By Marguerite Jill Dye
We attended the very first gathering of the Woodstock Social Justice Initiative, a last-minute rally for love, equality, and peace on the Green in Woodstock. Seventy-plus local residents demonstrated in solidarity with the people of Charlottesville and took a stand against white supremacy, racism, and anti-Semitism. WSJI co-founder Mary Ellen Solon set the intention for the gathering, “understanding that we are all the same and equal. We revel in laughter and joy with good friends and family; want beautiful and meaningful experiences for our children; and feel deep loss when our loved ones pass on. We all experience our humanity the same and yet people of color have experienced rape and genocide for centuries, and continue to endure trauma, violence, and oppression all because of white supremacist ideology and the racist systems that have long proliferated in American Society.” She called for the cultivation of “a new American way of life based on love and affirmation of diversity in all its forms.”
We “held space” for all who’ve suffered, benefited from, or silently allowed white supremacist actions. After a reading of Allen Ginsberg’s poem “Song,” we marched around the Green singing “All You Need is Love” and “We Shall Overcome” while holding handmade signs of solidarity. It felt like time travel back to the sixties as we celebrated our diversity and commitment to countering discrimination and hatred with acceptance and love. I sought out the opinions of two local townsfolk who shared their frustration and outrage, while clergy summed up their hopes that love will enter hearts filled with hate.
Will Adler, retired journalist and free thinking intellectual, waxed eloquent in his Bernie Sanders t-shirt. “I am here to soothe myself with neighborly comfort realizing we’re all in this together. Let’s not lose sight of the bigger issues Donald Trump’s chaos is disguising. Unlike Vladimir Putin’s Russia, we Americans really do have professional journalists who tell the truth. And then there are the partisans, who put forth Trump’s manipulation and lies as though they are true and make perfect sense. I struggle to understand my local Trump friends. They continue to believe in him and rationalize his nonsense. They cheer for this scammer, bluffer and fraud as though he was a sports hero and they are blindly loyal fans.
What do I see that is hopeful? After this regime, there is hope we will be rid of cancerous policies and our body politic will emerge healthy. Trump is like political chemotherapy for America.”
Concerned citizen and caregiver Tina Miller didn’t hesitate to speak her mind. “Our president is dangerous for democracy over all. Rallies like this are good. Anything that puts the president on notice to make correct decisions moves us forward, including removing our president from his position, whether it be through resignation or impeachment. It’s an important first step.”
Rabbi Ilene Haigh shared with the crowd that her rabbi mentor taught her to love, not hate, a powerful message from a man who was a boy in 1930s Germany when Nazi soldiers marched past the temple during his Bar Mitzvah. She was deeply grateful to all that came out to stand in witness and unity and love in response to what happened in Virginia. She reiterated that she understands that the greatest act of non-violence resistance is ensuring that we as a community are not torn apart. The community has launched a quilt project to bring people together honoring witness and hope. “Unfortunately,” the rabbi said, “it is the silence of the good people that is often the greatest threat. We cannot remain silent. Our coming together is perhaps the greatest gift of all.”
While folding the “PACE” (peace) rainbow flag, a gift from my German friend Hans, Rabbi Haigh introduced me to Rev. Dr. Leon Dunkley, the newly arrived minister for Woodstock’s North Universalist Chapel Society.
“Each time we gather in good heart, we become more wealthy. We get stronger. We get wiser and more flexible. We grow deep. The rage and bitter violence that took place in Charlottesville, VA was shocking even though we had seen it before in Nice, London, and Orlando. Each time we gather we remind ourselves that over and beyond our differences, we are united by a love that holds us all. As a Unitarian Universalist, I deeply believe in the love and the gathering on the Green confirmed it. Whatever our beliefs and whatever our backgrounds, there is a richness that makes Life more beautiful,” he wrote to me.
The Woodstock Social Justice Initiative challenges the privileged to “recognize that many people, simply because of the circumstances they’re born into and the traits they’re born with, continue to face discrimination that limits their opportunities. Once we accept this, it is incumbent upon us to take action to end social injustices.” The WSJI practices what it preaches. Thanks to the initiative of Brad Archer, Woodstock history teacher and co-founder of the WSJI, Vermont is the only state to declare John Brown Day. Archer points out that while John Brown was hung for treason after attempting to lead an armed slave revolt at Harper’s Ferry, Robert E. Lee committed treason against the U.S. but was freed and honored with monuments. The Woodstock Social Justice Initiative’s first formal event will be the concurrent John Brown Day celebration and Anti-Racism Symposium where activists, academics, artists, and educators will raise awareness to fight racism. It will be held at Woodstock Union High School and Middle School, Oct. 14. (woodstocksji.org)
Marguerite Jill Dye is an artist and writer who divides her time between the Green Mountains of Vermont and Florida’s Gulf Coast.