In the days following the violent invasion of our Capitol, the swastika-symbol vandalism of the North Hills peace sign takes on additional, troubling meaning.
Whether the folks who did this realize it or not, the swastika has been a symbol of hate since the Nazi regime of Germany, and it communicates a threat to anyone who is Jewish, LGBT, handicapped, a person of color or an immigrant. It says, "You are not welcome." Messages of hate hurt the ones to whom they are directed, but they also diminish those who express them and all of us.
After last Wednesday's violence in the nation's Capital and this attack in our peace park, we want to be clear that we reject this hate-filled symbol. The Jeannette Rankin Peace Center and Har Shalom have come together to issue this statement of solidarity with all oppressed groups and to stand together to say "we stand on the side of justice and love and we will not allow hatred to hurt and divide our community.”
Words and symbols are important because they encourage action. This recent vandalism is not a singular event. Missoula has suffered many similar situations of injustice and oppression. This week, in Missoula, we know that individuals have been targeted and physically attacked for playing ethnic music and looking “different.” This is unacceptable, criminal behavior. We must speak out and call it out. Attackers must be held accountable for the harm they cause and the fear they engender. If we are to prevent our nation from falling deeper into patterns of hate and oppression, it will take all of us to be willing bystanders and allies.
Har Shalom Rabbi Laurie Franklin says, “As a Jew, I am obligated by the teachings of the Torah (Hebrew Bible) to respect the dignity and sanctity of every human being, no exceptions. To those who would marginalize me, my beloved people, and my friends and neighbors, I say,'“A foundation of hate will not endure. Please learn and practice love and kindness. Let us appreciate each other. Let us open the doors of compassion and true community.'”
Jeannette Rankin Peace Center Executive Director Betsy Mulligan-Dague believes, “we must open our hearts to others even when the message we hear is difficult. It is no longer acceptable for either side to demonize others for beliefs and perspectives different from their own. We must all work to make our interactions peaceful and to call others to do the same — to be respectful, to take accountability when necessary and to approach each other with hearts full of compassion.”
A group of willing volunteers lovingly restored the North Hills peace sign on a beautiful weekend afternoon. Let it be a message to all of us that peace does take work and tending, but it is resilient, and if we do the work of tending our community, we can be safe and strong together, each of us loved for the good we bring into the world. As Nelson Mandela said, "It is so easy to break down and destroy. The heroes are those who make peace and build." We ask you to find ways today, and in the days and weeks to come, to be about the work of building peace rather than breaking down and destroying.
Stay safe, be vigilant and look out for each other. Stand with us, speak up when you see hate and be willing to answer it in ways that build goodwill and justice.
This opinion is signed by Rabbi Laurie Franklin of Har Shalom and by Betsy Mulligan-Dague, executive director of the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center.