across New Paltz to participate in the event, including administrators in New Paltz schools, leadership in the New Paltz Central School District, community faith leaders and students.
Newly-elected New Paltz Board of Education member Bianca Tanis read a letter at a recent Board of Education meeting which contained the following: “To date, there have been no specific school-wide responses or efforts that would comfort and assure students who may be feeling fear or confusion, and no specific education regarding the meaning of these images and words.” She called this unacceptable, adding that “the passage of time with no clear or specific response to these incidents sends a strong message, but unfortunately it is the wrong message.”
“We want everyone to join in this,” said Olli Chanoff, another organizer and parent of a middle school student. “Nationally there is an increase in hate speech and hate crimes, and much as we would like to think otherwise, we are not immune to it in our own community. This needs to be a public conversation, and our kids and our educators need to be part of it. Ignoring this kind of thing is not going to make it go away. We hope that standing up to it is something everyone can get behind.”
The event has received support from over a dozen area organizations. Co-sponsors to date include: The Maya Gold Foundation, The ReSisterhood, New Paltz Democratic Women, New Paltz Racial Equity Coalition, March On Hudson Valley, Indivisible the Fight Is On, AAUW, Kingston, ENJAN- End New Jim Crow Action Network, Move Forward New York, Indivisible Ulster, U-Act (Ulster Activists), Ulster Immigrant Defense Network, the Rondout Valley High School Human Rights Club, Concerned Parents of New Paltz and New Paltz Socialists.
Tin Horn Uprising will be playing, the ReSisterhood Choir will be singing and puppets from the Red Wing Blackbird Theater will be performing at the event.
On the day of the event, a poster-making party will be held at Ryan Cronin: CronArtUSA in the Water Street Market from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
“It will be a peaceful, family-friendly event.” said Upton. “We hope many will join us to help reaffirm New Paltz as a hate-free community.”