After anti-Semitic and white supremacist graffiti and flyers were found throughout Missoula throughout the beginning of 2019, community leaders organized the first ever Missoula Together festival last Sunday, Sept. 22, to counter discrimination and promote inclusivity.
“To have this happen was very jarring for us,” said the University Congregational United Church of Christ senior pastor Rev. Jennifer Yocum. Her church was one of five targeted by the individual(s) who distributed the leaflets.
“Well that’s sad, but you know it’s not here,” Yocum said. “And now it was here. It was on our front door.”
One of the organizers, Rabbi Laurie Franklin said she was contacted frequently by those targeted by the flyers. Some were Jewish and some were not, she said. Reac- tions ranged from fear to anger to confusion.
Franklin decided something needed to change.
“What can we do here that’s not reactive and defensive?” Franklin asked. “What can we do here to set a tone of inclusivity?”
Franklin worked with the mayor, other rabbis, pastors and community leaders to develop a plan. Soon, they managed to gather several groups together, including Soft Landing Missoula, the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center, Empower MT and the Zootown Arts Community Center. With next to no budget, they organized an event meant to get people talking. The community collaborated to share music, dance and ideas “because that’s the best way to dispel fear that divides people,” Franklin said.
Freshman Mackenzie Weiland, studying ecosystem science and restoration, at- tended the festival. She said she learned about the event in her migration and ref- ugees class offered through the Franke Global Leadership Initiative program.
“I loved it,” Weiland said. “I really liked all the music that was involved, because music brings people together and it was cool to see music from a couple of different groups that came.”
Performers at the festival included the Congolese All Star Choir, The Celtic Drag- on (a bagpiping group), and a group of Native American singers who led a round dance.
One of the singers was Chase Comes At Night, a sophomore studying political science at UM. Comes At Night, a member of the Blackfeet Nation, is involved in multiple Native American student organizations on campus. However, he joined Missoula Together independently.
“The significance of it is that it’s a community dance, so everyone comes together,” he said of the round dance. “It’s for bringing people together, for a good time.”
Comes At Night led people in two round dances. Participants held hands in a wide circle, shuffling around the singers at the center, striking hand-drums and singing in native languages.
Comes At Night said the anti-Semitic flyers shocked him, because he didn’t expect something like that to happen in Mis- soula. He said he empathized with those affected by the hateful messages, and believes having a platform to inform and engage the community in different cultures is important.
“I hope that what the audience gets out of this event is that there are other cultures here in our community,” Comes At Night said.
Rabbi Franklin collected feedback from participants at the end of the event. She wanted to know what people liked about the event, what they thought should be added and what they would be willing to contribute in the future.
Next year, Franklin hopes the event will include a broader range of participants and draw more of the community to join.
“This is about everybody,” he said.