"Town by Town: Standing up to Hate in Divisive Times." | Not in Our Town

"Town by Town: Standing up to Hate in Divisive Times."

A frightening wave of hatred is washing over our country. People are spitting and screaming racial epithets at our elected officials. African American, Jewish and gay members of Congress are receiving hate messages and pictures of nooses faxed to their offices. Two  Congressmembers have had bricks thrown through their office windows, and nearly a dozen others have received serious death threats.

This is not about Democrat or Republican. These attacks, masquerading as opposition to the recently-enacted health care bill, have crossed the line from legitimate political discourse to physical hate violence, pure and simple. Simmering bigotry and prejudices have found an opening in the gaping political divide and intruded  into the heart of our democracy. It's scary, and it's real. 
There is only one way we can tackle this  threat: together. But we have to act now, because we know that a volatile atmosphere like this can lead to fatal violence. 
In 1995, anti-government white supremacist Timothy McVeigh  backed a truck filled with fertilizer and diesel fuel into the Oklahoma City Federal Building.   It took 168 lost lives  to spark the action that was needed to address the upswing in militia and extremist violence.
More recently, in 2008, two people were killed in Knoxville, Tennessee when a man with a shot gun burst into a Unitarian Church during a children’s play and opened fire. The killer admitted his attack was a hate crime and that he targeted the church because he'd been told that Unitarians are liberals and they "support gays."
The response was swift and clear; the Knoxville Unitarians did not stand alone. Immediately following the shootings, the city's religious community, elected officials and faith leaders from around the country rallied around the besieged congregation. They may not have shared the same values, but they passionately believed in the church's right to worship in safety and security. 
Today, we are beginning to see signs again of a unified voice against hate violence.  After the death threat  and attack aimed at  Virginia Congressman Tom Perillio, his Republican opponent in the House race, Louis Venga, came out with a strong statement condemning the viciousness.  Perillio reports that  both Republican Governor Bob McDonnell and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli were immediately there to stand with him after the attack.
Uniting with your neighbors when they are under attack  is an act of deep patriotism that taps into our shared common values as Americans.Ultimately, the patriotic voices most needed at this moment are those that have been sidelined. As Edmund Burke put it more than two centuries ago, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."
The challenge for many who know it is time to take action is finding a way to do it-- and meeting others in their community who are ready to stand with them.
Fifteen years ago the residents of Billings, Montana presented a powerful example that helped galvanize people nationwide. Every time there was an incident of hate that year—threats at an African American church, racist graffiti on a  Native American woman’s home, attacks on a Jewish family—the people of Billings joined together to support their neighbors. The Billings story inspired hundreds of communities across the U.S. to find their own ways to stand up against hate.  These local efforts provide a model for all of us. We can do something in the face of hate- together. 
Please share your thoughts about the challenging divisions in our nation today and your ideas for how we can all respond. 



Whereas hate and violence has become a daily occurrence and is increasing at epidemic rates across the nation;

Whereas history has tragically taught us what happens when people stand by and allow acts of violence and hatred to occur;

Whereas people often feel isolated, without hope, and helpless to do anything individually to end hate and violence;

Whereas we the people of the United States of America, by standing together, oppose acts of hate and violence committed against any of our neighbors;

Therefore be it resolved that we, the people of this United States of America, in keeping with the principle of civility, equality and freedom of speech for all, unequivocally oppose any manifestation of hatred and prejudice towards any group or individual.

We hereby resolve to stand together with all people of good faith across the country and support this national effort to push back the rising tide of hate and violence by joining together with one voice, to decry any act of hate and violence, and we hold our Local, State and Federal elected officials responsible to do everything within their legal power to end hate and violence in our Country.


"We the People"






Patrice, I was inspired by your commentary to start a civility pledge petition.  The hope is to have enough signatures on the petition for it to be delivered to Govenors, Congress and the President.  It would be great if all the NIOT folks would sign it, and pass it on to friend or foe.




