GLOVERSVILLE & JOHNSTOWN -- Messages against hate and in favor of acceptance were offered Sunday afternoon at events held in Gloversville and Johnstown.
They followed close on the heels of a three-part newspaper series describing the presence of Ku Klux Klan members and sympathizers in the Glove Cities region.
One filled a meeting room in the Johnstown Public Library almost to capacity and heard calls to action both measured and strident. The other filled a farmers' market pavilion in Gloversville with songs and a message of tolerance and change.
The Johnstown event was the effort of Glove Cities Huddle, a group formed in the wake of the election of Donald Trump as president. It is not in specific opposition to Trump or any political party but in response to changes he was expected to bring to the nation’s tone and policies, said Marj Kline, who with husband Rodney Schuyler organized Sunday’s meeting.
Schuyler said he was spurred to action by the KKK series in the Gloversville Leader-Herald. The couple, both Johnstown natives, had moved back to the area from Pittsburgh this summer and encountered apparent KKK recruiting fliers. He dismissed them as a prank, but twice in one day while shopping he encountered people wearing T-shirts and slogans in praise of white supremacy.
“That indicates to me it wasn’t just a prank,” he said.
The Leader-Herald series created controversy for, among other things, quoting a Klansman saying that there were 200 Klansmen in Fulton County.
“I’m sure they’re exaggerating that there’s 200,” Schuyler said. “I hope so. But that’s not the point.”
The point, he said, is that a “violent terrorist organization” claims a presence locally without feeling any need to conceal itself.
“This is not something that’s acceptable here. … This is a direct threat to our community.”
Fulton County is still largely white, Schuyler said, but there is some diversity, especially in its two cities. Both have an African-American community, he said, and a strong LGBTQ community that is helping push downtown revitalization through entrepreneurship.
Around the same time a few miles north in Gloversville, Gianna DeLilli organized “Imagine,” an event to spread love and acceptance.
She said she does not have a single event she can point to in her own life that impacted her or pushed her to speak against hate.
Instead, she reacts to what’s happening in the world at large, because hate is not a problem unique to one place or local to one place.
“You personally can effect change on a large scale,” she said. “It starts with you.”
Going forward, DeLilli hopes to do more such events to promote acceptance and equality.
“It’s how life should exist,” she said.
Attending “Imagine,” Gloversville Mayor Dayton King had a simple take. “This is awesome,” he said.
By which he meant it was a peaceful message of acceptance that, by design, did not give attention to hate groups that want it and need it to grow.
King expressed some disappointment with the way the newspaper structured its KKK coverage, but moving forward, he said he’d be meeting soon with Frederick Miller, a Troy-based consultant on race relations.
In King’s opinion, Gloversville is not a hateful city. “We’re an inclusive place for the most part,” he said.
King also attended the Johnstown meeting.
Other attendees were unhappy that public officials tried to discourage them from their proposed public rally against hate groups and hate.
King said he was basing his stance on recommendations of the Fulton County sheriff and Gloversville police chief, who both raised the specter of counterprotests and ensuing violence, as in Charlottesville, Virginia, two months ago.
The city of Johnstown, King said, probably had only three police officers on duty as he was speaking in that city.
The exchange was civil, but some in the audience suggested officials were trying to whitewash the issue or mute the response to avoid a bad image for the area.
Not so, King said later. He’s simply trying to avoid violence. “I’m all for free speech.”
Attendees at Sunday afternoon’s Glove Cities Huddle event made their own points as the meeting went on:
- One noted the irony of emphasizing tolerance for all except for those who don’t tolerate others, and suggested listening to them instead. He also recounted his own trouble doing this with a neighbor. “I’m trying to understand this guy, but it’s hard.”
- A local educator said middle school children were afraid to walk home alone after the newspaper series.
- A man recalled a racial epithet hurled at him by a passing motorist in the city. “My grandmother always told me this was going to be done when I had kids,” he said.
- His wife, who is white but not substantially lighter than her husband, said she’s aware of the problem when they go to the supermarket. “We do hear whispers,” she said. “It’s like we’re back in time.”
- A trio of union organizers said they’d be part of the effort to push back against hate, and suggested involving colleges, clergy, BOCES, and anyone else that could lend support. “We’re not outsiders, we live in this community,” one said, without elaborating whether she was responding to or anticipating the old label used to undercut organizers of every stripe: “Outside agitators.”
- Another suggested it’s too late to worry about a rally against hate drawing counterprotesters from the South, because hate groups are already here.
- One said the pushback should be against hate, not against the KKK, because focusing on the KKK would become “advertising for them.”
- Another said that no one should assume the issue is a Gloversville problem that doesn’t exist in Johnstown.