"I'm here because this feels like a very dark time for me, and I don't know what else to do." Those are the words Robert Yerachmiel Snyderman, program specialist at the Tucson Jewish History Museum, used to begin his presentation at Wednesday night's We Stand Together event organized by YWCA Southern Arizona.
I don't know how many people nodded "Yes" to Snyderman's words. I certainly did. "Give this a shot," I thought as I drove to the event. "Maybe the organizers have some ideas about how to bring together a community of people who will stand as a unified force to combat hatred addressed at individuals, and, if Trump makes good on his promise to deport immigrants and register Muslims, stand up to him in any way we can."
I left feeling more hopeful than I have in the past few weeks. It was a well organized event, the first of many which are in the works, and the YWCA has the necessary organizational heft and the historical commitment to human rights—the phrase at the top of the YWCA's national and local websites is "eliminating racism, empowering women"—to create a kind of umbrella organization which can unite local individuals and groups for a common purpose.
Was this event a beginning which will lead to greater unity and further action in Pima County? I'm encouraged by what I saw and heard, but there are no guarantees. Kelly Fryer, CEO of YWCA Southern Arizona, warned that too often, efforts like this fall into "the cycle of action, reaction and despair." But that doesn't have to be the case. "We're here tonight," she told the 250 people in attendance. "It's an urgent moment, but we can't let this be just another moment, not in Tucson, not in Arizona, not in the U.S."
More on the event in a moment. First, if you want to keep current with what the group is doing and become involved in any way, go to the Join We Stand Together
page and register.
YWCA Southern Arizona's Chief of Staff Michelle Pitot said the organization put a link on its Facebook and web pages asking people who have seen or been a victim of hate crimes to report them. In 10 days, 20 incidents were reported, many of them directly related to Trump's election. It's a disturbing but unsurprising statistic, given the 900 similar incidents noted across the country by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Both Mayor Jonathan Rothschild and Police Chief Chris Magnus spoke, urging people to report hate-related incidents. Magnus said people should call 911 if they are victims or witnesses, or even if they encounter something like graffiti scrawled on a wall, since the department wants to have as complete a record as possible of these kinds of problems around the city. The audience was told the police doesn't ask witnesses or people reporting problems about their immigration status. And Magnus said he "holds fast to the view, when it comes to immigration enforcement, we refuse to become an arm of the federal government."
Other speakers talked about personal experiences with hatred directed toward themselves or others and emphasized that, if possible, bystanders should not remain silent, since silence is a form of consent. Debi Chess Mabie, Executive Director of the Arts Foundation of Tucson and Southern Arizona, joined Pilot and Snyderman on the stage to present a short workshop suggesting ways individuals can intervene and show support for people being verbally assaulted.
If this were a normal time, I would have left the event with a bit more knowledge and understanding along with some tools I can use if I encounter instances of hate among friends and associates or in the general community. But this is not a normal time. With Trump as president, the country faces the potential of extraordinary threats to our safety, our liberty and our right to express ourselves. People need to be vigilant and prepared. The We Stand Together Network is laying the groundwork to become a vital part of our local response, and I'm planning to be part of the effort.
If you're interested in becoming informed about or involved with what the organization is doing at any level, register here