Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Meet the Press

Selectmen Guarded About ‘No Place For Hate’ Event On Town Property

by William F. Galvin

HARWICH — Tolerance within the community is important to members of the board of selectmen and they agree the town should stand together against the hatred displayed last week when a roadside sign was spray-painted with a swastika. But there was reluctance this week by the board to jump headlong into commitments to particular organizations, without first doing research.

A silent march has been scheduled from the community center down Oak Street to the bike trail and over to Route 39 and the site of the defaced sign. The plan calls for townspeople, clergy, town officials and others to participate in the reading of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights affirming Harwich is “No Place For Hate.”

Then, according to a No Place For Hate Harwich blog edited by John Bangert, the group will return to the community center for hot soup and discussions. Bangert is also urging participants to bring a can of soup to be delivered to the Harwich Food Pantry.

“This action will be a positive response to a negative display of hate,” Bangert stated.

Board of Selectmen Chairman Ed McManus presented selectmen with information Monday night on the No Place For Hate program, which is associated with the Anti-defamation League and is a concept first started in Philadelphia .

McManus said the goal is to bring to the fore discussions about community tolerance and greater acceptance of groups that make up the community. Calling it a good thing, he said there appears to be a number of people in town who wish to participate.

The walk is scheduled the day after International Human Rights Day and the board might want to present a proclamation on that doctrine, McManus said. There will be a community meeting with “the breaking of bread and soup,” the board chairman said.

Selectman Donald Howell recommended getting the clergy involved, urging all aspects of the community to come together to show Harwich is “and open and caring community, instead of hostile.”

“I’m not one to jump,” Selectman Peter Piekarski responded. “I have not had a lot of time to look into these things. There are other organizations out there.”

Piekarski urged the board to move slowly, looking at other approaches than those spelled out in the No Place For Hate program, stating there is a lot to commit to with that program over the next 12 months.

“We don’t want to tolerate any kind of hate or prejudice,” Piekarski said. “But I don’t want the impression Harwich is running rampant with hate and prejudice. It’s no different than a month ago.”

The selectman said that particular program requires the town to commit to serious responsibilities and it might be premature to jump into it without first doing research. Piekarski called the sign defacing “a despicable incident” and he agreed the town should give it recognition. Howell agreed with that position, stating the community should not tolerate such an action and he would support a march.

Selectman Robin Wilkins wanted to know who is hosting the event and whether it had a particular title. He said any message from the board must be clear and supported by the membership.

McManus said Bangert has preliminarily referred to the event as “No Place For Hate Harwich.”

The board chairman said Bangert had intended to be at the meeting, but had to work and could not be present.

“I’d like to support A World of Difference Day,” Wilkins responded, citing a negative connotation in No Place For Hate Harwich. “If you lead with a negative it ends up negative.”

Wilkins said he respects Bangert and the work he has done on this issue, but he cautioned the board not to start down a road it does not intend to travel.

Howell agreed, stating the No Place For Hate title implies there is hate. He said it sounds like the town is looking for hate.

“This should be a positive response to a negative experience,” Howell said. “This Sunday should be about the response to a sign painted and not about preliminarily selling a slogan.”

Piekarski also said the town is walking a fine line by allowing the event to take place on town property. He cautioned against one particular organization controlling what happens there.

McManus said it is not an organization, rather a group of people who have come together. He referred to Bangert as one person who has read about a particular program. Piekarski said he had concern about the distribution of literature in a town building.

“I don’t anticipate any literature other than maybe the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” McManus responded.

The board asked Town Administrator Wayne Melville what he knew about the organization and the planning for this event. He said all he knew is what was presented to selectmen last week. It was pointed out community center director Carolyn Carey has spoke earlier on Monday night about planned use of the community center.

“We can’t have one organization presenting their side in a town building,” Piekarski said. “We need to be careful as a town as to what’s taking place in our town buildings.”

The board directed Melville to find out what will be occurring in the community center on Sunday and who will be in charge of the event. Melville was to report to each member of the board his findings before the event is held.


Let The Community Lead

The discovery of a swastika spray-painted on a sign at the bike trail near Harwich Center recently could be dismissed as a random prank. But the power of the Nazi symbol is too strong, its weight heavy with the deaths of millions at the hands of those who adopted the ancient bent cross as their emblem. It can’t be ignored.

