BRATTLEBORO — Following an incident in Burlington where a racist group's fliers were dropped at homes, Windham County residents rallied downtown after marching from the Root Social Justice Center.
They chanted, "Hey, hey. Ho, ho. The KKK (Ku Klux Klan) has got to go."
"My grief today has turned to outrage," said Jamie Contois, after mentioning a letter she wrote to the editor following the Charleston, S.C., murders that occurred in a historic black church in June. "In 2015, our neighbors, our friends and our families are targeted, are intimidated and are threatened because of the color of their skin."
Contois had befriended a black woman during pre-natal yoga classes. She said they connected and enjoyed talking about the coming births of their babies. They ended up giving birth a week apart.
"I'm motivated today as she and I have raised our sons side by side. And her fears about her son's future are different from my fears," said Contois. "I want to organize and use my life as a mom, as a community member, as a Vermonter, so that all our families, our friends and neighbors are safe, so that all of our babies are raised in an equal and just world."
Alex Fischer, a member of the Brattleboro-based Root Social Justice Center collaborative that helped organize the solidarity rally held at Pliny Park on Nov. 5 said a rally was also being held the same night in Burlington to address the "atrocious incidents of KKK fliers being posted" at residences there.
"White supremacy and groups like the KKK do not just exist somewhere else," she said. "We're here to acknowledge that racism is real and alive here in our town every day and that we are here to stand up and say that we believe in racial justice. We believe in something different."
After two people of color had received the fliers, Burlington Free Press reported that Burlington police were looking for a "person of interest" and released surveillance photographs.
A community letter of support saw several area businesses and organizations sign on. The group was standing in solidarity with the "targeted individuals and people of Burlington" while calling on communities around Brattleboro to ensure "people of color feel safe in their homes, in the streets and in the community," it stated.
Citing anonymous graffiti, profiling and discrimination in the workplace, schools and housing, the letter said racism thrives on fear and that this area sees its fair share of it,
"We're here to say that racism in all forms has no place in our town, in our state, in our country and in our world," Fischer read, receiving cheers from rally attendees."No to KKK. No to all expressions of racism. Yes to racial justice."
Contois called for the identification and prosecution of those committing hate crimes. But, she also wanted rehabilitation for them.
Shela Linton, another member of the Root Justice Center collaborative and organizer for the Vermont Workers Center, takes on social justice on a daily basis and says racism runs through every cause or movement she has played a part in.
"As a person of color and growing up in Vermont, I've had countless experiences of racism," said Linton, whose family moved here after a Molotov cocktail exploded at her mother's home in an all-white neighborhood.
In Brattleboro, she recalled hearing people using racist terms and phrases. Insults were heard all the way home from school, she said. Then they continued at the pool, sporting games and school.
In the early 1990s, Linton remembered a friend's home being vandalized with the letters "KKK" being written. She said the FBI had to get involved.
"I stand before you tonight to say no to the KKK and yes to racial justice," she said. "What I really mean to say is no to racism."
The KKK is only a minor part of the racism people constantly experience, Linton told attendees, saying that racism isn't always visible to every person in the same way. While it may be uncomfortable, she said conversations about racism and racist groups must be had.
"We must remember racism perpetuates itself in many different forms right here in the state of Vermont," she continued, bringing up people who were fired from their jobs due to their race. "Students in schools and even more so with students with special needs, students of color are being tracked, harassed and expelled, creating a straight path to the prison pipeline. And our 'Black Lives Matter' signs are being taken down and vandalized. And people of color are being profiled and followed into stores. And police brutality is a real thing in Vermont. Ask me."
According to Linton, the goal of the rally was to fight for social justice while raising awareness and creating visibility around racism. She called for members of the community to act in a such a way that the Burlington incident is not repeated here.
"Hate has no home here," she said. "We're divided only because we haven't united."