“I can only imagine the fear and terror minority groups must feel on a daily basis in our current social climate,” said Charlie Oliver, a SUNY student and member of NYPIRG. She recounted how when she was a teenager, a man yelled at her in a parking lot to “Go back to Mexico.” Oliver has a multi-ethnic background and is not Hispanic. Oliver said she was “aghast” at the hatred directed toward her. “It was weeks before the 2016 elections and I had heard that white supremacy was on the rise, but I had no idea what it felt like to be a target.” She used the negative incident to propel her activism for social justice.
Oliver was the first student speaker at the “Honor Diversity — Defeat White Supremacy Rally and March” held last Saturday, November 2 at the Peace Park in New Paltz and attended by about 200 people. Knowing that such accounts of bigotry and hatred are on the rise is why New Paltz Women in Black decided to organize the event.
“We all showed up today to stand against white supremacy and to stand up in defense of inclusion, equality and diversity,” said Donna Goodman, one of the organizers. “We can’t take our democracy for granted. We must defend it by using it actively, by pushing our society in the direction we value.”
There were a variety of speakers from students to elders, all from diverse backgrounds and speaking on a wide-range of topics from the Extinction Rebellion that calls for an end to fossil fuels, to the student-led Take Back the Night that empowers survivors of sexual and domestic violence. Speakers were interspersed with songs of empowerment and equality by the Resisterhood Choir and chants, like, “Free the immigrants. Jail the tyrants,” led by Women in Back member Ruth Molloy.
Rosalyn Cherry, also of New Paltz Women in Black was checking in the speakers and said there was an electricity in the air and everyone seemed happy to be there to stand in solidarity with all people who are feeling threatened and being oppressed and marginalized during these times. “It’s empowering for everyone to feel a sense of belonging and that they are a part of a movement for positive change,” she said.
Bob Gelbach from Jewish Voice for Peace advocated for the rights of the Palestinian people, while also speaking out against anti-Semitism. He urged everyone to defeat racism wherever we find it, because it keeps people divided and powerless. He also said that criticism of Israel for denying the Palestinian people equal rights was not anti-Semitic. He reminded everyone that there are many Jews living in Israel who are fighting for human rights for all.
Urban Lyrics of SUNY New Paltz was represented by Carmen Tirado who gave a rousing tribute to Malcolm X in her spoken word performance. Later when interviewed by a local TV station, Tirado said the event was comforting for her. “I felt a lot of love from everyone,” she said.
Fanon Frazier from the African Roots Library spoke of the need to reduce mass incarceration, the Jim Crow of our times. He spoke of how strong and pervasive racism is and that we have to guard against being desensitized and beat down by it. He asked the crowd, “Are you beat down?” and “NO!” was the resounding answer.
The people took that resolve and spirit with them as they marched down Main Street, lofting signs that read, “Hate Has No Home Here”, “Ain’t No Power Like the Power of the People” and many others. The Tin Horn Uprising brass band and a ten-foot-tall puppet of Sojourner Truth, plus other puppets from the Redwing Blackbird Theater led the way lending a festive atmosphere to the march.
People viewing the march were generally positive, but one woman said it made her feel angry. She would not elaborate, but a young man, Kyle Hughes, standing near her said it made him happy.
“I like seeing all the different ages and people marching together for a great cause. He added, “We don’t have this type of vibe in New Jersey.”
A gentleman smoking in front of a bar didn’t seem to know quite what to think of it, but ended up saying he supported it, “because this is America and everyone has a right to voice their opinions.”
That was a theme for the day, that valuing our freedom and our diversity is what makes America great and that we have to use the tools of democracy to save democracy. Many speakers reminded attendees of the power of our vote.
Organizer Ingrid Hughes told the crowd, “Please understand that public protests like ours are the most powerful way to bring about social change. That’s why the first amendment to the constitution provides for the right of the people to peacefully assemble. We can make change if we keep protesting, if we come back here and bring even more people with us next time.”
For a list of the 35 co-sponsors of the day, go to Facebook, Honor Diversity — Defeat White Supremacy event page and join the New Paltz Women in Black group on Facebook. The group has been standing in front of the Elting Memorial Library for peace and justice for 18 years. All are welcome to join them any Saturday from 12:45 to 1:30 p.m.