Gettysburg, PA: When folks in Gettysburg, PA heard the Aryan Nations hate group was planning a rally on the very spot where Abraham Lincoln delivered his most famous defense of American democracy, they knew they couldn't sit by in silence.
"Silence is the welcome mat for hate," notes Ann Van Dyke of Pennsylvania's Human Relations Commission, who has worked with almost two dozen communities throughout the state that were targeted by hate groups. The activist groups that formed in those towns are now part of the Pensylvania Network of Unity Coalitions, longtime members of the Not In Our Town family.
In Gettysburg, the Adams Unity Coalition had just six weeks to prepare. They had limited resources. And they had to compete with almost a dozen other festivals taking place that same weekend.
But they knew what to do, because they'd faced hate groups before. In 2006, the coalition formed when the Ku Klux Klan came to Gettysburg. The Klan cancelled a return visit when they heard the coalition would face off against them again-- with a unity rally in a separate location.
This June, the coalition came together again.
On June 19, as less than a dozen white supremacists shouted their message of hate on the historic Gettysburg battlefield, more than 75 unity supporters stood at another location holding up signs promoting diversity and acceptance . Passing cars honked their approval. People wrote messages of love and inclusion on pieces of colored paper that were formed into a long "unity chain" now on display at the YWCA.
The next day, 100 people went to the spot where the Aryan Nations rally had taken place to "re-consecrate" the land. Lutheran, Unitarian, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist clergy and lay leaders offered blessings. Hymns were sung, in Spanish and English.
"I'm not religious at all, but it was so moving," says event co-organizer Rosie Bolen of the Interfaith Center for Peace and Justice. "People were in tears. It was very symbolic, a good way to end the weekend."
For a fuller description of what they put together, and a post-event analysis, check out our Gettysburg Local Lesson.
"The people of Adams County have time and time again come out to prove that they are a community of love, grace and understanding," says Dennis Biancuzzo, online administrator for the Pennsylvania Network of Unity Coalitions. "I almost feel like I must mourn every time a hate group decides to have a rally at such a site. Knowing what happened on the battlefield, the meaning of that war itself, what it represented to this country, one can not feel anything but remorse and a sense of loss."
Has a hate group come to your community? Who stood up with a different message, and how did they work to avoid violent confrontation?