By Art Gallagher
For this conservative Republican who believes in Dr. King’s dream, there was much more to be hopeful about than to fear at the Anti-Hate rally in Asbury Park yesterday. There was actually nothing to fear.
The ceremonies were opened by Naga Awad-Yassim, a female member of the American Muslim Action Network, who declared that her religion stands for equality of all people, including women. “You may have heard that women are not equal in the Muslim religion,” Ahmed said before reading from the Koran, “that is not true.”
Prior to the start of the prayers and speeches, I was greeted warmly. First by a lone African American man leaning on the fence and looking into the gathering at the Springwood Avenue Park. I asked him about the shirt he was wearing that had a M logo and STAFF on the back. He explained that the shirt was for his job and had nothing to do with the event. We chatted briefly, maintaining eye contact throughout our conversation and we wished each other a nice day. This was the most welcome I’d ever felt on the west side of Asbury Park. Not that I ever felt unwelcome. Most of the other times I’ve spent on the west side of the city, I felt that I was viewed warily by some and as a potential mark by others.
My next interaction was with a white man that I photographed playing a board game with two black men. He joked that they were so old that the photo should be black and white. I told him that would be appropriate and happily oblige.
Even Joe Libutti, Assembly Members Eric Houghtaling and Joann Downey’s chief handler, greeted me warmly. Monmouth County Democrat Chairman Dave Brown and I met for the first time and we had a pleasant interaction. I was humbly impressed that Brown knew who I was.
The Democrat candidates from LD 11 followed their marching orders and avoided eye contact with me. A woman who was in attendance at the District 4 Coalition for Change fundraiser for the Democrat LD 13 and freeholder candidates that I’ve been writing about made eye contact and did not seem happy to see me.
The Reverands Semaj Vanzant and Lyddale Atkins greeted me extremely warmly when Mayor John Moor introduced me to them prior to the ceremony.
Moor, Deputy Mayor Amy Quinn and Asbury Park Council members Jesse Kendle and Yvonne Clayton were very welcoming. Quinn even hugged me.
What I witnessed was a peaceful gathering of a diverse group of citizens who want a more loving community.
As for the speakers who followed Awad-Yassim’s readings from the Koran, the religious leaders struck the best chord, from my point of view. They called for loving all people and sharing the love. Their message was, for the most part, more pro-love than anti-hate. Rev. Vanzant, the master of ceremonies, kept bringing the message back to love and stayed on track until he was asked the introduce the wife of a political candidate who was a late arrival. He got her name wrong and obliged the partisan who asked him to announce the correct name. Nobody seemed to care.
Of the religious leaders, I was most impressed with Elder Tyron Laws. Probably because of my unconscious bias, a distinction that Gil Caldwell, the previous speaker introduced. I expected Laws to deliver a Malcomesque anti-white rant, given his attire. His message was one of universal love for all people. At least that’s what I heard.
Of the secular speakers, Jewish comedian Jess Alaimo, one of the organizers of the event, hit it out of the park when she came to the microphone with Hazin Yassim, Middletown, of the American Muslim Action Network and said, “A Jew and a Muslim walk into a rally is the start of a really terrible joke. Yet it is also something that is completely unprecedented in certain parts of the world. But here we are in Asbury Park, New Jersey, all of us together standing against hate.”
Alaimo best represented the organizers’ desire to keep the event non-partisan. “Standing against hatred, standing against bigotry, has no party lines, it’s not a Democrat or Republican stance. It’s an American stance,” she said. Bravo Jess!
Asbury Park Board of Eduation President Angela Ahbez-Anderson was terrific and funny in calling for her neighbors to love each other, even in traffic. “When someone cuts you off on Route 66, blow them a kiss and let them in,” she said while bringing two fingers, the peace sign, rather than the New Jersey traffic salute, to her lips and blowing a kiss. Ahbez-Anderson would have hit it out of the park too if she had refrained from introducing herself as the Vice Chairman of the Asbury Democrats, in addition to her leadership role on the Board of Education.
