A week of anger and controversy culminated at the Bloomington Community Farmers’ Market Advisory Council meeting Monday night in City Hall.
The sole topic of the meeting was the presence of Schooner Creek Farm at the Bloomington Community Farmers’ Market. A letter sent to the farmers’ market alleges the owners of the Brown County, Indiana farm, Sarah Dye and Douglas Mackey, are members of the white nationalist group Identity Evropa.
Dye was removed as president from the Nashville Farmers’ Market Board because of evidence presented to other board members. The City of Bloomington maintains it cannot remove vendors based on their beliefs without violating their First Amendment rights.
Mayor John Hamilton addressed the crowd at the start of the meeting, reading a statement that was also posted on Facebook.
“Our constitutional government’s prescription for odious speech isn’t government control or censorship,” Hamilton said. “It’s more speech. That is, our community, including this Mayor, can make clear our values, even when our government cannot directly intervene.”
Roughly 30 people spoke during the meeting’s public comment session. Some defended Dye and Mackey while others demanded their removal. Multiple speakers asked the government and people in attendance to address racism within the larger Bloomington community.
David Stewart said he has lived in Bloomington for 28 years. He compared the protests against Schooner Creek Farm to a lynch mob and a plantation.
"We're talking about a plantation where the overseer is pitting us against each other," Stewart said. Some people booed while others clapped.
Activist, musician and business owner Jada Bee addressed his comment directly during her time, asking who the overseer in the scenario was.
"The city government is the overseer,” Bee said. “And we need to tell the overseer we're not taking it anymore."
Bee also asked the advisory council to study why people of color were reluctant to come to the farmers’ market.
Business owner Brandy Williams said she had talked to Dye and Mackey about their ideologies in the past. Williams said they were comfortable speaking with her about their beliefs until they learned she was biracial.
Williams has not brought her children to the farmers’ market for over a year as a result, she said.
"This is tough stuff,” she said. "It calls for a broader conversation. We cannot get it accomplished tonight.”
Lauren McCalister asked what had to occur for the advisory council to protect her as a black female farmer.
“I'm asking for an opportunity to do what my husband and I have been trying to do, farm in Indiana, and what you're telling me is that I need to step aside,” McCalister said. “That I need to sit in the back of the bus. That I need to wait."
The meeting was not the first time community members gathered to discuss Dye and Mackey. Bloomington United, an independent group that resists hate activity in the city, held a meeting on June 12 to discuss the allegations.
Representatives of city government, IU, the IU Police Department, Bloomington’s Jewish community, the LGBTQ community and interested citizens tried to determine how best to address white supremacy in Bloomington in the short and long term.
Rabbi Brian Besser of Congregation Beth Shalom said while he was sensitive to any incidents of bigotry, he advocated restraint in this situation since protesters "getting out of hand" could reinforce a narrative that white supremacists are the ones receiving abuse.
“Not all responses to hate situations require the same response,” Besser said. ‘It’s not a one size fits all.”
Besser said the group needed to make sure the market continues to be a place where people of different political backgrounds can peacefully interact.
David Hummons is the director of community and student engagement for the IU Office of the Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Multicultural Affairs. He said he believed in the concept of “Love thy neighbor” but questioned what the farmers’ market would do if people felt they are being threatened.
“My whole thing would be love and all that, but if someone went too far with me, I wouldn’t be the best nonviolent model,” Hummons said.
Members decided Bloomington United would maintain a presence at the farmers’ market in the area for free speech and flyering called Information Alley. The group will continue to meet in coming weeks to come up with long term solutions to address white supremacy in Bloomington.
Schooner Creek Farms, Bloomington United and protestors all showed up to Saturday’s farmers market. People carried signs reading "Bloomington says no to white supremacy" and "Don't buy veggies from Nazis."
Some of the people who protested against Schooner Creek Farm spoke at Monday’s meeting. One woman refused to give her name because she said she had been threatened and had her photo taken for speaking out.
“So I want you to take a good — excuse my language — fucking hard look at this dyke because if I die, you're going to know why,” she said.
Will Staley said no matter how abhorrent some people's beliefs may be, they are still protected by the Constitution.
"No matter how uncomfortable certain ideas, groups or people may seem to us or make us feel, we have to look at the bigger picture," he said.
A man who only gave his first name, Daniel, said to allow Identity Evropa members to organize is to believe they will never gain power.
"I'm of Jewish ancestry," he said. "If they get power again, I'm gone."
Several people asked the city to explore legal options for getting rid of Schooner Creek Farm, citing an incident where two Virginia police officers were fired for their ties to white supremacist groups. Others asked for a large community forum to discuss the issue.
The final speaker was Vauhxx Booker, a Bloomington activist who ran for an at-large seat in the Bloomington City Council this year. Booker said he decided to come down to City Hall after he became angry watching the public broadcast of the meeting.
He read a section of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” which criticized white moderates for giving more value to law and order than racial justice.
“You have to be cognizant when you stand up here and you talk about the First Amendment that it's literally a document that was written by white men who believed that they could enslave me,” he said.
Marcia Veldman is the program and facility coordinator for Bloomington’s Parks and Recreation Department. She said the advisory council works with the farmers’ market but will not make any final decisions.
The council is still considering its options, Veldman said, and the farmers’ market will review all comments made at Monday’s meeting.
Council chair Bruce McCallister said the power of the council is limited, and people can ultimately decide where they spend their money.
"What I know for sure is the power to impact this issue is with the community," he said.
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