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'Anti-KKK Presidency' Albany Freedom Rally

Disdain for a Donald Trump presidency and the fear of the future it could bring brought a variety of activist groups together in Albany over the weekend. The "anti-KKK Presidency Rally" was held in Townsend Park.

Activists representing diverse social action groups ranging from Alliance for Quality Education to Pride Center of the Capital Region to Upper Hudson Planned Parenthood braved the cold Saturday afternoon to commiserate over the election.

A press release issued by the coalition of more than 40 groups under the moniker "the capital District coalition against Islamophobia," explained the rally was responding to "the fact" that the Ku Klux Klan announced a “victory” rally the same day in North Carolina.  David Duke, former grand dragon of the KKK, was an early endorser of Trump. WRAL-TV in Raleigh reported that the Klan did caravan through Roxboro: Police Chief David Hess said the group posted the event on social media but never said it would take place in Roxboro. According to Hess, the group was present for around five minutes, and there were no bystanders watching.

Officers blocked a major intersection so the convoy would move and exit as quickly as possible.

"The Ku Klux Klan was founded in 1865 by six former Confederate soldiers as a supposed fraternal social club. It quickly became a vigilante organization whose central purpose was to terrorize black people..." Albany activist and WAMC contributor Barbara Smith delivered opening remarks at the Albany rally. "The most common justification of African Americans for lynching was the protection of white womanhood from black men."

It had the feel of 60s style freedom rally with Bethlehem Neighbors for Peace member Joe Lombardo highly visible at the event, which he says was also organized on behalf the Muslim and immigrant communities who feel uncomfortable with a Trump presidency. "Well, he very casually talks about nuclear weapons, like, 'Well, why can't you use nuclear weapons?' I would say that's a threat to world peace. He has put people in his cabinet positions who are real hawks, really militarists, and I think it's very scary."

Addressing the crowd, Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan said that in 2008 the city passed a resolution welcoming immigrants. She said there should be no doubt New York's capital is indeed a "sanctuary city," not only for all refugees, but for all who may feel or be displaced. She confirmed that anyone stopped by city police will not be questioned regarding legal status.  "I urge you all: you are all doers. We need to keep doing. Get involved with RISE. Get involved with helping welcome our immigrant and refugee families. Get involved in the organizations that are fighting Islamophobia. Please stay involved! We need to fight now more than ever."

Shamshad Ahmad of Central Avenue's Masjid As-Salam mosque warned of a nation divided, in third-world fashion, under Trump.  "One superior tribe, one inferior tribe."

Where some see division, others see war.  Lawrence Wittner represents Peace Action, the largest grassroots peace organization in the United States.  "With the election of Donald Trump and a Republican Congress, the biggest, most destructive machine in world history, with over 7,000 nuclear weapons and a trillion dollar nuclear weapons buildup under way, will be controlled by a zealously right wing, nationalistic, racist government, headed by a mentally unstable egomaniac."

Whatever the activists believe a Trump presidency might mean for minorities in Albany, Asaad Hussein, an Albany High 11th grade student whose family escaped Aleppo three years ago, isn't worried. Speaking with assistance from UAlbany student Omar Alrifai, he said he has faith in his new country.   "Asaad isn't fearing the Trump presidency. He believes that people will be able to come together."  Hussein is concerned about those now stuck in Syria, that their chances for asylum may diminish under Trump.

Some passersby misinterpreted the gathering as a protest against KKK activity in Albany. There is none to speak of, as far as we know. Tim Derocher is with the the Albany County Republican Committee. "Any quote endorsement from the KKK is something that is useless, it's meaningless. I cannot distance ourselves enough form them. The fact that they're holding a rally to support whoever they want to, they're allowed to do that. Just like these individuals are allowed to hold a rally in opposition to whoever they feel."

Derocher suggests we all need to move forward, in a positive direction. And for his part, President-elect Trump has said he wants to be a leader for all people.

Ruth Pelham of Music Mobile fame entertained Albany rallygoers with a protest song. The crowd marched down Central Avenue from Townsend Park to Dana Park, where the event concluded with a secondary rally.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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