The continued existence of white supremacists in Idaho would disappoint Martin Luther King Jr., a human rights activist told a crowd gathered in the state Capitol celebrating King’s birthday Monday.
“We still have work to do for justice in our land,” said Bill Wassmuth, a leader of the Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harassment. “The journey is not over. The dream is not realized. Justice is not available for all.”
Wassmuth joined Gov. Phil Batt in challenging people to work to make Idaho and America free of hate.
“This is not a day to pay lip-service, we must pay life-service,” Wassmuth said while listeners lining the Capitol’s rotunda cheered.
Batt, who called the hatred of the Aryan Nations “beneath contempt” in his State of the State speech last week, said each Idahoan must offer a helping hand to make life for somebody else better - whether it’s joining a community-based group or helping an ill neighbor.
“The best volunteer work comes in the smallest and most unexpected ways,” Batt said.
About 200 people marched in the rain from the Boise State University campus to the Capitol to attend the Idaho Human Rights Day event. The rumbling beat of an American Indian drum circle echoed through the marble halls as celebrants gathered.
“Too many times we’re in all-white rooms in Idaho,” said Mary Daley of the Ada County Human Rights Task Force. “We do have diversity,” she added, while looking around the crowd of young and old, male and female and black and white. “It’s wonderful when we can celebrate it.”
Daley operates the Northwest Coalition’s Idaho chapter. She was one of many participants wearing “Idaho is too great for hate” T-shirts.
Subtle white supremacists affect people’s lives more than the vocal groups, Wassmuth said. They limit economic opportunities, excluding people from jobs and education and denying freedom, he said.
Racists are everywhere in society from the U.S. Congress, to local business people to educators, Wassmuth added. And although many people are unknowing or uninformed, their actions and words prove harmful.
“The infraction hurts just the same whether it’s intentional or not,” he said to the crowd.
Sharesa Thompson, an eighth grader at Eagle Middle School, joined her classmates in singing “Freedom Song” to commemorate King.
“It’s a celebration of other people’s freedom,” Thompson said before the performance.
Wassmuth then led the group in repeating a personal pledge.
“I firmly believe that one person can and must make a difference and that no person can be an ‘innocent bystander’ when it comes to opposing hate.”