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Cassidy: Resisting Bigotry

In recent months, the Southern Poverty Law Center has reported a nationwide spike in incidents of harassment against minorities, particularly immigrants and African-Americans. Sadly, Vermont too, has seen examples: the Islamic Society of Vermont posted on its Facebook page a letter vowing to try to prevent the future entry of Muslims in this country.”

And religious hatred has also targeted other faiths: someone scrawled swastikas on the door of Havurah House, which belongs to a Jewish congregation in Addison County, an anti-Semitic flier has surfaced in Burlington, and parents have reported bigotry directed at their children, both immigrants and children of color.

Such arbitrary harassment is all but impossible to confront head-on. But two different Vermont-based initiatives are responding not by direct confrontation but by expressing solidarity with the victims. The Facebook group Local Love Brigade formed in early December to send support, in the form of postcards with hearts on them, to the Islamic Society of Vermont. The group’s Facebook page describes its mission as: to band together when there is an incident of hate and respond with giant helpings of love.

The effort soon expanded to support the Havurah House as well as individuals, including an African-American girl who was told, “you’re rude because you’re black.” And the idea has caught on quickly: the group now has more than 1000 members, and it’s added ‘Vermont’ to its name, since the idea immediately spread, and there are now Local Love Brigades in four other states.

In response to reports of harassment and even assault on Muslim women, particularly those wearing headscarves, another Vermont-based initiative encourages the wearing of headscarves on Jan. 20 to show support and solidarity to not only Muslim women, but all targets of bigotry. The FaceBook group WearaheadscarfJan.20 is public and open to all.

What these initiatives share is that they’re positive and completely nonviolent. They also have Facebook in common: Facebook provides a structure and a growth model for their informal, decentralized organization, as members post their ideas and activities and read those of others.

In the dark of winter these initiatives, which require only individual energy and goodwill, allow New Englanders to take positive, collective action without ever leaving the house, as people across the region and even across the globe can simply send a postcard or wear a headscarf on a given day to oppose bigotry.

Maggie Brown Cassidy recently retired from teaching French at Brattleboro Union High School. She was also a teacher trainer and founder of the BUHS Swiss Exchange, which provided homestays and immersion experiences for hundreds of students in Vermont and Geneva. She continues to teach adults and has written many features for the Brattleboro Reformer.
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