Fortunately, most of the crowd was not buying what Black Lives Matter spokeswoman Jennifer Lewinski was selling when she declared that the country was founded on white supremacy. Lewinsky apparently missed the history lesson on the Declaration of Independence which includes the immortal declaration, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Lewinski’s radical rhetoric would not be tolerated in much of the world. In Asbury Park, NJ USA she was listened to politely. God Bless America.
Chiropractor Geena Buono was moving and eloquent as she shared her experience of being loved and hated in Asbury Park. “There is more that connects all of us than separates us,” Buono said, “I have experienced hate here, I definitely have. But I’ve experienced more love.”
Garden State Equality Executive Director Christian Fuscarino could have made a difference when confronting the crowd on their own biases. Unfortunately, his message was more angry than loving.
“There are people here who think homosexuality is a sin,” Fuscarino started off.
Who cares? I’d venture to guess there were more adulterers in the crowd than there were homophobes. The free hot dogs were not kosher and probably had pork in them. I ate two of them. Neither the Rabbi nor the Muslims condemned me.
“There are people who say all lives matter when we’re talking about Black lives mattering,” he said with what appeared to me to be an angry glare at person holding a sign that said “All Live Matter.”
“Let our message be clear,” Fuscarino said. “If you don’t make room for everyone at your table, don’t be surprised when we come for your chair.” Those are fighting words by someone who does not seek equality, but rather domination.
You can have my chair, Christian. I have an unlimited supply.
Despite the LD 11 Democrats campaigning while pretending they weren’t, the organizers of the event went to great lengths to keep partisan politics out of the rally. I viewed the Democrat candidates politicking as a sign of weakness. Asbury Park is in the heart of the LD 11 Democrat base. If they think they need to work this crowd, they are worried.
Still, as much as some speakers seemed to struggle to keep politics out of the event, that all went out the window when LGBT activist and former Monmouth County Democrat Freeholder candidate Sue Fulton took the stage.
Fulton, who we learned earlier in the program has a beautiful singing voice. Went off the rails in an anti-Trump diatibe, without uttering the President’s name. “This administration…” was her cover for keeping it non-political.
Fulton ended her angry rant with a chant. “When they come for my trans sister. NOT ON MY WATCH! When they come for the homeless black man. NOT ON MY WATCH!” She went on reciting “When the come for..” a litany of minorities and pointing the microphone into the crowd to implore them to chant back “NOT ON MY WATCH!”
Who does she think is coming, I wondered. The Asbury Park Zombies? What watch? I respect Fulton’s military service and her historic contribution to women’s equality as a member of the first West Point class to graduate women. But Fulton does not have a command. She wasn’t wearing a watch.
Sue Fulton is a demagogue who is auditioning to become a media personality and/or a candidate for federal office. She’ll probably be watching the Menendez trial with great interest when not protesting facebook emojis and boogie people.
Giuseppe “Joe” Grillo, another former Monmouth Dem freeholder candidate who was one of the event organizers, recovered the spirit on the event by introducing four children who concluded the event by announcing to those remaining in the crowd, “”We’re all the same on the inside, we’re all unique on the outside.” Amen.
As I was preparing to leave Asbury Park, I was sitting in my 22 year old car, sans air conditioning, on an unkept Springwood Ave vacant lot, contemplating my undeserved cis white male privilege and wondering what a non-binary gendered person’s privates look like, while working on my phone. A skinny African Amerian women wearing a black long sleeved jacket and long black jeans in the late summer heat approached my car and asked me if I was a cop. When I said I wasn’t a cop, she came closer and revealed the white camisole that barely covered her sagging flat breasts and asked me for a ride across town. I told her I couldn’t give her a ride and she asked for $20. I gave her less and asked her not to spend it on drugs. She told me a story about a friend who stole her Obama phone before walking away.
I went back to working on my phone, which cost me more than the car,when I noticed some other long sleeved people from the neighborhood checking me out, in a non-threatening fashion.
It was time to return home to Highlands. With hope for the future, appreciation for how far we have come and aware of how far we have yet to go before Dr. King’s dream is realized.