Dennis Biancuzzo

Pennsylvania Network of Unity Coalitons

You know, Patrice, I agree with you -- the problem I have is that so many of these "rational" discussions degenerate so quickly into unreasoning, knee-jerk (remember when that term used to be applied only to liberals?) rants. Despite my best training and instincts, when that happens I tend to shut down, crawl back into my shell and say "whatever" before I slink off to lick my wounds. But I'll try to do better -- and I'll start by "sharing" your post with my Facebook friends (some of whom I may lose in the process, but . . . good riddance.)

Thank you for continuing the fight.

I posted the following on my Facebook page and have had several positive responses: 

No matter where you come down on the merits of recent legislative actions, I would hope that everyone agrees that violence, threats and hate have no place in our political system. Please join me and others who are committed to rational discourse (which does not preclude disagreement) without violence and personal attacks.

It's a start -- and I pledge to do better to stand up against incivility.

 Thanks for being honest about how tough this is Margaret. It's one thing for people who share political views to talk about this-- but it's much more difficult to cross the divide and open up a discussion with friends, co-workers or community members who have passionate opposing views. I don't think any of us want to oppose deeply felt partisan action. But hate and fear and violence are surely the enemy of democracy. 

Well said, Patrice, and I especially like the line: "Uniting with your neighbors when they are under attack  is an act of deep patriotism that taps into our shared common values as Americans,"  and I appreciate Margaret's comment above as well. I think it is tough sometimes for us activists to figure out where free speech becomes hate speech, but I hope we can recognize the difference because it's important to stand up, and I do believe it has a ripple effect on our fellow citizens when we do so.

I will circulate this to the membership of the Shasta County Citizens Against Racism.

Keep it going,


I agree with you that this is going to lead to fatal violence unless there is some civil and constructive dialogue in this country. People need to start speaking up because what is happening all around us is not acceptable. I believe that there are more good, decent people but we are not as vocal as the groups spewing all this hate. They know how to put on a sensational show and get so much media attention.  I think the media needs to be engaged in this and start giving some attention to the groups like NIOTA and others who are trying to combat this hate. This support is a good way to let others know that there are others who feel that the behavior and speech, demonstrated by many who do not support the new healthcare legislation, is unacceptable.  I think community groups and individuals need to write letters to the editor, soapboxes, blogs, etc..   It needs to be reinforced over and over again that It is okay to disagree with legislation but not use it as an excuse for racist and bigoted actions and speech.



Thanks, Caroline. We can all learn from Fort Collins NIOTA's efforts to reach out to the broader community. (Check them out in the NIOT Groups section of the site.) Thanks for contributing an op-ed piece every month to your local paper, and starting a Not In Our Town Book Club. A story about the book club is featured in our upcoming LInk TV special. It will air April 6 at 9:30pm mountain time.

One of the essential elements of a democratic society is to accept the rule of law that recognizes the right for its citizens to engage in civil discourse that embraces debate and disagreement and a structure that provides legal means to change public policies and laws. However, no society can prosper or survive in an environment in which chaos and violence becomes the norm. The danger of many of these current extremist groups is a philosophy of if you are not with us then you are the enemy. This mind set can lead to violent acts against who they perceive as the enemy. I am deeply concerned that some purveyors of anger and hate that presently have a national platform from which to incite others to anger and fear will lead to tragic consequences. Therefore, it is essential that people of good will must speak out in support of civility in the market place of ideas. The philosopher Dante once said that the hottest spots in hell are reserved for those individuals who set on the sideline in time of a crisis and will not take a stand.

 Well said, Tony. You and the members of Kootenai County Human Rights Task Force have been successfully working to dampen hate in your community for many years. We appreciate your efforts to share your experience. I know the people in Grant County, Oregon were inspired by  your presentation there and lessons about how you were able to unite people against the Aryan Nations in Coeur D'Alene.  As militia groups like the Hutaree are exposed, it's good to have examples of communities who are trying to keep hate groups from infecting their civic life.  

 I just amended this blog post by taking out the following sentence: " These Virginia leaders clearly understand that standing up to hate and extremism does not belong to one party or another."  


Add new comment