About 100 people gathered before dusk Wednesday evening, Aug. 23 to declare Wilton a community of civility and openness, standing unified to reject the violence and expression of hate that had been seen in Charlottesville, VA last week. Organized by members of the Wilton Clergy Association (WCA), the Standing Strong, Standing Together event was one that embraced the religious traditions of Wilton residents as well as non-religious expressions of community and acceptance.
In addition to members of the clergy, several public officials spoke at the event, including First Selectman Lynne Vanderslice, State Rep. Gail Lavielle, State Sen. Toni Boucher, and Police Chief John Lynch. Adrienne Reedy sang What the World Needs Now.
Following the event, Vanderslice told GMW, “Tonight was a very meaningful gathering and a strong showing by the community against hate.”
Lavielle delivered remarks at the Wednesday night event:
“When members of our community are not only horrified, but frightened by events, whether they be close to home or far away, it is important for them to know that their community is behind them and with them. So I’d like to thank the Wilton Interfaith Clergy for inviting our community to gather following the alarming and revolting events in Charlottesville.
“When I was growing up, we were taught that Nazism was the name of a brutal and terrible force that my father and others of his generation fought in the Second World War. We were also taught that it must never be condoned or tolerated in this country. It was very clear that it was our responsibility as Americans to ensure that it never arose in our midst.
“Yet there it was, as Nazis and white supremacists marched in Charlottesville. And even worse, they brought violence with them, through both words and deeds. There is only one way to feel about it: it was alarming, and revolting.
“As an elected representative, but more important, as a human being, I abhor that violence. And I condemn those acts of hate that have hurt and frightened innocent people. There are absolutely no circumstances when it is acceptable to tolerate or lend any credence to Nazis, white supremacists, or any other racist or bigoted group. Any equivocation or ambiguity on this score is unacceptable, and my stance is firm and clear against all that they represent.
“There is no place for Nazis or white supremacists anywhere, in our country, in Connecticut, or in Wilton. We must stand together as a community in making clear that racism and bigotry are not accepted here. Our gathering this evening is a reminder that Wilton is a town that warmly welcomes and respects all people, accepts and values differences, which enrich our community, and does not tolerate racism, terror, or violence directed at anyone at any time.
“This is an issue that transcends political, religious, and philosophical views. It is a question of basic humanity. No one in our community must live in fear or apprehension of bigotry or racism, and we must stand together in that purpose.
In this, there is nothing to divide us. On the contrary, I hope that this common purpose will bring us all together in ever stronger and steadfast unity.”
Boucher’s remarks were also strong:
“Those of us gathered here are deeply grateful to the Wilton religious community and Father Reggie for organizing this vigil for our concerned community.
“I want to personally thank you for the opportunity to join you in an important expression of Wilton’s solidarity. It is vital that we all stand together and speak with one voice on the events that have torn through the fabric of our society.
“Some personal thoughts as your neighbor and friend:
“Many in our community have a deep connection to WWII and the Nazi persecution. Some were the soldiers who help to liberate the concentration camps, some were parents of our Wilton families, like the Kayes, whose parents would explain to their grandchildren and mine what the tattoos on their arm meant.
“I never thought I would see Nazis and supremacists marching in the streets of America in my, my children’s, and now my grandchildren’s lifetime after my grandparents and cousins were brutally attacked by the Nazis on our family’s farm in Europe during that terrible war. These recent acts of intolerance, hatred and violence have appalled and angered me and have no place in a civilized society.
“Many of us believed that the battle for equity, tolerance, acceptance and respect for of all had nearly been won after participating in the civil rights marches in DC and after the death of Martin Luther King. But the battle for upholding the rights and dignity of our fellow human beings rages on and made worse by the top of our government who legitimize hate by words that condone neo-Nazi or white supremacist groups. We all should have zero tolerance for those carrying Nazi flags and symbolic torches, that incite violence, terrorize synagogues or mow down innocents. These are NOT nice people and a leader of the free world should state that clearly. There is no equivalence, none.
“Those in leadership have an obligation to use their positions of power and influenced to send a message of unity, respect and inclusion. The constant battle for these values must also be fought in our homes and our schools, our places of work and government and places of worship.
“During these troubling times, I am reminded of the sermon on the mount, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God, Blessed are the persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’
“The religious community works every day to spread the good word with messages of comfort, forgiveness, compassion, tolerance and acceptance of all people of good intent ,whatever their circumstances, backgrounds, race, religion, nationality, sexual identity or orientation . We are all equal in the eyes of God. We should all be equal in the eyes of our fellow men and women and should treat others as we would be treated.
“So, Why is hatred, exclusion, intolerance and violence still directed at others that do not look or believe as we do?
“It starts in the home. A child is not born with hate in their heart. It is taught and nurtured at a very young age. As parents and grandparents we must strive even harder to teach their children well. Our religious institutions and our teachers must redouble their efforts to amplify positive values and messages more strongly than ever before.
“As your State Senator:
“I am proud to say that Connecticut has a long history of civil activism and the creation of organizations that have been key players in creating an America that promotes and defends freedom, liberty, and the civil rights of all people.
“Connecticut and its people were pivotal in eradicating slavery and promoting civil rights throughout the centuries. Just this year, In a unanimous and bipartisan fashion, the General Assembly passed one of the strongest hate crimes laws in the country. This law will protect all citizens of our state no matter their religion, gender, sexual orientation, race, or nationality.
“Unfortunately, Connecticut also has been home to some extremist groups as well. Thankfully, groups whose beliefs are intolerant and contrary to normal human sensibilities have not and will not flourished here. Any group that professes hate, bigotry, exclusion, and violence should never be tolerated in our state or our country. The ADL reminds us that, Never Again is Now.”
Photos below courtesy of Temple B’nai Chaim, Carrie Tobias, Deborah List and Monica Mills.
The article has been clarified to note that the event was planned by the Wilton Clergy Association (WCA), and not the Wilton Interfaith Action Committee (Wi-ACT).