MOORHEAD – The original day set for a white supremacist rally came and went without so much as a whimper from local hate groups.
Multiple protests originally planned as counter rallies merged into one rally, which took place instead on the same day, Saturday, attracting more than 150 people celebrating diversity, called Standing for Humanity.
As in August’s North Dakota United Against Hate rally, chilly rains dampened the atmosphere, and the rally was moved from W. H. Davy Memorial Park to the First Congregational United Church of Christ. The rally came less than a week after the cities of Fargo and Moorhead passed resolutions to become hate-free communities.
“There was an actual counter-protest set up by a different group,” event organizer Rebel Marie, said. “We were a group of marginalized people, people of color, and community members of the Fargo-Moorhead area that wanted to create a safe place for us to have a voice in this conversation without violent confrontation.”
Native Americans, atheists, humanists, Wiccan, Hindu, Muslim, Christian, those fighting for women’s rights, and a handful of white supremacists attended. Preferring to be called pro-white activists, they stood quietly to the side and watched. Two officers from the Moorhead Police Department stayed for the entire rally.
Ruth Buffalo, a Fargoan and member of the Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Nation, was one of the first people to speak, and she emphasized that love is stronger than hate, and always will be.
“The only thing that can beat fear-based white nationalism is love,” Buffalo said. “Sooner or later all the people in the world will have to find a way to live in peace.”
For Pastor Grace Murray of the newly formed People’s United Church of Christ, the rally was an opportunity to begin to learn how to live with each other. She pointed to the Beatitudes, saying the word of the divine was present.
Willard Yellowbird, a member of the Fort Berthold Reservation and City of Fargo Native American Commission member, smudged the entire room with sage, calling everyone gathered a brother and sister in spirit.
“If we start believing in our spiritual energy, then our spirit will start dictating our body,” Yellowbird said.
Local Wiccan High Priest, Omni Rogers Mueller, said her followers like to be present in the moment.
“We are all strangers, but we’ve come together – touch hands,” Mueller said. “We’re human beings and we live and we love and we laugh and we cry, and we do it together.”
Founder of the Center for Interfaith Projects David Myers, who is Jewish, also spoke. “May there be peace between all peoples. We must recognize that all people are of equal worth, and that the idea that some peoples or cultures are inferior is an abomination.”
Adam Heckathorn is an atheist, and 99.8 percent white, he said, which leaves 0.2 percent Native American, but it’s not his blood that matters. America was founded on the principle of freedom of religion, even though here, in North Dakota, religions, such as Catholicism, have historically been persecuted by racist organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan, who once proved a tangible threat in state politics.
“The best way to ensure our rights is to ensure the rights of all,” Heckathorn said. “The question of who really is an American, that has nothing to do with how I look. You can be a great American and not even be born here. A true American is one who believes in American principles.”
“If we don’t come together and if we don’t support each other, then how can we integrate?” Hukun Abdullahi, executive director of the Afro American Development Association, said. He is a Muslim, and recently has been taking the leadership role for New Americans struggling against hate crimes in Fargo and Moorhead.
“This is a land of hope, but also a land of many challenges,” Abdullahi said.
Women’s rights advocate, Olivia “Liv” Oland, took to the pulpit saying she was white, straight, and privileged, and those who fall into that category need to begin using their social and political power to help new Americans.
“It’s 2017, and I tell you I am sick and tired of being talked down to… by white, older men,” Oland said. “I should not have to list 28 reasons for women to be able to use birth control.”
A Muslim woman, Hamida Abid Omar, asked those in attendance what Fargo and Moorhead are going to do about inclusiveness.
“Today, somewhere in our nation, and at this moment, someone is in pain because of hate,” Omar said. “No one is born to hate; instead we choose to hate. We can also choose to love.”
Peace and inclusiveness do not have price tags, Omar said. “How do we find peace in our community? We need to break the barriers.”
More people who stand against hate need to run for government office, Omar said, from school boards to Congress.
“Leadership’s bank of justice is bankrupt,” said Ezzat Khudhur Alhaidar, a Yazidi from Iraq. He describes himself as an immigrant with an American soul, and once worked as a translator for the U.S. Army in Iraq. He has seen the face of hate at its worst with the rise of ISIS in his home country. For three years, Hayden has lived in Fargo, and he stressed that some people in new American leadership roles need to be changed.
“There are leaders who collaborate for positive change, and leaders who want to control their followers, use their followers to achieve selfish goals and doom us all to failure,” Alhaidar said. “As humans, we are social, and we like to tell stories and listen to stories. Diversity has to be seen as a richness. Let’s teach our children the value of coming together. The future of our kids is affected by our daily leadership.”
Event organizer, Marie, said the hate crime legislation is important in North Dakota.
“Human beings are deserving of dignity and robbing people of this dignity is disrespectful and should be illegal,” Marie said.
“The importance of an event like this is to show that just because a person is a non-Christian, or a transgender person, or a person of color, they're still a human being,” Marie said.
“It felt good to see neighbors come together in a non-confrontational way. There were a lot of faces I've never seen before an event like this.”
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