LEWISTON — The public is invited to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the city's “Many and One Rally” Friday night, Jan. 11, at the Lewiston Public Library.
The event will celebrate the Jan. 11, 2003, rally that countered another rally organized by an out-of-state hate group, the World Church of the Creator, which called for the ouster of Somalis in Lewiston.
When Lewiston police discovered who the World Church of the Creator was, their rally was moved out of the downtown Multi-Purpose Center to the Maine Army National Guard Armory near Exit 80.
A larger, counter-rally embracing diversity was held at Bates College's Merrill Gymnasium. So many came that an estimated 1,000 people were turned away due to lack of space. The outpouring of support for immigrants proved to be a turning point for the community.
Friday's commemoration will be held from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the library's Callahan Hall on 200 Lisbon St. It is sponsored by the library, Welcoming Maine and the Maine Council of Churches.
There will be a moderated panel discussion that will explore the last 10 years, the rally, lessons learned, and what problems remain, organizer Jim Lysen of Welcoming Maine said.
Panel members will be Somali immigrants and those who have worked with them: former Three and One Cafe owner Mohamed Dini, City Administrator Phil Nadeau, Zam Zam Mohamud, Jama Mohamed, Bates College's Heather Lindkvist, and minister Mark Schlotterbeck, a co-founder of the 2003 Many and One rally.
Questions and answers will follow, as will light refreshments and entertainment.
Friday's commemoration “will re-energize people to continue the work necessary,” Lysen said Monday. The evening will allow those attending to look back, celebrate what happened, share lessons learned and understand work to be done. “This is not a political event. This is not to bash people. We want to keep the dialogue meaningful,” the tone celebratory, Lysen said.
Nadeau, who with other City Hall staff planned for the rallies 10 years ago, said Monday that their big focus was on keeping everyone safe.
Initially, the World Church of the Creator asked to meet downtown, but as then Lewiston police Chief Bill Welch and then City Administrator Jim Bennett learned they were a hate group, that their leader Matt Hale was arrested in Chicago for threatening to kill a federal judge, Lewiston officials planned accordingly.
“As we understood the scope of what we were confronted with,” what evolved on Jan. 11, 2003, “was one of the largest law responses in the state's history, there were over 200 law officers present” to keep everyone safe and minimize arrests," Nadeau said.
“We couldn't prohibit them from coming, but we tried to do the next-best thing, control them,” he said.
Community leaders who worked with the immigrants were informed. Local Methodist pastor Schlotterbeck brought a group of people together, forming the Many and One rally.
Speaker after speaker echoed the message that the community and Maine welcomes all. According to a 2003 story written by Sun Journal reporter Doug Fletcher, among the most poignant words was from Fred Field, whose brother, Sgt. Tommy Field was among U.S. Troops slain during a 1993 brutal firefight on the streets of Mogadishu. Field welcomed the Somali newcomers, said he hoped his words would inspire them to make a good life for themselves here.
What the World Church of the Creator wanted, Nadeau said, was pre-event publicity to rile up those who opposed immigrants coming to the area, they wanted confrontation with those opposing their views, Nadeau said.
They didn't get that, he said. “There was no confrontation,” he said. There were no injuries, and only one arrest.
The way the community responded turned the day “into a celebration, a very positive message, the best we could hope for,” Nadeau said.