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How to Fight Hate When It Shows Up in Your Community

Political and social dynamics have created a volatile environment for dangerous expressions of hate across America. Here's how to fight back.
 
 
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We are all aware of how nasty and uncivil our society has become. The election of a black president and successful health care legislation have driven hate radio and conservative officials over the edge, fueling an atmosphere of intolerance that has many of us feeling tense. Large segments of the population are thinking and expecting the worst. There is a gaping political divide, and as the racial and ethnic makeup of the country changes, some feel desperate for a past that is long gone, and in many ways never really existed.

There have been racial attacks, bricks thrown through windows and death threats. Recently, militia members reportedly planning to murder cops were arrested. The scary news encourages paranoia and hysteria, which while understandable, nevertheless adds fuel to the fire. However, increasingly there are some effective tools we can all use to fight back against hate.

You may have heard about the tragic death of Ecuadorean immigrant Marcelo Lucero. He was stabbed to death in Patchogue, Long Island by a group of high school students out looking for Hispanic immigrants to beat up. The murder trial is currently underway. The good news is how the community has responded to raise consciousness and support Marcelo's family

America has a long history of intolerance. For many, the memory of Timothy McVeigh backing a truck filled with fertilizer and diesel fuel into the Oklahoma City Federal Building and killing 168 people, is still fresh.

More recently, in 2008, two people were killed in Knoxville, Tennessee when a man burst into a Unitarian Church during a youth performance and opened fire with a 12-gauge shotgun. The killer admitted his attack was a hate crime and that he targeted the church because he'd been told Unitarians were liberals and they "supported gays."

But the response was swift and clear; the Knoxville Unitarians did not stand alone. Immediately following the shooting, the city's religious community, elected officials and faith leaders from around the country rallied around the besieged congregation. They may not have shared the same values, but they passionately believed in the church's right to worship in safety and security.

The Positive, Untold Story

While there is far more hate and intolerance than we wish, the untold story is that many communities have acted to prevent escalation in the face of conflict, and others have responded to tragedy in exemplary ways, making it clear that hate won't be tolerated. These communities know full well that the only way to attack hate is to act together and to move quickly. For without vigilance, the haters can get a foothold.

Around the country there is a gathering movement of people who are not waiting for hate crimes to happen, but are taking steps to make their communities feel safe. The challenge is finding a way to do it -- and meeting others who are ready to stand with them. Part of the under-the-radar success of staving off violence comes from a successful model of organizing called "Not in Our Town."

Not In Our Town is based on the belief that when ordinary people unite to take action in the face of hate and intolerance, it sends a powerful message to the whole country. Many individuals have influential community tentacles in cities and towns across the country. Right now, we need their voices to clearly send the message: No hate, no fear, no violence: Not In Our Town.

The project takes its name from Not in Our Town, the 1995 PBS documentary produced by Bay Area filmmakers Patrice O’Neill and Rhian Miller about the residents of Billings, Montana who stood together in the face of hate violence that rocked their small community.

Today, the project enters an exciting new phase with the creation of NIOT.org, which allows people and communities around the globe to connect, share ideas and model best practices for building safe, inclusive communities. The new interactive Web site features Web 2.0 functionality, including mapping, video and film and active blogs.

So whenever you hear about tension building, community conflict emerging, racism, hate language or threats of violence, send people to NIOT.org, to get help, and be in touch with thousands of others who have come before.

As a great example of Not In Our Town in action, students at Gunn High School in the San Francisco Bay area responded positively when well-known hate-monger Fred Phelps, of the Kansas Westboro Baptist Church, brought his anti-gay hate message to a picket line outside the school. In a few days more than 100,000 people had viewed the video.

"Not In Our Town is especially inspiring," says Paul Sheridan, assistant attorney general for West Virginia, "because the people involved are ordinary people, and the actions they took are the types of things any of us could and should do."

Don Hazen is the executive editor of AlterNet and a board member of the Working Group, which sponsors Not In Our Town.
 
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