Harwich march gets selectmen run-around

First Selectmen stop marchers from using the community center...then after a spate of unfavorable publicity they reconsider

Special to cctoday by Walter Brooks

The Harwich No Place for Hate Coalition received word Thursday that their request to use the Harwich Community Center as a gathering place for a Silent Walk Against Hate, scheduled for Sunday, December 11th, was denied by the Town Administrator, Wayne Melville.

The march will end at the multi-million dollar Community Center whose doors will be locked against these marchers on a cold December afternoon. The center is on on Oak St. opposite the High School.

The reason given by a reliable source was that two members of the Board of Selectman, Don Howell and Robin Wilkins, believed that the group Harwich No Place For Hate is allied with partisan politics and should not be given access to the town facility.

Howell and Wilkins met yesterday with Melville and the determination was made that the Community Center would be closed to the group and its supporters who are almost all Harwich residents. The march was scheduled for on Sunday, Dec. 11th at 1 pm. The planned silent march is in response to the recent sign defacement in Harwich, where a swastika was spray painted on a bicycle path sign in town. The march will begin and end at the Community Center, with or without the Selectmen's permission.

ACLU Statement on the use of town facility

The Massachusetts chapter of the A.C.L.U. has been informed of this apparent denial  of civil rights to a non-profit, non-partisan organization.  The Masachusetts office informed this newspaper today â??Once Harwich opens the community center for public meetings or functions by various groups, there is no lawful basis for excluding No Place For Hate simply because town officials do not agree with their viewpoint,â? said Carol Rose, Executive Director of the ACLU of Massachusetts.     

â??Concerns expressed that No Place for Hate is a partisan organization and that the town would appear to be endorsing the groupâ??s message are not valid grounds for denying access to the facility,â? she added. â??No Place for Hate is a non-partisan and non-profit organization, whose local members are residents of Harwich. To be sure, its message is political, but that does not make it partisan.  Beyond that, access to the facility does not constitute official endorsement of the groupâ??s position.  If town officials wish to distance themselves from the event, they are free to do so.â?

Silent March to go ahead Sunday, December 11 at 1 pm
"Soup kitchen" to be set up outside Community Center

Harwich No Place for Hate Coalition literature states that the group opposes all forms of hatred, such as anti-semitism, racism, ethnic bigotry, and homophobia. Harwich resident, John Bangert, the group's organizer, has stated that Harwich No Place for Hate has no political agenda and is in no way connected to partisan politics. The Harwich No Place for Hate Coalition has responded that they plan to hold the event regardless and will set up on the Community Center grounds an outdoor kitchen, if needed, to serve hot soup and bread to marchers.

This was not the first instance in recent years where residents have met what they called "redneck resistance.

According to this week Cape Cod Chronicle "A silent march has been scheduled from the community center down to the bike trail and over to Route 39 and the site of the defaced sign. The plan calls for townspeople, clergy, town officials and others to participate in the reading of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights affirming Harwich is 'No Place For Hate.'"

'Racism and hatred are alive on Cape Cod,'
- John Bangert

The story went on to quote Selectman Peter Piekarski saying, â??We canâ??t have one organization presenting their side in a town building. We need to be careful as a town as to whatâ??s taking place in our town buildings.â? Mr. Piekarski was apparently unaware that his statement guaranteed a flood of publicity.

The November 30 Harwich Oracle reported "Concerned residents donâ??t want the swastika to go unanswered, Harwich resident John Bangert told the board of selectmen. 'Racism and hatred are alive on Cape Cod,' (John) Bangert said, citing a recent cross burning in Sandwich. He asked selectmen to take the lead in making a community statement in response to the swastika which had been spray painted on a Cape Cod Railtrail bike path sign."

Past is present in Harwich:
Nearly five years ago the Cape Cod Times ran two stories about intolerance in Harwich when a local church pastor tried to influence what was being taught in public schools.
Read both stories here.

The current week's Oracle reported "At Mondayâ??s selectmenâ??s meeting, town officials endorsed the walk, which begins at the Community Center at 1 p.m. Afterward, around 3 p.m., selectmen chairman Ed McManus said the town would open the Community Center and host a discussion of the situation."

Is Harwich Cape Cod's "redneck town"?

There have been other examples of bias in the town recently. Several years ago an anti-lesbian sign was painted on a school athletic field, and several people whom this reporter (who has lived in Harwich over forty years) spoke to claimed that Harwich is Cape's Cod's "redneck town". Others used the term "blue collar" to describe a less open, more traditional society. Members of the No Place For Hate - Harwich group go out of their way to not use pejorative words, and urge their fellow residents to focus on the things which will bring the town together rather than pull it further apart.

A half dozen other residents interviewed, who spoke off the record, insisted that Harwich's intolerance will not end until the town "owns the problem". It is ironic that tomorrow, Saturday December 10, is International Human Rights Day and the newly formed Barnstable County Human Rights Commission is celebrating the event with an open house continental breakfast at 10am at the Cape Cod Community College's Common building. Anyone who still doesn't see a pattern in Harwich should read The Chronicle's article this week about the bullying problem in the school system,

Selectman may reconsider their decision at 5pm meeting Friday

Members of the group and some town officials were hoping to move to reconsider yesterday's action by two selectmen, but the group was told that since the community center is not open to the public on Sundays will remain in effect for this group's march.

But early Friday afternoon, an unidentified Town Hall source told another reporter that the selectmen will meet at 5pm tonight ot consider what steps to take and whether to allow thge center to be used this Sunday afternon for an hour for the marchers.

The Harwich No Place for Hate Coalition has been organized over the past three months by Bangert and has gathered increased support and momentum since the sign defacement incident. The group is seeking to have the Town of Harwich be designated a No Place For Hate Town. The No Place for Hate initiative was begun in Massachusetts by the late Leonard P. Zakim and is a collaborative program of the Anti Defamation League and the Massachusetts Municipal Association.

Fifty-nine other municipalities in Massachusetts are currently designated No Place for Hate Communities. On the Cape, the towns of Falmouth and Provincetown are currently so designated and Eastham has a No Place for Hate Committee seeking a similar status for their community.

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