After antisemitic and white supremacist graffiti and flyers were found throughout Missoula last year, 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.
“In a way you need to be jarred out of your complacency and thinking everything is okay, when it is obviously not. We see the rise of white nationalism in places that are far away,” Yocum said. “And we think, well that’s sad, but you know it’s not here. And now it was here. It was on our front door.”
“I feel everyone should be safe in being who they are,” said Rabbi Laurie Franklin of Har Shalom. Franklin is one of the festival’s founders. Throughout the months when the leaflets were distributed, Franklin was contacted frequently by those targeted. Some were Jewish and some were not, she said. Their reactions ranged from fear to anger to confusion.
Franklin decided something needed to happen.
“What can we do here that’s not reactive and defensive?” Franklin asked. “What can we do here to set a tone of inclusivity?”
She 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 formed an event meant to get people talking. They brought together different segments of the community 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, attended the festival. She said she learned about it in her migration and refugees 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, who were there with Soft Landing Missoula, The Celtic Dragon (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, Blackfeet, is involved in multiple Native American student organizations on campus. However, he got involved in 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 that the antisemitic flyers shocked him, because he didn’t expect something like that to happen in Missoula. 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.
Franklin hopes the event will include a broader range of groups and draw in more of the community in the future because, she said, “This is about everybody.”