by Pam Vavra, Peace House, Ashland, OR
with an introduction by Jim Willeford, Not In Our Town Medford-Ashland
This April, after neo-Nazi organizing activity surfaced in the Phoenix, OR area, newcomer Nicole Strykowski notified the Mail Tribune about a counter-demonstration for a hate-free community taking place in downtown Phoenix. Between 120-150 anti-racist demonstrators turned out for the event and occupied one side of the street. Across the street, a small group of 4-6 Nazis in full regalia stood in SS uniforms and swastika flags. (Read the full story in “Unity in Numbers: Oregon Community Counters a Neo-Nazi Threat.”) Nicole’s courage acted as a catalyst for “connected progressives” in the area to call a follow-up meeting, which was very well attended.
However, planning went on without action until Pam Vavra, executive director of Peace House, a 30-year-old organization in Ashland, picked up the slack, contacted NIOT, and got the ball rolling. There were between 35 and 40 people at our follow-up meeting, with a huge percentage of teachers in attendance. The energy was intense and active, and we are on a roll.
Mrs. Vavra is an extraordinary leader and knows how to accomplish things. We now have 6-7 teams of 3 people who will train to facilitate NIOT screenings and discussions in the classrooms and other venues. Many young people are energized and have agreed to complete the training. It is my feeling that peers teaching peers is most effective, and that is our goal. We also plan under the joint leadership of Peace House, Pam Vavra, and myself, to organize a series of community-based events and to make the NIOT program a sustainable force in the region.
– Jim Willeford, Not In Our Town Medford-Ashland
Oregon Team Revitalizing NIOT Campaign in Area Schools, Community
More than 35 people responded to a call by Peace House in Ashland, OR, for prospective classroom presenters and discussion leaders to mount a revitalized NIOT campaign.
The call stemmed from a coordinated response by some 15 groups and individuals to recent incidents in Medford and Phoenix. The larger group is also planning for a rapid response team and a series of community education forums, while Peace House embarks on the NIOT campaign focused on schools.
Our plan was to continue showing the NIOT video at repeat orientation sessions until we found 15 people who would commit to showing the video in classrooms. At the first session we exceeded our target in that 18 people signed up. So we are very pleased and happy that we can now move forward.
Our next steps will be to provide training to the volunteer presenters and find sympathetic teachers and principals at schools to which they can be deployed. In the Rogue Valley, we have approximately 30,000 students in public schools. We hope to reach a significant portion within the first few months of the 2009-2010 school year. At the same time, we plan to approach school boards and city councils to pass NIOT Proclamations so students and teachers know they are supported by the broader community in advancing a vision of a hate-free community.
Elements that have so-far been identified for inclusion in our emerging Vision of a Hate-Free Community include:
1. As residents of the Rogue Valley, we understand the unwanted and likely results of un-checked hate group activity.
2. We have learned to respond effectively to hate crimes.
3. We share stories and strategies with each other on how to prevent intolerant acts and make our communities safe for everyone.
4. We demonstrate simultaneously the courage to confront acts of hatred, the compassion to connect with the perpetrators and the creativity and commitment needed to construct systems that promote tolerance, peace and non-violence.
5. Even the very young understand the concepts of diversity and tolerance and feel supported in their decisions to not participate in hate activities.
6. Everyone feels safe from intimidation and respected for who they are.
7. People in minority groups feel treasured for the diversity they contribute, not merely tolerated.