Florida beach town says “no” to hate

NEW SMYRNA BEACH, Fla. – People in the small Florida town of New Smyrna Beach gathered Sunday, Mar. 13 for Neighbors Together, a march and rally to say “no” to hate and violent rhetoric and say “yes” to unity, tolerance and inclusion.

Neighbors Together, a project of a small group of church and labor union members in New Smyrna Beach, began a march at the United Church of Christ here to a causeway bridge a mile and a half from their starting point.  Marchers carried signs intro the tourist part of town reading “I love My Neighbors,” “Build Bridges Not Walls,” and “Whom Would Jesus Hate?”  Among them were local labor union leaders, religious leaders, peace advocates, elected officials and others concerned about the atmosphere being created during this election cycle.

Rev. Dr. Diane Langworthy, pastor at the United Church of Christ, said the idea for the rallies came about after a group of like-minded residents wanted to challenge the negative, disparaging rhetoric coming from some presidential candidates.  “There are too many negative things being said right now,” she said. “We want to emphasize that if we come together, reach out, be kind to one another and get to know our neighbors, we will rise above all this nastiness.”

Stacy Stepanovich, president of the Volusia/Flagler AFL-CIO, said, “Thirty-six thousand working women and men of the Volusia/Flagler AFL-CIO soundly reject the violent and racist rhetoric that has risen to the national political stage. We are proud to stand with our community and faith partners to raise our collective voices to ensure peace and justice triumph over hate. Together we will prove that working people are united, not divided, by our diverse backgrounds.”

Members of the Iron Lion Firm (ILF), an independent supporters club of Orlando’s soccer club (http://www.theironlionfirm.com/), also showed up.  ILF President Rodrigo Guillen, a local resident, said, “One of the most beautiful things about ILF is its diversity. I’m proud to say the ILF has always been a home for the misfits , the outcasts , and those that just plain feel that they do not belong. We embrace everyone from every region and every corner of the world with all of their imperfections because that’s what makes them beautiful!  It was important for the ILF to have a presence to let the community know that we are here too, not just in Orlando. More importantly for the community to see that we are there for them and we share the belief of unity.”

Dana Humphrey, a longtime local peace advocate, said “I couldn’t stand to be silent anymore about what was happening at Trump rallies and what he was saying, I just decided that I had to do something, say something and I was glad to find others that were willing to stand up and do the same.  I always have loved Martin Luther King Jr.’s quote: ‘In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.’  I don’t want to be one of those friends that remains silent.”

Organizers of Neighbors Together plan on making this a monthly event until November.  Yennifer Mateo, a Dominican immigrant and union activists, hopes that “next month we have a lot more community participation.  We would like to cover the bridge next time, standing hand in hand with a peaceful message of tolerance and love.  We welcome everyone to join us, from all backgrounds and political persuasions.  We intentionally made this a non-partisan event so all people who see how destructive this race based rhetoric and violence is, can come together and say ‘no more hate’.”

Photo: Joshua Leclair/PW


Joshua Leclair
Joshua Leclair

Josh has worked as a motorcycle mechanic and an organizer for a public sector union in Florida. He is currently active in Central Florida's labor and progressive movements. Josh grew up in New Smyrna Beach and now resides in Orlando.