What kind of community do residents of the Rogue Valley want?
Do we want to be a community that lives up to the ideal that all people are created equal, and where all people feel safe?
Several recent developments have brought this question into sharp focus.
As the Mail Tribune and Daily Tidings reported, two of the area’s leading anti-Semitic activists came to, but were not permitted to enter, an Ashland synagogue where a packed audience had turned out to hear a presentation about rising anti-Semitism in the U.S. and around the world.
The congregation has had to step up security following the murders of 11 Jews at a Pittsburgh synagogue in October, as well as the deadly Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, targeting Jews and people of color in 2017.
One anti-Semite who was attempting to enter the Ashland synagogue wrote earlier this year in a public post on Facebook that Jews are a “foreign virus” who have infected America and seized “the mechanisms of growth, communication, regulation and energy.”
The rise of anti-Semitism in Germany in the 1930s was “understandable,” he wrote, because it was Jews who caused the Great Depression. Yet, Jews in Germany “were rarely wholesale persecuted and harassed merely for being Jewish. Many Jews lived out the war in relative comfort and freedom within Germany,” this Holocaust denier wrote.
The other man posted on Facebook the day after the Mail Tribune/Tidings story that Jews “dominate” the “American political landscape,” and, as a result, “Is there any wonder why America, as exemplified by its youth, is slipping into a cesspool of obesity, addiction, idiocy, moral impoverishment and general malaise?”
Some in the Rogue Valley and elsewhere have tried to justify their attacks on Jews by criticizing the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians, but that is clearly a smokescreen. There are millions of people, both in Israel and in the U.S., who question the treatment of Palestinians without denying that the Holocaust ever happened or that Jews are entitled to safety and respect like anyone else.
Local attacks on Jews are not taking place in a vacuum, as there is a growing climate of anti-Semitism at the national level as well. In the November elections, candidates in at least 11 states used anti-Semitic ads against their opponents. One of them, the Republican candidate for Congress in Illinois’ 3rd District, was formerly head of the American Nazi Party.
The problem with hate speech like this is not only that it makes members of our community feel unsafe but that, as the deaths in Pittsburgh and Charlottesville remind us, a climate of hate speech leads to hate action.
Of course, Jews are not the only targets of scapegoating, discrimination, and violence.
In the Rogue Valley, the Racial Equity Coalition, Rogue Action Center, and other community partners have met with local law enforcement to seek stronger anti-bias training and accountability to prevent racial profiling.
We also joined with other organizations in successfully opposing Measure 105 in November that would have led to more profiling and detention of local residents who “looked” like they “might” be recent immigrants.
Many local businesses have agreed to display signs making it clear that all people are welcome there.
After a strong community response against renewed Ku Klux Klan organizing last May, the Medford City Council spoke out. Several other cities have passed resolutions against the targeting of immigrants, people of color, Muslims or others.
The Racial Equity Coalition also partners with other community groups to offer educational programs and tools for learning about and overcoming racial bias.
The Rogue Action Center has trained de-escalation teams to help promote safety at a wide range of events involving women, LGBTQ people, people of color, and others. The Center also supports local organizing to ensure that all residents in our small-town and rural region have affordable housing, health care, education, transportation, a healthy climate, and other basic needs.
We believe that most residents of the Rogue Valley want a community where all people are valued, respected, and safe. If you agree, we invite you to get involved in any of the local organizations that are working to help make that happen.
Alma Rosa Alvarez is a founding member of the Racial Equity Coalition of Southern Oregon (RacialEquitySo.org). Michelle Glass is director of the Rogue Action Center (RogueActionCenter.org).