|A face of Vallejo: local musician|
David Meletiche El and his son.
One thing that Vallejo has is a successful Saturday farmers' market. Occupying two blocks of Georgia Street (Vallejo's "main street") on Saturday mornings, the farmers' market is more than just a place to find nice organic produce, toothsome baked goods, and fresh oysters--it's a social institution. Local organizations set up booths among the purveyors of eggs, honey, and radishes, and there's nearly as much political activity as there is commercial activity. Everybody in Vallejo goes to the farmers' market on Saturday, and it's common to run into friends, neighbors, and (in my case) former students. It's a mellow place, and a nice way to spend a Saturday morning before jumping into the bustle of errand-running that normally fills my Saturdays.
|When Hate comes to Vallejo, |
Love goes to the Saturday Farmers' Market.
I recently found out who that group is, and what they are trying to do. The group calls itself "Israel United in Christ," and is, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League, a black separatist, anti-Semitic hate group. They are, basically, the mirror image of the Ku Klux Klan. Their usual modus operandi is to target a city, aggressively spew their hate, provoke a confrontation, and then sue the municipality over infringement of their First Amendment rights. They have done this in other cities in Northern California, and they've decided that Vallejo's farmers' market is a good target--it's held on public property (Georgia Street is closed on Saturday mornings for the farmers' market), and there isn't an aggressively enforced policy regarding free speech.
Members of the local arts community is actively concerned about what is happening. Shopping at the farmers' market was becoming unpleasant, right at a time when the farmers' stalls are full of late summer goodness. Also, his is the time of year when the arts take on a higher profile: Vallejo Open Studios is in seven weeks, and four weeks after that is the Mad Hatter Parade. On those Saturdays (November 7 and December 5) Vallejo is full of visitors, and the last thing anyone wants is a hate group harassing people.
|The best way to counteract hate is with bubbles!|
Were our peaceful counter-demonstrations successful? I don't know. Nobody got arrested, although the local police were in proximity (I waved whenever I saw them). At one point, I slipped away from the group and noticed that, for most of the people at the farmers' market, it was simply another Saturday of shopping. If that's a measure of success, then we achieved our goal. The company running the farmers' market has announced that they will create a "free speech area," which may put limits on hate groups, but also limits other activities such as voter registration and political campaigning. Have we encouraged them to move on? Not yet, but I'm hopeful that they'll soon realize that there is little to be gained disrupting our farmers' market.
UPDATE: I held off on posting this piece because I wanted to "fact check" my writing with the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League. Since I wrote this on September 20, the farmers' market association has established some rules (including a form that must be filled out before setting up a booth) and a "Free Speech Zone." The group refused on Saturday to honor any of this, but the farmers' market association refused to enforce their own rules, claiming that it is up to the City of Vallejo to pass a city ordinance. So, it seems that it is up to the citizenry to make it clear that our town is not a place for haters.