National events over the weekend have sparked a new debate and fanned a lot of emotions about race relations in America.
Even here on the Kenai, the razing of antiquated Confederate symbols and the sometimes deadly protests have planted a seed for more conversation. At least, that was the hope for the dozens of people who rallied at Soldotna Creek Park on Wednesday night.
They came into the park slowly, quietly. Holding signs and filing through the crowd that was on hand for the city’s weekly Music in the Park series. The performer on stage, Kelsey Shields, helped to set the tone with a cover of the Pete Seeger classic, "All Over This Land."
Michele Vasquez had her smartphone out to do a Facebook live broadcast of the rally.
“The tragic events of this past weekend were just more than many of us could actually bear. Many of us, as you could tell by our ages, have fought through the civil rights era and we’ve been here, done this before. But, there’s a climate and they’re not even trying to hide anymore.”
Most held signs denouncing bigotry and hatred. Some made signs to remember Heather Heyer, the woman killed at a protest in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend.
Susan Smalley, of Kenai, helped organize the rally. She says she hopes that the scenes coming from Charlottesville and other places help give people an opportunity to just talk.
“And not about particular things, but just about how we want our community to look and what things we will tolerate and what things we won’t tolerate. Before something happens. I have a friend who lives in Charlottesville and he thought that could never happen there.”
Despite the current climate, despite having been through it before, Vasquez says she remains optimistic.
“No, I don’t think it’s just a moment. I think it’s a time for hope. And, just looking at the people who are out here tonight and the many people who have come up to us, I mean this is a small community, but it gives me great hope. It really does.”