The best weapon against hate is no weapon at all.

People For Peace are standing up for a hate-free Forest City August 26 in Victoria Park. On Saturday PEGIDA (Patriots of Canada Against the Islamization of the West) will be holding a #freedomrally, raising an important question – at what point does free speech cross into hate speech?

Londoners will be flocking to the park by the hundreds to shut down their voices, just as they did during a July protest from PEGIDA on the steps of City Hall. The group’s anti-Islam, anti-immigrant message is made all the more volatile after a white nationalist, neo-nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia left one dead and 19 injured.

As People For Peace’s name implies, their counter-rally will be about unity and harmony – participants are encouraged to sing, bring guitars and drums, enjoy poetry and even dance. They won’t be wearing masks, lighting fires or throwing stones, as some anti-fascist groups recently did in Quebec City.

Confrontation is not the goal.

The Peacemakers.

Wendy Goldsmith is a People for Peace member and one of the organizers of Saturday’s gathering. She was able to speak to LondonFuse on short order, over a cup of coffee on a patio in Wortley Village.

People for Peace drum making workshop
People For Peace rally-goers attend a drum making workshop at Bread and Roses Wednesday, August 23. Photo courtesy of Chris Stroud

“It’s important to have a counter-rally,” she says. “We want to let [PEGIDA] know we won’t tolerate hate in this city.”

People for Peace hopes to grow the social justice community here in London and it seems to be working. While their facebook page has just over 200 likes, Saturday’s rally has attracted about 350 attendees with several hundred others interested.

Meanwhile, as a precursor to their rally, P4P will be hosting a workshop on non-violent conflict resolution put on by Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) – a group based out of the United States famous for their work in the West Bank.

The first workshop takes place Friday evening at Bread and Roses bookstore at 870 Dundas from 6-9 p.m. A second workshop takes place just before the rally at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at the Cenotaph in Victoria Park.

Cooler heads prevail…

“We think non-violence is the only answer,” Goldsmith says. “We don’t want to counter hate with hate or violence with violence.”

Peace signs in progress
A different take on the peace sign – counter protesters make placards in advance of Saturday’s PEGIDA #freedomrally in downtown London. Photo courtesy of Chris Stroud

It can be tough to stay calm, though.

The haters, as she calls the PEGIDA protesters, are good at pushing rally-goers’ buttons. During the July protest outside London City Hall, there was a heated back and forth between the two groups. However, Goldsmith said once it devolves into shouting and name-calling, nobody is listening anymore.

It is especially hard not to shout back when haters purposely try to insult and antagonize peaceful participants.

Her advice is so simple, yet sometimes so difficult.

“Don’t engage,” she said.

Web slinging.

Social media has been a blessing and a curse for People For Peace and similar groups. On one hand, it allows counter-rallies like P4P’s to gain followers and recruit volunteers. However, the same can be said of nationalist and anti-immigrant groups, and there is always the threat of digital retribution for participants.

Goldsmith herself was doxxed after attending the counter-protest July 26. Her name and the name and number of her employer were shared online. While she says she didn’t feel as though she were in any particular danger, being doxxed does create some awkward circumstances.

“I had to wonder,” she says. “Do I have to speak with my employer now?”

That cross between private and public is only meant to threaten and discourage participants, however, it hasn’t stopped her. As an activist, Goldsmith notes her online presence and People For Peace association makes her an easy target.

Solidarity.

On August 16, Londoners came together for a solidarity rally to show support for the victims of the Charlottesville attacks. It was one of the most beautiful scenes Goldsmith says she has seen.

“It was a message of inclusion, acceptance, anti-hate and love,” she says.

This weekend the same message will be delivered, not in an attempt to change closed minds but rather to share new ideas with Londoners who want a more inclusive city.

Supporters are welcome to join in the rally for peace this Saturday, August 26 from 12 – 2pm out front of City Hall, downtown. The more (peaceful), the merrier.

Feature photo by Gerard Creces

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