Peaceful Rally Against Hate & Racism/

Cold Welcome for Ericson Celebrants  

El Hispano/J.Smith

Philadelphia – On a winding stretch of Kelly Drive typically reserved for exercising runners, rowers and bicyclists, more than two hundred Philadelphia-area activists gathered, Saturday at noon, to confront several widely recognized white supremacist groups making their annual trek to commemorate Leif Ericson day at a century-old statue of later Nordic explorer.

   Carrying banners and signs denouncing racism and hate, the local activists succeeded in preventing what was ostensibly a cultural celebration, by linking arms and encircling Einar Jonsson’s 84 inch statue, thereby impeding access to the statue area.

  A battalion of Philadelphia Police officers were fortuitously present to operate as a buffer between the two groups, and even more effectively deterred what appeared to be a determined group of nationalists from using force.  The resulting standoff became a mere pushing and shoving skirmish,  instead of what could easily have escalated into something worse.

   Donning Viking t-shirts and ‘Vinlander” jackets, the visibly frustrated leaders of the Keystone United and ‘Vinlanders’ groups then sought to address their fifty to sixty followers, but were repeatedly rebuffed by a cacophonous chorus of whistles and chants of,  “People United Will Never be Divided” and “Death to Nazis.”

     Resorting to a bullhorn, Martin Heinbach, a leader of the Leif Ericson celebrants, used the hostile environment to deliver a brief message about those seeking “to destroy our honorable heritage.”

  “This is what we face everyday,” Heinbach said. “The opponents of our race, our enemies have overwhelming numbers and the media (are against us).”  But “stay strong,” he added, “our day will come.”

    Bob, a member of the “Vinlander’ group who declined to give his full name, spoke briefly to El Hispano about the interference they faced, as they retreated from the statue area: “It’s a shame that some people can’t respect people’s rights. These people that are against us say they’re for human rights, but we never oppose their events because we’re not there for that. We’re here for the love of our people.”

  Questioned about a record of hostility toward other races and nationalities, Bob replied, “I’m not opposed to anyone. I’m an American and everybody has their own opinion.”

   At this point a contrary view was offered by a trailing A.J. ( who requested anonymity), “You’re a fascist, you’re a fascist,” she repeated, and then proceeded to ridicule his defense of the group’s cultural intentions.

    A.J. has been part of the opposition to the Leif Ericson celebration for several years, and was particularly enthused by this year’s turnout, “It was the biggest in years. They really got everybody together this year.”

 “Every single year they come here around mid-October, and it’s always a b.s. show,” she said.

  Attending the rally with friends Sebastian Camacho and Lynn Mathieu, Rebecca Sheriff outlined the “success” of the opposition rally: “There was more of us than of them; we blocked them from doing what they wanted to do; and we took the statue first and drowned out their speeches.”

   Ms. Sheriff dismissed the notion that this interfered with their rights, as their spokesmen suggested, “There are a lot of ways to celebrate your culture without hating other people. I think they prey on the poor, rural white people who (are looking ) for something to belong to and something to attach to and they can identify with.”

   “What they don’t realize is that they should have solidarity with people in their own economic class. Instead, they form a solidarity on the basis of race; and they’re not helping themselves or helping anybody; and I think they’re very destructive. It’s a tradition that I hope is on its way out.”

   A native of Mexico, Sebastian Camacho nodded in agreement, “Given the (success) of the Tea Party, plus the bad economy, these are the (kind of) conditions that promote people -who are maybe uneducated- to look for something that gives them a sense that they are fighting for something. So they get together based on race.”

  Noting that the demonstration “got kind of violent” in some instances, Mr. Camacho said: “If you’re protesting peacefully you can’t harm them, as much as you hate their beliefs. To harm anyone at a protest is going against what this country stands for.”

   “I’m definitely about uniting the people together.  And there should be no separation in this country,” said Lynn Mathieu.  “This is called the United States of America, so how can we be divided.”