Yet addressing the hate and intolerance the appearance of the symbol represents is problematic. The perpetrator of the crime has yet to be identified. Evidence of other hate crimes in town is limited, to say the least. There have been incidents in the past, the community has been swift to address them. Harwich is not exactly a hot bed of intolerance and discrimination. It is, to say the least, a difficult situation.

Those who raised concerns last week are taking what is probably the best approach. A silent march is planned for Sunday to show that members of the community do not condone this sort of hurtful vandalism and will gather together afterwards in the community center over food and conversation to strengthen the bonds of community. Doing this is a far more effective way to combat hate than making speeches or instituting “educational” programs that won’t, in the end, attract those who need them the most.

The concerns some selectmen expressed Monday about allowing the No Place For Hate organization to use the community center are misplaced. Organizations should not have to undergo a litmus test or disclose the information they will disseminate in order to be allowed to use a public facility. Any group should be given equal access to public facilities --- even those whose message may be counter to that of No Place For Hate --- in deference to our free society, as long as those organizations adhere to the rules and policies put in place for use of the facilities. Ensuring free speech by all is the best way to guarantee that those who espouse hate or intolerance are marginalized.

We fail to see the problem with the use of town facilities for Sunday’s event. Further, we’re not convinced that it is up to the selectmen or any other town agency to take on the task of countering whatever influence in the community led to the spray-painted swastika. Private individuals appear to be willing and able to organize and provide the community guidance that appears warranted here. Town government’s role should be limited, at best, to an endorsement. In order to be effective, a campaign to counter the sentiment represented by that swastika has to come from the people.


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United against hate' walk Sunday
By Douglas Karlson/

Wednesday, December 7, 2005

In a loosely organized grassroots campaign to show that the Harwich community is united against hate, Harwich residents are invited to walk together Sunday afternoon. The event was suggested by resident John Bangert in response to the defacing of a bike path sign on Route 39 in Harwich Center late last month. A swastika was spray painted on the sign.
Bangert is a local organizer of the No Place for Hate Committee, a program under the umbrella of the Anti-Defamation League. At Monday’s selectmen’s meeting, town officials endorsed the walk, which begins at the Community Center at 1 p.m. Afterward, around 3 p.m., selectmen chairman Ed McManus said the town would open the Community Center and host a discussion of the situation. Details were still being sorted out as the Oracle went to press.

While the board condemned the vandalism, selectmen stopped short of advocating becoming an official No Place for Hate community, saying they want the community to weigh in first. Bangert did not attend Monday’s selectmen’s meeting, but according to McManus, he has been contacting local clergy to seek their support for the walk.
According to the website of the Anti-Defamation League, No Place for Hate is a “community based campaign that empowers participants to challenge anti-Semitism, racism, hate and bigotry of all forms.”
Towns may be designated as No Place for Hate communities by forming a committee, issuing an official proclamation and press release, and organizing anti-bias programs.
In addition, towns must carry out at least three activities to promote respect and understanding. These activities are chosen from a list of more than 30 activities recommended by the Anti-Defamation League. The activities include creating school orientation programs, sending teachers and administrators to diversity training seminars, sending police officers to hate crime training, and holding community forums on civil rights.
Selectman Peter Piekarski isn’t ready to commit to the No Place for Hate program until he learns more about it.“I want some more time to do some research on other organizations that do the same thing but in a different fashion,” he said Monday. “A walk to wash away hate and discrimination I support. [But] I don’t want the impression that Harwich is running rampant with hate and prejudice.” Selectman Don Howell agreed, but said it’s important for the community to “coalesce around this thing this weekend.”
Selectman Robin Wilkins suggested that the event be called A World of Difference Day rather than No Place for Hate.Drawing on terminology from the Anti-Defamation League, he said, “I would support a World of Difference Day ... if you lead with a negative it becomes negative.” No Place for Hate conveys the wrong message, he said.
The walk coincides with the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the UN on Dec. 10, 1948.
Participants in Sunday’s walk and discussion are asked to bring a can of soup that will be donated to the Harwich Food Pantry.

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