Every Sunday afternoon, here in Brookings, South Dakota, a group of us gather on a downtown street corner to “Stand for Peace.” It’s a silent vigil, only fifteen minutes long. We’ve been doing this for years. Lately, in reaction to some of the ugliness of the political rhetoric, we’ve started to hold such dramatic signs as “Respect,” “Love All Your Neighbors,” and the word “hate” with a red slash through it (much like the button below). Pretty nonthreatening, as public demonstrations go.
But apparently, for some people, it’s too much.
Last Sunday, as we were concluding our vigil, a truck driver veered directly toward us, clearly on purpose, to splash us all with street slush, deep along the curb. We had no chance to get out of the way.
At least he didn’t run us down.
What that driver didn’t know is that we had already drafted a letter to the editor for the Brookings Register, which should appear this week, entitled “Help Make Brookings a `Hate-Free Zone.'” The text appears below. If you agree with it, perhaps you might consider submitting a similar piece to your own newspaper, and handing out your own buttons, where you live.
Just be prepared. You might get slushed. (Smile.)
HELP MAKE BROOKINGS A “HATE-FREE ZONE”
This is an awful season of political campaigning. Every day the hateful rhetoric of some of the candidates seems to sink to a new low. That rhetoric, masquerading as patriotic and even pious, is incredibly divisive. It is creating a climate in the nation of increasing bigotry and intolerance. It has contributed directly to the perpetration of vile acts against refugees, immigrants, minorities, persons of religious faith who aren’t Christian, and other groups.
We who are writing this letter deeply regret the harm that is being done to our fellow citizens, our non-citizen neighbors, and the very principles of our democracy. We fear that harm might extend far beyond Election Day. It might require years to undo.
Our own town has already been affected. We are aware of disturbing instances of intolerance in Brookings that have gone unreported because of fears of reprisal on the part of those who were targeted. As members of this community, we want to say this is unacceptable. We who live in this community can and must do better. We must try to create and maintain a climate here in which all people, without exception, are afforded fundamental respect.
Help us make Brookings a “hate-free zone.” How do we do that? Here are just a few suggestions:
- Always model respect, tolerance and inclusion, especially in the presence of children.
- Don’t participate in bigoted speech. Don’t spread bigoted emails. Don’t laugh at bigoted jokes. Better yet, name bigoted speech for what it is. Don’t let it go unchallenged.
- Wear a “no hate” button. You can pick one up for free at these locations: Cottonwood Bistro, Mission Coffeehouse at First Lutheran Church, Cottonwood Coffee.
- Join us for the “Stand for Peace” when you’re able. We gather with prepared signs for a silent vigil every Sunday, 1:00-1:15 pm, at the corner of 6th Street and Main Avenue. Together we bear witness to the importance of treating everyone with respect.
This plea to make Brookings a “hate-free zone” isn’t about asserting political correctness. It’s about valuing the diversity of the human family. It’s about living out the tenets of faith, which instruct us to love the neighbor as the self, to treat the stranger with compassion, to do unto others what we would have done to ourselves. It’s about recognizing that all lives in a community are interwoven, and that if everyone is made to feel welcome in Brookings, Brookings as a whole will be strengthened.