Rachel Yeates, Campus Carrier Managing Editor & Lesli Marchese, Campus Carrier News Editor
In two days, months of planning will come to fruition as members of Berry and the Rome community come together to protest the white supremacy rally set to take place on the steps of the Joint Law Enforcement Center in downtown Rome.
Rome native and alumna Jessie Reed (’07) helped turn plans for a protest into a reality. More than sending a message to the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement, she wants to show people of color in the Rome community a message of love and acceptance.
“I just have this image of a young girl of color seeing [the rally], and what an impact that would make if nobody was standing there opposing it. What a horrible thing,” she said.
The protest, Turn Your Back On Hate, will be completely silent, so as not to fuel any violence between the two groups. The protesters hope to present a united message to rally attendees.
“The last thing I want in my hometown where I’m raising my children is a big riot,” Reed said. “I wanted to create a peaceful, organized front.”
The protest will take place across the street from the rally, and no one will block traffic, so there will be a natural barrier between the two groups.
Marshals, including dean of students Debbie Heida and other Berry faculty, will help enforce the silent element of the protest.
“The goal is that there’s no confrontation between the two groups,” Heida said. “That’s really the role of the marshals, to make sure people committing to the protest are committing to the concept of it, which is a silent protest and the shirts’ will do the speaking.”
The shirts front will read “Turn your back on hate,” and the back will frame “Rome” in a heart.
John Hickman, professor of government and international studies, came to meetings with Reed and other community leaders to unite the parties looking to oppose the Neo-Nazi rally.
“I heard that the Neo-Nazis were coming to town and I was surprised [and] appalled,” Hickman said. “I heard there was a meeting at Schroeder’s, and I and a couple of Berry students decided to attend.”
Sophomore Josh Beck was one of those students involved early in community conversation. He gauged interest on social media as well.
“I created [a] Facebook event to just start a discussion and see what people wanted to do,” Beck said. “I didn’t really know when I started it what it would turn into … I was just trying to create a forum for discussion and give a chance for the people who really wanted to do something to speak up.”
Immediately following the protest, the Rome Unity Festival will take place in Ridge Ferry Park. Dr. Raj Miniyar, a local pediatrician, has been at the forefront of planning the festival. He believes that a gathering of music and community is a more positive, peaceful way to combat the rally goers.
“These people want you to protest, they want you to have some kind of drama or some kind of excitement,” Miniyar said. “The idea was to conquer that, not necessarily in a direct way, but to create something which will balance out that day’s negativity with positivity.”
He hopes the protest and festival will have a lasting impact on Rome.
“Anything you do positive will create a vibration and impact and go forward and result in ongoing improvement,” he said.
People who wish to join the protest can meet up with the group at the fountains between the Rome Forum and the Forum’s parking deck. There are still T-shirts available for those interested.