By Alan J. Keays
RUTLAND — Tabitha Pohl-Moore said people must speak up when confronted with hate and violence. The president of the Rutland Area NAACP did just that Monday evening.
And she wasn’t alone.
About 200 people joined Pohl-Moore at a rally on Monday, Aug. 14, led by the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People ) in Rutland to show solidarity with protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, who were victims of a terrorism attack last weekend.
The Rutland demonstrators denounced white nationalist rhetoric and violence and held a moment of silence for Heather Heyer, who was killed.
Violent clashes occurred Saturday between neo-Nazis, who were armed with clubs and semi-automatic weapons, and counter protesters over a plan to take down a statue of Civil War Gen. Robert E. Lee.
A driver rammed his sports car into crowd of counter-demonstrators, killing a 32-year-old woman, and injuring 19. The driver, James Alex Fields Jr., 20, a neo-Nazi, now faces a murder charge.
Laura Abel, 64, of Brandon, attended the Rutland event wearing a T-shirt reading, “More Love, Less Hate.” She said the violence in Charlottesville was “horrifying.”
“This is not acceptable and this cannot continue. We’ve got to change things,” Abel said. “There’s no choice. There has to be change. If not, the planet is not going to exist anymore.”
Jane Callahan, 61, of Rutland, stood near Abel in the park and held a sign calling for an end to racism.
“When something like this happens, it just sort of floors me,” Callahan said. “It just reminds me that things haven’t changed fast enough.”
David Liebtag, 59, of Chester, traveled north to Rutland with a sign with one word on it, “Love.”
“I’m outraged that such racism and bigotry still exists in our country. It’s completely unacceptable,” he said. “I believe in love. it’s the only thing I can be sure I believe in so I got a sign that says that.”
Pohl-Moore spoke to the crowd in Main Street Park about why they had come together.
“Saturday night I fired off a lengthy text to board members saying, ‘We’ve got to do something in Rutland because I know we don’t stand for this here,’” Pohl-Moore said. “And, here we are.”
The Rutland solidarity rally was one of many in recent days across the country, including several in Vermont.
“The convergence of the KKK, white nationalists, neo-Nazis and other hate groups upon the University of Virginia has prompted our natural inclination to look to our community to try to make sense of these developments,” Pohl-Moore told the Rutland crowd.
“I will make this easy for you,” she continued. “It doesn’t make sense and it won’t ever make sense because hate doesn’t make sense.”
Speaking prior to the rally, Pohl-Moore said people must take action in their everyday lives to stop hate when they see it.
“You could certainly question every time you hear somebody say an inappropriate joke that’s about race or sexual orientation or physical ability,” she said. “We absolutely in our day-to-day lives and personal relationships have to challenge those ideals that breed hate.”
She also criticized President Donald Trump’s tepid response. The president told reporters that “many sides” were responsible for the violence in Charlottesville. “He had a stronger reaction to his daughter’s shoes being removed from Nordstrom than he did to this massive incident of hate,” Pohl-Moore said.
Rabbi Doug Weber, retired from the Rutland Jewish Center, also addressed the crowd Monday evening.
“You can’t stop standing up,” he said. “It’s very clear from our history that all it takes, all that the forces of darkness need, is for the average people to sit back and let it happen.”
The event ended with people forming a large circle, joining hands and singing, “We Shall Overcome.”
“There is a visible presence of people that stand against hate here,” Pohl-Moore said after the rally. “This is exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to bring together people in unity and love.”