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Molnar: Standing Up To Bigotry

It was a good turnout for something that had so little apparent relevance in a town with such a small Jewish community and so few people of color.
More than a hundred people attended a panel discussion on anti-Semitism and racism sponsored by the Rutland Jewish Center and the Rutland NAACP. Flyers made to look like Confederate bills, and printed with Stars of David and Jesus saves quotations had been left in the library, tucked inside books about the Civil Rights movement and the Holocaust.

My husband Ted and I are both children of Holocaust survivors, and even we thought the flyers were more silly than upsetting – especially compared to the intense bigotry we’ve been witnessing nationwide.

Legal experts explained that the concealed flyers were technically more vandalism than hate crime. But for one short evening this crowd wrestled with how to effectively respond to bigotry and the fact that incidents like this are likely to be repeated because bigotry seems to be part of the human condition.

Maybe we’re born to distrust those who look or act differently, or maybe we learn it over time. But regardless of the reason, there will always be people who need to lay blame and feel superior, and who will therefore become racists, anti-Semites, homophobes, misogynists, and so on - because bigotry is never limited to just one group.

But if we can’t get rid of it, we must resist it. With laws, yes, but also through solidarity with other well-meaning people who far outnumber the misfits. We must maintain a healthy democracy to keep bigotry in check.

The meeting reminded me that we need to take note, show up, join forces, and support inclusion with our vote, because ultimately, bigotry touches us all, regardless of color, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation or any other potentially divisive attribute.

An anti-Nazi pastor once wrote:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

So, if we see something, we are indeed obligated to do something.

Martha L. Molnar is a public relations and freelance writer who moved to Vermont in 2008. She was formerly a New York Times reporter.
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