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On Wednesday evening last week, August 16, a hastily organized rally at Jamestown’s Tracy Plaza made a clear and powerful statement. In response to the hatred and bigotry which were so violently displayed by neo-Nazi, white nationalists and KKK-style groups in Charlottesville, VA, Jamestown said, “Not in Our Town!”
That statement was echoed enthusiastically, peacefully and in a dignified manner by an estimated 200 or more local residents and elected officials, including Jamestown’s Mayor Sam Teresi, who responded to the urgent call put out by the event organizers, Susan Meara, Kristina Benson and Chautauqua Progressive Action.
“Our message is that bigotry and hatred that incite violence against our fellow citizens are not normal and not welcome in our community,” according to the organizers’ Facebook post before the event.
The City of Jamestown contributed to the success and safety of the event by offering Meara and Benson Tracy Plaza, directly beside the City Hall on 3rd and Spring Streets. City officials quickly recognized that, although the symbolism of the first site selected was strong, in front of the Robert H. Jackson Center, it did not offer the off-street safety and protection such a demonstration deserves.
Signs denouncing racism and bigotry in all their forms, and solidarity with the oppressed, were proudly held high above the demonstrators’ heads to the accompaniment of live patriotic music and a song that seems to have become an anthem sung by the entire crowd at such demonstrations, This Little Light of Mine. The crowd also included members of local churches, community organizations, families and children.
Organizers stressed that this was not a partisan political event. It simply stood for human decency and the kind of community Jamestown citizens once again pledged to be.
The spirit of the Not in Our Town event was aptly summarized on a T-shirt proclaiming, “Bigotry is just an emotional commitment to ignorance.”