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DON’T SHOOT THE MESSENGER: Love Trumps Hate

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In late January, a few fliers—simple black text on a white background—showed up on utility poles around Ashland. They read “a storm is coming,” and featured the silhouette of an army man, with a swastika emblazed into his helmet.

Some of the posters also included a Twitter handle, and police quickly tracked down the person behind them, a 28-year old Medford resident. It was the latest in a hodgepodge of disturbing racist and neo-Nazi statements around the state—and many people are concerned that Donald Trump’s election has unleashed and emboldened such hatred. In the week after Trump’s election, for example, there were 19 racist or anti-immigration incidents reported throughout Oregon to the Southern Poverty Law Institute.

“We know racist activists have championed Trump and likely feel emboldened to act out because of his success,” explains Randy Blazak, a former Portland State professor who earned his PhD infiltrating Nazi skinhead gangs in Georgia, and who heads the Oregon Coalition Against Hate Crimes.

Specifically talking about the neo-Nazi posters in Ashland, Blazak also points out that it is an odd and antiquated form of communication to post fliers, especially when social media allows for much quicker and wide-spread distribution of statements. There is bitter comfort in that observation: That the person may be such a loner and aberration that he does not have a community, on-line or otherwise. “When flyering happens,” Blazak points out, “it is often a solo actor or a very small group acting independently of a larger hate group, even if the flyers have that group’s name on them.”

Underscoring this assessment, the man who placed the neo-Nazi flier in Ashland only had 24 followers in his Twitter account.

Yes, it is concerning—and it is unwise to simply discount fliers as isolated incidents of lonely and disillusioned men; after all, the dozens of mass shootings committed over the past several years (and historically) have commonly been committed by men fitting this very profile.

But it is equally and perhaps more important to remember that these incidents do not represent the overall tenor and strength on the community—and the Messenger continues to hope and believe that, indeed, love will trump hate.

For the past two months, many/most Americans have been pulled into the den of an internet troll; that is, our peculiar president, a man who has disrupted national security and sanity by his barrage of Twitter postings, who has attacked everyone from federal judges to Hollywood icons (again in tweets), and who has tried to set policy not by listening to other people and considering facts, but by impetuous and headstrong (anti)social media statements. It has been stressful and disturbing, and for many Americans, the equivalent of seeing a neo-Nazi poster while walking to your favorite coffee shop on an otherwise sunny morning.

But bullying is most successful when we engage in the “game”—when we let the bully get under our skin, when we lock horns, when we spend our entire day responding and talking about Trump’s tweets.

Certainly we believe in pushback—and have been attending marches, and donating money to the ACLU—but we also think that living one’s life is, in a sense, an act of defiance and strength. And, in that spirit, we are happy to present our annual Theater Issue, and to recognize in how many forms and fashions that theater is what holds this community together—from gathering residents together for a shared emotional experience, to creating the backbone of the economy for the region.  

Going to a play is not whistling through the graveyard. It is not ignoring reality. It is joining a community; it is supporting the creative and financial heartbeat of this region, and we hope that it is reminder about what and who are good, hopeful and welcoming in this community.

 

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