WALLA WALLA - Close to 200 people rallied at Heritage Square Park, as several community leaders spoke Saturday against anti-Semitism and other acts of hatred, while standing only feet away from where a swastika was burned into the lawn last month.
"We want you to know what this symbol means to others and why it is harmful and hurtful.
"While everyone present today protests against what you did here, no one hates you. We refuse to return hatred for hatred," retired Whitman College professor and anti-Semitism historian and author Patrick Henry told the crowd that gathered in front of the Windows on the Past art exhibit.
The Community March Against Hatred started at 3 p.m. at the Whitman College Reid Campus Center, and 10 minutes later 180 people marched down Boyer Avenue and Main Street and took over the small park, where on Sept. 25 a swastika was burned into the lawn and refuse was thrown against an image of the Torah, which is part of the art exhibit.
Along with Henry, other speakers were St. Paul's Episcopal Church pastor, the Rev. T. Birch Rambo, Walla Walla University President John McVay, Whitman College interfaith counselor Adam Kirtley, Walla Walla Diversity Coalition President Stephen Rubin and state Rep. Maureen Walsh.
In addition to the keynote speakers, letters were read in support of the Community March Against Hatred from the Walla Walla County commissioners and U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers' offices.
The city of Walla Walla did not submit a letter, though it had been notified of the march, organizer Noah Leavitt confirmed.
"It (the swastika) is an affront to everything that we are about in our community. The best thing we could do is to have this and get their attention," Leavitt said.
As the crowd walked down Main Street, others joined, taking the number of people close to 200. But many of those in attendance were also there to protest other acts of hatred across the state and nation, including recent acts of hatred against Muslims, Leavitt said.
"It seems more than a regional thing when you look at the statewide context of what has happened recently. People are responding to all these things when they come to something like this," he added.
So far, no arrests have been made in connection last month's swastika burning.
Alfred Diaz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8325.