Approximately 25 Ithacans gathered in Wood Street Park at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday for a vegetarian potluck and open forum for dialogue about what it means to ‘clean up hate.’
The event, Wood Street Park for Building Unity: Cleaning the Hate is now in its third year, and previously included performances by Vitamin L chorus, a local choir of middle to high school age kids. Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 was slated to speak, but informed organizers shortly before the event that he would be unable to attend.
The event was hosted by Ithaca Coalition for Unity and Cooperation in the Middle East, a local group self-described as a “grass-roots anti-racist community organization working to preserve the plurality and diversity of discussions about the Middle East and other related topics.”
Linda Glaser, writer and publicist in the Communications department of Arts and Sciences and chair of ICUCME, described the organization’s role in facilitating conversation among community members about often confrontational political topics.
“We’re a non-partisan organization, we don’t have a political stance other than that we support peace and coexistence,” Glaser said. “One of the most important things to us is to have a space where people can talk and listen to each other.”
The dialogue among attendees was not without some tension, particularly for Sophie Zapala, co-founder of the upcoming Olive Branch Film Series: Ithaca Explores Palestine Through Films, and a self-described pro-Palestine advocate who has clashed with ICUCME and Glaser before.
At a discussion on Martin Luther King Jr., nonviolent protest and the Middle East with Prof. Riché Richardson in May, Zapala co-opted the conversation according to Glaser. Zapala in turn accused ICUCME of ‘libel’ for accusing her of anti-semitism.
“If they want to describe themselves as a Zionist organization and they want to be forward and honest about it and say what their propaganda agenda is then I wouldn’t question that,” Zapala said. “What they do is they misrepresent themselves as anti-racist while pushing a false narrative that criticism of Israel and support of Boycott Divestment Sanction movement equal anti-Semitism.”
Despite disagreement and sharply opposing views discussed in the small and intensely humid tent, attendees continued to converse even after the park cleanup began.
“It’s heartening to see that some people can’t stop talking once they meet,” Glaser said. “Looking around there are a lot of people from different backgrounds.”
Laraine Peays has been a nurse in Ithaca her whole professional career, and came to the event in support of the anti-discrimination message.
“My grandkids play with every nationality, they don’t stop and ask you your nationality or religion, they’re out there playing and having a good time,” Peays said. “How can you work together, shop together, share cabs together, and at the same time hate someone?”
Julie, who did not wish to give her last name, has worked in housing for 12 years and said she witnessed discrimination first-hand in her line of work. She attended the event to “take a positive stance and positive action on treating people across all cultural and race backgrounds with decency and respect.”