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Woodstock Rally Counters Demonstrations of Hate

  • Paulina Ochoa, of Philadelphia, holds a sign board as Jane Curtis, 99, of Woodstock, Vt., writes "I stand for Woodstock values" before the start of a vigil organized by the Woodstock Social Justice Initiative in Woodstock, Vt., on Aug. 19, 2017. Ochoa's daughter, Alex Donahue, 7, made her own sign to bring. "I'm a marcher," said Curtis, who also was at the Montpelier demonstration the day after President Trump's inauguration. "What else can you do?" (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Peter Money, of Brownsville, Vt., left, reads poet Allen Ginsberg's "Song" during a vigil organized by the Woodstock Social Justice Initiative in Woodstock, Vt., on Aug. 19, 2017. The demonstration was held in reaction to the Charlottesville white supremacy rally on Aug. 12. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Sophie Shackleton, of Woodstock, Vt., holds her sign board high while talking with others at the end of a vigil organized by the Woodstock Social Justice Initiative in Woodstock, Vt., on Aug. 19, 2017. The demonstration was held in reaction to the Charlottesville white supremacy rally on Aug. 12. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Sunday, August 20, 2017

Woodstock — Watching the events of the past week, Ilene Haigh, rabbi at Congregation Shir Shalom of Woodstock, remembered her religious mentor, who grew up in 1930s Germany, telling her of Nazis marching past his temple during his bar mitzvah.

Many years later, as a rabbi, he taught Haigh to answer hatred with love, rather than in kind. She listened, and then set the lesson aside, thinking it wouldn’t be needed today.

“I never imagined in a million years it would be true,” she told a crowd on the Woodstock Green on Saturday who gathered to promote social justice and protest racism in response to fatal clashes with white supremacists a week earlier in Charlottesville, Va.

“We cannot be torn apart by what’s happening,” she said, applying the lesson to the present day. “The greatest act of nonviolent resistance we can make is to stick together.”

The Vigil for Love, as organizers called it, was a spur-of-the-moment response to the far-right rallies in Charlottesville, where a neo-Nazi sympathizer last Saturday is accused of ramming his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, injuring many and killing 32-year-old Heather D. Heyer.

The Woodstock rally was also the first event held by a new group, The Woodstock Social Justice Initiative, which aims to raise awareness of systemic racial inequities that may not catch people’s attention in a comparatively wealthy and white region.

“People here are very comfortable,” said Jacqueline Fischer, a Woodstock resident and one of the organizers. “To live here, most people have to be financially stable. … The question is how to see and acknowledge our privilege.”

Part of that work will be to draw the community’s attention to racial inequities that are not openly recognized, Fischer said, citing the conditions under which immigrant farm workers live in Vermont.

“It’s not about guilt,” she said. “It’s about who we aspire to be.”

More than 70 people came to the Woodstock Green at noon to share thoughts, read poems and sing social-justice songs. Gathered in a loose ring, participants spoke out when they were moved to do so, and otherwise stayed quiet or chatted amongst themselves. After Peter Money, of Brownsville, staged a passionate reading of Allen Ginsberg’s Song, the group started to march around the green, singing The Beatles’ All You Need Is Love.

Among the marchers was Kevin McEvoy Leveret, who held up a cardboard box as a sign. On one side were political cartoons. On the other, a cartoon of a gorilla in tights kicking President Donald Trump in the face. “Viva antifa,” the sign said, referring to the “anti-fascist” movement that confronted white nationalists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville last weekend. The antifa movement has gained notoriety at Charlottesville and elsewhere for using aggressive tactics designed to goad alt-right demonstrators to violence. Trump himself included them in a sweeping denouncement of the fighting in the Virginia college town, saying repeatedly that “many sides” were to blame.

Leveret called the idea that antifa activists were equally responsible for the violence “hogwash.” Trump, in turn, has drawn criticism from liberals and members of his own party for not laying culpability squarely at the feet of the far-right protesters.

Leveret, a retired engineer from White River Junction, found the gorilla cartoon on the internet. In the original image, the superhero ape — whom Leveret calls the Green Mountain Gorilla — carried a mallet.

“I had to take that out,” he said. “It was too violent.”

The Woodstock Social Justice Initiative’s first gathering was meant to be an educational forum scheduled for October.

But when its organizers saw the news down south last week, “we knew we had to do something,” said Mary Ellen Solon.

Solon, a Montpelier social worker who lives in Woodstock, said October’s planned event would feature public discussions and speakers such as Howard Coffin, a Civil War historian. Coffin and other experts will help attendees understand, Solon said, how the United States relied on and even condoned slavery, as well as other systemically racist policies, from the time of the Founding Fathers.

“It’s not just the KKK,” she said. “It’s what this country was built on.”

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com or at 603-727-3242.