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Lighting a candle for democracy

Vigil will oppose 'rise of fascism and hate'

For more information about the April 23 vigil, contact Woody Bernhard and Susan Kunhardt at woodyandsusan@gmail.com.

BRATTLEBORO—There have been many marches, vigils, and other events in the Brattleboro area in opposition to various aspects of the presidency of Donald J. Trump.

But Woody Bernhard and Susan Kunhardt say they want the Candlelight Vigil for Democracy that they are helping to organize for April 23 in Brattleboro to be more than just an anti-Trump event. The Marlboro couple want this vigil to be viewed as a pro-democracy event.

“My wife and I started this project on our own, by the seat of our pants,” Bernhard said. “We felt the we had to do something to stand up to the rise of fascism and hate in our country and around the world.”

Bernhard said he and his wife were frightened by Trump, but were inspired by January’s Women’s March, which saw millions of people around the world stand up for equality and civil rights.

They also took inspiration from the story of the “Hate Does Not Grow in the Rocky Soil of Vermont” banner. When four Connecticut-based Ku Klux Klansmen planned to stage a rally in Wilmington in 1982, they were met with a banner bearing those words strung up over Route 9 in the town’s center.

That message was reprised earlier this month in downtown Brattleboro, when a banner bearing those same words was hung over Main Street by the Brattleboro Love Project.

Bernhard and Kunhardt decided they wanted to do something similar.

“We sent out an image of a ‘We Celebrate Democracy/Civil Rights For All’ banner to our email list and the Marching Forward group in Putney. It seemed like there was enough support to fund it, so we started a Go Fund Me site to raise money,” Bernhard said.

He said he got a positive response from Brattleboro businesses and from the town of Brattleboro, “and there was enough support for it on the internet and the street that it happened. We have raised $1,610 from 75 donors (as of early last week). Our expenses for the banner and permits is $1,775.90.”

The banner was made by Anne Brush of Banner Arts of Starksboro.

Bernhard said the banner will be hung over Main Street early in the morning on Sunday, April 23.

But having the banner led to another inspiration.

“Once we had the banner worked out with Anne, I said to myself, ‘I would gladly go to a candlelight vigil for democracy, under a Main Street banner.’ So I called for one.”

The Candlelight Vigil for Democracy will be held April 23, at 8 p.m., at the corner of Main and High streets in Brattleboro. People attending the vigil should bring a candle to light for democracy.

Bernhard said all who wish to attend are being asked to agree “to comply with the law and to commit to act nonviolently both in word and deed.”

He cited the work of the Southern Poverty Law Center Center, a nonprofit legal advocacy organization specializing in civil rights. The SPLC has been tracking the activities of hate groups around the U.S. for decades, but the group has said the election of Trump has coincided with a sharp rise in the number of hate crimes reported to authorities.

“I have been trying to understand the SPLC idea that you have to fight fascist hate with love,” Bernhard said, “but the banner and then the candlelight vigil just came naturally. Democracy is an expression of love and respect for the people. Democracy is a stand against racism. Democracy is a stand against bigotry. Democracy is a stand against injustice.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #404 (Wednesday, April 19, 2017).

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