The Orange County Register, March 6, 2016

By JENNIFER MUIR / Contributing columnist

The crowd grew very quickly at Anaheim’s Pearson Park on Monday. By 6 p.m., more than 400 peaceful demonstrators holding signs that read “Unity” and “Stop Hate” were gathered at the park near Harbor Boulevard and Cypress Street. Just two days earlier, the location was the scene of a violent and bloody clash between a handful of Ku Klux Klan members and a group of anti-Klan – mainly young – protestors.

Photos and video of the fight generated national headlines. Three anti-Klan protesters were stabbed – one of them critically. All are expected to recover.

The Anaheim community also is quickly recovering. The shock and dismay of racial violence perpetrated in full view of children at the park would not paralyze the city.

Immediately after the news broke, an alliance of community groups mobilized to counter violence with peace. In just two days, hundreds took to the streets again for a “Peace Walk and Community Candlelight Vigil.” This time, there were more voices for peace, more bodies standing against hate, than were present in the park with the KKK.

At the heart of the peace efforts was the nonprofit community group Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development and labor unions from across the county. Interim Executive Director and co-founder Ada Briceño leads the Unite Here Local 11 labor union representing more than 20,000 workers in Southern California hotels, restaurants and convention centers.

Local civil rights groups, including Los Amigos of Orange County, the OC Human Relations Commission and the Council on American-Islamic Relations answered the call for peace. So did Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice and clergy from various faiths.

The Anaheim Bros youth group, Anaheim residents and even elected officials who often are on opposing sides of political issues put their differences aside and stood together to repudiate the violence, as well as the hateful, racist ignorance that provoked it.

Anaheim’s unified response to Klan-inspired violence is owed to years of organizing rooted in an unshakable faith that people are intrinsically good and that social justice is worth fighting for.

The alliance formed between the community, the labor movement, faith-based organizations, civil rights groups and elected officials has become a potent force for good in Anaheim.

The symbolism at Monday’s march not only made it clear there is no place for hate in our communities, but also no tolerance for the fear mongering that is dominating far too much of our national civic debate.

Here, we stood together for peace. Here, workers and the people of Anaheim, organized and unified, put aside their differences and stood for something much more powerful.

The community showed its strength and unity Monday night. There is no question that a passionate but peaceful march and vigil on the steps of Anaheim City Hall – covered by television, print and digital media – showed the country what the people of Anaheim are really about. And served as an example of how powerful our country can be if we stand together in peace and refuse to allow hate to divide us.

Jennifer Muir is general manager, Orange County Employees Association.