Tony Stewart has been a big part of the Kootenai County human rights movement since its beginning.
When white supremacists bombed Bill Wassmuth’s home, the North Idaho College instructor was there to console his friend. When the Aryan Nations rallied, Stewart staged counter rallies to show the world that North Idaho “was too great for hate.”
Idaho wouldn’t have such tough laws against malicious harassment without Stewart’s lobbying efforts.
Stewart knows human rights.
He also knows that communities can’t fight racism by ignoring it. Racism flourishes when it is not exposed to light. That’s why the gathering of politicians to denounce racism at a press conference last week was significant.
In fact, Stewart called it “historical.”
The local human rights movement has achieved many things in the past two decades, including national renown. But it never has linked arms with the Idaho governor, all three of its congressional representatives, area legislators and the mayors of four Kootenai County towns. Until now. For the first time, Kootenai County has gone on record, at all levels of government, as being steadfastly opposed to racism.
U.S. Rep. Helen Chenoweth, R-Idaho, who has been accused of encouraging racism, added an exclamation point to the event with a prepared statement that said: “Let us remember that diversity is strength. Diversity helps to stimulate new ideas and to challenge the status quo.”
The press conference didn’t come a moment too soon.
For some reason, North Idaho’s racists have crawled out from under their rocks again and are causing trouble.
Recently, a goon spat on an NIC human rights leader and yelled an epithet at him. In Post Falls, neo-Nazi sympathizers harassed a Filipino family into moving and tormented a high school student into transferring. In Coeur d’Alene, Hayden Lake, Rathdrum and Post Falls, racists distributed hate literature.
People who do such things, of course, aren’t going to be driven off by rallies and petition drives. The politicians who denounced bigotry Tuesday now must make sure that their actions speak as loudly as their words.
Kootenai County commissioners, for example, should reconsider the “English-only” resolution they approved earlier this year. Such a proclamation speaks as loudly on behalf of racism as commission Chairman Dick Compton did against it at the NIC podium.
Still, the impromptu rally shows North Idaho is turning its attention to racism again. Said Stewart: “Our community is once again showing its true heart.”
He should know.
, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = D.F. Oliveria/For the editorial board