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Why should I speak up?

yard sign 2In recent years, the U.S. has seen a marked increase in organized hate groups. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the number of these groups has grown by 56 percent since 2000. Over the years, several of these groups have tried to spread their white supremacist messages by planning rallies in Gettysburg. Under the First Amendment, they can’t be denied the right to do so, and visiting a location that holds such a significant place in our nation’s history often garners them the attention they want.

As you likely have heard by now, one of these groups is planning a rally here this weekend. As disturbing as this may be, I feel very fortunate to be a resident of Adams County, with an active Adams Unity Coalition and such a supportive business community. Each time we’ve been visited by a hate group, many of our downtown businesses, churches, and organizations have agreed to hang posters or even large banners in their windows or in front of their buildings to show their support for unity and respect for all people.

Still, there are some who suggest that ignoring hate groups is the best response. To quote Ann Van Dyke, a long-time investigator with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, “silence is the welcome mat for hate.” While getting into a shouting match with these groups is not advised, completely ignoring the presence of an organized hate group sends a message to those in our community who are targeted by these groups that the rest of us don’t care. It’s up to us to determine what kind of place we want Adams County to be: one that ensures that all who live here are valued and defended from hateful speech, or one that ignores these words and attitudes as long as they’re not targeting us or our families.

There is a renewed focus on making Gettysburg a top destination, not just for our rich history, but for our many other events and attractions. Just this week, TripAdvisor named Gettysburg the number-one U.S. landmark. If visitors to our town see a white supremacist presence and no concerted effort by locals to stand up for something positive, what will they think of Gettysburg, especially if they are part of a targeted group? They will forever connect the two experiences, and perhaps won’t become a return visitor.

Promoting unity and respect for all people is not just a one-time effort; many Adams Unity Coalition member organizations hold events and programs throughout the year to encourage our community to break down barriers that cause divisiveness and disunity. We’re working on creating new signs that read “All different, all equal, all together” that members of our community can post in their yards to show their support for unity. Thank you to all who have taken a stand through posting a sign in your window, attending a unity event, or even just taking the time to talk to someone who is different from you. Adams County is a fantastic place to visit and to live because of you!

By Ashley Andyshak Hayes, director of advocacy and public relations
This column was originally published in the Gettysburg Times on June 27, 2014.