"Anti-hate rally is slated for SundayOrganizers would like to see attendance hit 1,000."
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:58 PM
"How does Bainbridge respond when hate comes to town?After the initial shock of finding cemetery vandalism and racist graffiti, Jing Fong and Karen Ahern mobilized the community. The two helped organize the Aug. 19 rally and march billed as Take a Stand Against Hate Violence, enlisting 22 island organizations. We wanted to send a clear message, Ahern said, that Bainbridge stands united against hate violence, that an attack on one is an attack on all.The rally and march will feature a roster of speakers including U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, and testimonials from victims of the latest spate of hate crimes. Ahern counters fears from some that public attention may give perpetrators incentive to commit further crimes, citing statistics from the Northwest Coalition for Human Dignity, a civil rights watchdog organization. It's been shown that not to act, not to respond, only leads to more violence. Ahern said. It would be impossible not to act at this point.The first step was to call in public officials and police to enlist their support. Then Fong and Ahern called a meeting and contacted every island group they could think of. They were not disappointed when representatives from a cross-section of island group convened 10 days ago to plan.All were on board, Ahern said. We had everyone - that was lovely. The group had to determine the tone and message they wished the rally to convey. Arriving at a consensus had difficult moments, Fong and Ahern say.It was quite something, Fong said, to go through the process of learning to defer to people with other beliefs out of respect for those beliefs.The challenge was to choose elements that supported all the groups. While some participants wanted the rally to focus on healing, others favored confronting the crimes first. Ultimately, the group decided to invoke protection and strength, rather than reconciliation.We want the perpetrators to know it's not OK, Fong said. We want adults who may be organizing kids to do this to stop it, and get out of here. For Ahern, planning a response to hate crimes may have be a case of deja vu; in 1992, when white supremacist leaders made Bainbridge their headquarters, Ahern helped organize the community response that drove the group from the island.She learned something then about organizing a march.Last time, we had a march all the way from High School road to downtown,Ahern said. It was too far for the elders and it took too long.This time, it's shorter and we'll have chairs for elders who need them. In 1992, Ahern says, Bob Hughes from the U.S. Department of Justice helped galvanize local police into taking the crimes seriously. While there will also be Justice Department representation at Sunday's rally, Ahern said the Bainbridge Island Police Department, led by Chief Bill Cooper, has been both cooperative and well-informed.Both Fong and Ahern, with rally organizers, say they are heartened by the response to their planning from the community-at-large.Every island business approached to display a rally poster has taken one, Ahern says, and many of those handed a flyer have expressed strong interest in attending.Seattle's Anti-Defamation League has given information on the rally to many Puget Sound Jewish groups, Fong said.The days spent plugged into cell phones, fax machines and email are worth it, organizers say, if they get the hoped-for turnout of 800 to 1,000 supporters. We want the people who have been directly affected - the Jewish community for example - to know that they are not alone, Fong said. They live in a community of people who care about them. "