It was a march, a rally and a celebration rolled into one as some of the original founders and many new to the cause marked the 20th anniversary of Bloomington-Normal’s Not in Our Town movement in downtown Bloomington last night.
National Not In Our Town leader Patrice O'Neill said Bloomington-Normal has presented a model for community unity.
O'Neill has made two documentaries about local efforts and was there for the first rally which she said solidified NIOT as a movement. She told a crowd of about 100 gathered on the south side of the courthouse square, "To know what you've done, to understand what you've done, is something we're just starting to grapple with." She said organizers asked the right questions. "This community has been about prevention. ‘How do we work to prevent the hate that destroys our communities?’"
Former Bloomington City Councilman and Organizer Mike Matejka presented O'Neill with a $1,000 check for national NIOT efforts. Matejka said Not In Our Town should prompt community members to be more mindful. “People see the reference Not In Our Town, then they have to stop and think, ‘OK, are we really living up to this?'” he said.
Willie Halbert, who was on the city's Human Relations Commission for 15 years, said she was disappointed when the city council first turned down a gay rights ordinance. Now she is happy to see Not In Our Town efforts include the LGBT community.
Halbert also put a twist on the post-911 campaign, See Something, Say Something. " You could be in a meeting at work, you could be at church, you could be among friends, among other individuals ... when you see someone make a derogatory comment, speak out and say 'That is not right.'" She added, “By doing that you could help somebody.”
Diversity Defines Event
The celebration included performances as diverse as the crowd. Among the performances was a skit about the history of NIOT and original music by local school children including Leah Marlene who told the crowd she was playing a new song just released on iTunes. Plus, there was dancing from several groups including McLean County Indian Association youth dancers, USA Ballet and BCAI (Breaking Chains & Advancing Increase) School of Art, and spoken word performances by an Illinois State University Professor of Ethnomusicology along with a Centralia resident who goes by the name Ree Cee Hartnell.
Despite the rally cries of “Not in Our Town” as the crowd took a quick march around the north block of the square, some of participants in the movement are worried Donald Trump is turning back progress with his anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim rhetoric.
Anne Libert, a retired Normal Community High School teacher said of Trump, “He is anti-Muslim, anti-Jew, anti-anything that is different.” However, Libert is proud the NIOT campaign has moved into schools with student-led chapters. All Not In Our Town activities will get more guidance and coordination because the McLean County YWCA announced earlier this year it would be the umbrella organization for all local efforts.