Message of diversity rules the day at peace rally

BY JASON GRANGER, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

With strains of the Beatles echoing in their ears, and rain falling gently from the sky, around 150 people gathered outside the St. Louis Art Museum to rally for peace and unity while a neo-Nazi rally took place downtown at the Gateway Arch Saturday, April 18.

In a pointed response to the National Socialist Movement (the American Nazi Party) demonstration under the Arch, where 70 members gathered, the peace rally participants met on Saturday as well to let St. Louisans and the rest of the nation know that this is a town of peace and respect. Organized by the Anti-Defamation League, the “Rally for Respect” featured prominent members of the St. Louis metropolitan area community, including St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley and U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, Jr.

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John Wallach, chairman of the ADL of Missouri and Southern Illinois, said that the rally held on Art Hill was not necessarily a counter-rally.

“This is not an anti-American Nazi Party rally,” Wallach said. “This is a demonstration of how diverse our community is today.” Playing master of ceremonies, KMOX radio personality Charlie Brennan lauded the crowd for braving the elements and standing up for peace. “St. Louis is not a place for hate,” he said. “St. Louis is where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at the United Hebrew Temple in 1960.”

Slay, too, chose to reiterate the ad hoc message of the day, that despite its reputation, St. Louis is as diverse as other major cities in the nation. He referenced historical events, such as the Dred Scott case, and the 1975 Wimbledon tennis final between Arthur Ashe and Belleville native Jimmy Connors, which was the first interracial Wimbledon final in that tournament’s history.

“An older city, like ours, should wear our diversity proudly,” Slay said. “Being here together instead of at the Arch today is the greatest joy of all.”

Dooley said that the make-up of St. Louis is a microcosm of the entire nation, and that the United States should celebrate and openly embrace diverse points of view.

“This is the melting pot. That’s the great part of America,” he said. “We are not one culture, we are many. We are not one religion — we are many. We are not one race — we are many.”

Rabbi Mark Shook, of Congregation Temple Israel, spoke to the crowd and said diversity adds spice and creativity to life, and that without multiple viewpoints, life would be boring. “It is appropriate that we are meeting at Art Hill,” he said. “Consider if every piece of art in there was black or white? Or beige? It would be boring.”

The event was co-hosted by many organizations, including the Hispanic Leaders Group. The president of that organization, Maria Teresa Maldonado, said everyone needs to stand up against hate. “We stand united with all the other agencies represented here, led by the ADL, to fight bias,” she said. “We stand united with all of you.”

One local Jewish man, who didn’t want to give his name, came to the rally to see what the reaction to the Nazi party rally would be like. He added he was pleased with the turnout.

“I was curious,” he said. “I heard about the white supremacist rally, and heard this rally was also going to happen. I really didn’t understand how they (the Nazis) could do their rally under the Arch, but I think this shows the differences between us.”

Perhaps the most popular speech of the day belonged to Rep. Clay, who also drew from the experiences and life of Dr. King.

“There is another meeting at the Arch,” he said. “They are what we call Nazi wannabes. They try to be Nazis, but their message is bankrupt. I think about Dr. King today. He once said, ‘Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man’s sense of value and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true.'”

Downtown at the Gateway Arch on Saturday afternoon, the 70 NSM demonstrators were separated by barricades from around 200 counter-protesters who lined Leonor K. Sullivan Boulevard and beneath the Arch, 75 yards away, while St. Louis police and National Park Service rangers kept watch.

One counter-protester was arrested, after attempting to cross the barriers and confront neo-Nazi demonstrators, according to St. Louis Police.