Canton Peace Vigil

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Members of the Sharon UU Church make a stand for peace in front of Canton Town Hall. (Jay Turner photo)

WWII veteran Leonard Rudnick (Jay Turner photo)

Members of the Sharon UU Church make a stand for peace in front of Canton Town Hall. (Jay Turner photo)

Members of the Sharon UU Church make a stand for peace in front of Canton Town Hall. (Jay Turner photo)

Nearly 100 local residents from Canton and neighboring communities, ranging in age from 3 to 90-plus, gathered in front of Memorial Hall on Sunday night for a candlelight vigil promoting peace and unity in the face of recent national events.

Organized by Canton resident Jennifer Wexler in partnership with Selectman Kevin Feeney, the event was billed as an opportunity to “stand together against hate” and as a form of healing following the recent violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. The gathering lasted roughly one hour and included speeches, fellowship, and song.

“We are here in recognition of our love of our great nation and to stand up against hate groups and bad policies,” declared Wexler in her speech to the assembled audience. “In this time of violence, difficulty, and painful emotion, we are presented with a great opportunity to strengthen the deep connection and bonds we have as human beings in support of doing good.”

Marveling at the diversity of the crowd and expressing her faith in the “inherent goodness” of humankind, Wexler emphasized how everyone is both alike and different, offering her own family as an example.

“We have shared and differing experiences based on history, culture, and the effects of systemic oppression in regard to race, ethnicity, national origin, immigrant status, sex, gender expression, sexual orientation, age, religion, disability, wealth or poverty, family status, beliefs or occupation,” Wexler said. “I share with you a common humanity as well as my unique experience as an American and a white Jewish woman and mother, married to a Vietnam vet who is an African American man, who together we are raising our wonderful black Jewish daughter.”

Feeney, a lifelong Cantonite and a selectman since 2015, also spoke at Sunday’s vigil, calling it “extraordinarily timely” and “extremely fitting” for the venue.

“Our town hall was built as a memorial to the veterans of the Civil War, a war between the states, to commemorate those who died to defend our country and the constitution,” said Feeney. “And our president at the time (Abe Lincoln), who was a visionary, said at that time, ‘A house divided cannot stand.’ Those are words that have great resonance, especially now.”

Flanked by fellow Selectman Tom Theodore, Feeney recited the board’s recently adopted “Standing Together” declaration and made it clear that Canton will not tolerate hate speech of any kind.

“As you may have seen throughout the town, we have put up signs that say ‘Canton is no place for hate,’” said Feeney. “We are committed to making Canton no place for hate. We know that there may be certain groups who feel particularly vulnerable because of this kind of hate speech and hate activity and we want to reassure them that they have support in this community, and that they’re welcome in this community, and they can turn to any of us in this community for support.”

WWII veteran Leonard Rudnick (Jay Turner photo)

WWII veteran Leonard Rudnick (Jay Turner photo)

Referring to the white nationalist groups and others such as the KKK and neo-Nazis who descended on Charlottesville earlier this month, Feeney derided them as “cowards” and “bullies.”

“You look at the jackboots and the truncheons and the shields and you realize these people, they’re cowards, they’re bullies, and they’re morally bankrupt; they are intellectually bankrupt,” he said. “They survive only through bullying and violence. The more they’re exposed, the better it is.”

In addition to selectmen Feeney and Theodore, newly elected Planning Board member David McCarthy was also in attendance at the vigil, along with his partner, Dr. Alan Rapoport, a longtime Canton optometrist.

“We’ve been going to [events like this] for years on the local level, whether it be here or in other communities,” said McCarthy. “First of all, you meet people from the community that you don’t necessarily meet because you don’t have the opportunity to, so that’s all good. I look at it as a positive.”

“I think it’s important that a community comes together in such turbulent times to show that all of us are equal,” added Rapoport. “And there should be no racism whatsoever, especially in Canton or any town and we need to come out and show support for each other.”

Jan Hagan, also of Canton, said that she too attended the event in order to unite with her fellow neighbors, especially in light of the current political climate. “This kind of dialogue that we’re hearing, the hateful words from both sides, they’re really ugly,” she said. “I’m just so saddened and frightened and I think that we need to come together so that we can look at each other and say, ‘I’m not for this.’”

A number of attendees also brought their children to the vigil, including Kerstin Gallant of Sharon. “I asked them if they wanted to come,” Gallant said of daughters Amber and Elena, who both brought hand-made signs. “It’s not mandatory that they’re here, but I do think it is important for young people to understand the importance of being active for social justice and that it’s important to stand up.”

In addition to holding candles and signs, participants at the vigil also took time to mingle and, at the suggestion of Wexler, to introduce themselves to a person that they didn’t know. At the conclusion of the event, attendees joined together to sing “This Little Light of Mine” under the direction of Aoife Barrington-Haber.

See this week’s Canton Citizen for more photos from Sunday night’s vigil. Subscribe today at www.thecantoncitizen.com/subscribe.

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