SOMERVILLE, NJ - Mayor Brian Gallagher and Steve Peter, Borough Council president, along with a dozen or more lawmakers, clergy and activists, will speak at a rally to decry bigotry, racism, neo-Nazis and White Supremacists on Aug. 28, the anniversary of Martin Luther Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.
The "Community for Unity Rally: A Call To Action" is an outgrowth of an impromptu gathering of 75 people at the Unitarian Universalist Church on E. Cliff Street on Aug. 16, according to one of the organizers, Donna Volpe, who is the founder of the Somerville chapter of Hate Has No Home Here.
She and several others, angered by the violence and aftermath of the clashes in Charlottesville, Va., earlier this month involving right-wing extremists felt the need to "do something," Volpe explained. Many who gathered for that rally expressed the need to further express their outrage and rejection of the extremists' agenda, prompting Volpe to reach out to friends of a similar mind.
Their goal is to help facilitate understanding, unity and cooperation in the community through heightened awareness and getting people engaged..
Volpe, along with Kristen Mehrbach, Andrea Stathatos, Michelle Edgar, Karen Gaffney and Jen Kitchen, started planning the rally on Thursday; they created a Facebook page, made phone calls, and went door-to-door in downtown Somerville handing out flyers to merchants. They continue to meet on a daily basis.
The Somerset County Diversity Cultural Coalition has agreed to sponsor the event, according to Tulsi Maharjan, executive director. He will also speak at the rally.
"They're trying to have the community come together, and that goes with our mission," Maharjan said.
The SCDCC mission statement reads: "To Work with communities to promote greater understanding of our changing communities."
The SCDCC is working with Somerset County officials to secure the necessary permits to hold the rally on the lawn of the historic Somerset County Courthouse, 20 E. Main St., beginning at 5:30 p.m.
In just a few days, the organizers have lined up the following speakers:
State Sen. Christopher "Kip" Bateman, R-16; Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker, D-16th; Joe Forte - secretary of the. NJ LGBT Democratic Caucus Victory Fund Campaign Board; M. Ali Chaudry - president, Islamic Society of Basking Ridge and co-Founder, NJ Interfaith Coalition; Rabbi Dan Selsberg, Temple Sholom; Ron Isaacs, Rabbi Emeritus.Temple Sholom;
Mark Williams, member AACT-NOW; Karen Gaffney - Professor of English, Raritan Valley Community College and author of soon-to-be-released, "Dismantling the Racism Machine: A Manual and Toolbox;" Carina Gonzalez, Outreach Librarian and professor at RVCC and Aldo Martinez, immigration attorney.
Mehrbach and Volpe expect the list will grow over the next week; each speaker is being limited to 3 minutes.
The women emphasize that their newly-formed grass roots organization, "Community for Unity," is non-partisan and not affiliated with any political organizations. Volpe's Hate Has No Home Here, and the Central Jersey Community Coalition are also playing a part in the rally.
"We invite you to join us in promoting UNITY in our community and in all communities of conscience," is their message on the website.
Civil rights activist Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his defining "I Have a Dream" speech 54 years ago on Aug. 28 during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom;. He he called for an end to racism in the United States and called for civil and economic rights. Delivered to over 250,000 civil rights supporters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., the speech was a defining moment of the Civil Rights movement.
Borrowing from the theme of King's speech, Community for Unity offers the following message on its Facebook page:
"We Have a Dream---that all human beings, of all colors, ethnicities, genders, gender identities, nationalities, abilities, races, sexual orientations, religions, and economic backgrounds are treated EQUALLY under the law and are accepted as EQUAL in the hearts and minds of citizens here and everywhere.
"We Have a Dream---that within our lifetimes, rallies will not need to be held in order to promote the ideas of compassion, conscience, and connectedness.
"We Have a Dream---that all of us actively and vociferously reject the scourge of racism, anti-Semitism, and bigotry whenever and wherever we witness it. Furthermore, we commit to confronting white supremacist ideology in our communities, institutions, and personal lives.
"This is our dream, and this is the reality we must work together to create."
Further information is available online at facebook.com/communityforunitynj/