Topeka came out strong against hate on Saturday. Now that the neo-Nazis are gone, let's not let the spirit of solidarity disappear with them.
Sometimes it takes the ugliness of others to bring out the beauty in people.
That has happened in Topeka over the last few weeks --- and especially on Friday and Saturday.
Ever since the National Socialist Movement announced several weeks ago that it would hold a white supremacist rally on the Statehouse steps, Topekans of all colors have been uniting in a show of solidarity against hate.
On Saturday, the 21 NMS members decked out in their khaki shirts decorated with red swastikas, carrying Nazi flags and shouting "Sieg heil!" drew about 50 sympathizers.
The counter-protesters, some carrying signs that said "Nazis go home" and various anti-hate messages, numbered in the hundreds.
There they were --- whites, blacks, Hispanics, Jews, gays --- standing solid against the ignorant invectives being shouted from the Statehouse steps.
Even Gov. Bill Graves managed to get in a few words --- not in person, but by cleverly having a banner hung across the pillars above the NSM speakers that declared "Kansas values ethnic diversity." Earlier, he had signed a proclamation designating Saturday as Kansas Values Ethnic Diversity Day.
With more than 300 law enforcement officers, firefighters and emergency medical personnel at the site, the rallies took place with no violence, no arrests or disturbances. Which is exactly what the counter-rally organizers had wanted. Their presence spoke volumes; confrontation would have muffled that message.
For their part, a spokesman for NSM praised the handling of the rallies by law enforcement. Of course, he had to specifically credit "white police officers."
"We were not shut down by police," he said. "We got our message out."
Of course the irony of that, which is totally lost on the NSM mindset, is that they were able to do that --- indeed had police protection to spew their words of hate --- because of the freedoms that many of the people they denounce fought for and even died for.
They may think that "Hitler was right!" as one of their banners proclaimed, but Hitler would never have allowed a group to speak out against him or his ideals as they were allowed to do Saturday.
But then, that isn't the only contradiction in their thinking. On their Web site, they say that everyone who isn't pure white should return to their homeland. So, one should ask, when are they going to leave? Those who can truly claim this country as their native homeland aren't "pure white."
As ugly as the white supremacist rally was Saturday, it is now behind us. For that, we can be grateful.
That said, let's not let the community cohesiveness that was found in the face of this demonstration of hate depart along with the NSM members.
Topeka --- indeed, all of Kansas --- needs to build on the unity that was started here.
That unity involved more than the counter-rally downtown on Saturday. It included a dawn-to-dusk prayer vigil sponsored by Interfaith of Topeka at the Topeka Friends Meetinghouse. Interfaith members also planned to show their disapproval of the neo-Nazis by turning their backs on them at the rally.
Duane Herrmann, Interfaith president, expected members of the Baha'i, Buddhist, Christian, Jewish, Islamic and Indian faith groups to participate.
"We want to show our solidarity, that spirituality is more powerful and more important than the hate and destruction the Nazis represent," Herrmann said.
In another act of bringing people together, Rabbi Lawrence P. Karol issued an open invitation to the public to join in regular services at Temple Beth Sholom on Friday night. It drew a standing-room-only attendance, including many other clergy.
That is something to build on --- not only in the faith community, but in the community at large. Let's not go back to our own little corners until the next ugly display of hate riles us to action. Let's keep and nurture the spirit of solidarity that has sprouted in Topeka.
©Copyright 2002, Topeka Capital Journal