Cold temperatures and a snow squall didn’t deter a dedicated group who assembled February 19 for two hours on the Woodstock Village Green to counter a white supremacist group who had recently protested against Black Lives Matter by holding a White Lives Matter banner.
Chants like “Hey hey, ho ho! Racist stuff has got to go” and “This is what democracy looks like” could be heard, while several motorists waved and honked horns in support. Participants carried signs with slogans like “Stop White Supremacy.” One large banner read simply, “All Together” while another read “Families for Peace.”
A large police presence made up of Woodstock town officers, Ulster County Sheriff’s Department deputies and state troopers ensured the event went on free of provocations and confrontations. The White Lives Matter group that prompted Saturday’s gathering did not make an appearance.
Woodstock Police Chief Clayton Keefe, who was on hand at the gathering, estimated the crowd size was about 75-80, easily dwarfing the 10-12 white supremacists who had assembled on February 11.
The atmosphere was joyous and uplifting with many smiling faces, a 180-degree difference from the hate-filled slogans, shouting and confrontations a week prior. Martin Mills, a partner in Illuminated Leaf, a business venture that hopes to open a marijuana dispensary soon, provided free CBD coffee to keep protesters warm. Mills noted how the crowd size eclipsed that of the white supremacists.
Chants were accompanied by a group of musicians who gathered in a circle near the middle of the Green. They are Tin Horn Uprising and describe themselves as an activist street band that provides the soundtrack for many demonstrations in the area. “Sometimes we’re requested by the organizers. We have a reputation in a four-county area,” said horn player Bonnie Meadow. In this case, the demonstration was not organized by one single group, so an email went out and members decided to come on their own. “As we learned about it we sent out an email to our list and asked if anybody could show up in Woodstock.”
The anti-hate gathering was loosely organized by several groups, including Anti-Racist Catskills and Rise Up Kingston. Woodstock NY Women’s March stood in solidarity.
A snow squall knocked visibility down to the point where one could not see from one end of the Green to the other. It dwindled the crowd some, but a group of dedicated protesters remained and some latecomers joined
In front of the Woodstock Reformed Church stood the Rev. Cari Pattison, along with several parishioners and pastors of other area churches. They carried signs in support, some of which read “Hate Has No Home Here” and “We Rise By Lifting Others.”
Parishioner James Ulrich, holding a “Love Resists Hate” sign, had initially expressed reservations about a large group gathering on the Green, but realized there probably wasn’t enough space on the sidewalk. The Village Green is church property and groups that want to use it must request permission from the church and town. Groups organizing the protest did not have time for the permits, but wanted to continue given the urgency of the anti-white-supremacy message.
Town Supervisor Bill McKenna also noted there is a process to apply for use of the Green, but was glad to see it was a peaceful gathering.