Two rallies planned in Southampton Village on Saturday, September 5, could appear to present discordant ideologies. But, according to organizers, they do not.
A Back the Blue rally planned for Saturday morning in Agawam Park is designed to celebrate and thank local law enforcement and the military, while Lisa Votino, who’s helming a Black Lives Still Matter rally that afternoon, made clear local activists have enjoyed collaborative interactions with police on the South Fork during demonstrations and rallies. The spirit locally has not, so far, mirrored that seen in other cities, where BLM protesters clashed with law enforcement.
Southampton Village officials — Mayor Jesse Warren and Village Police Chief Thomas Cummings — did not respond to multiple requests for comment about the municipality’s readiness for the two rallies scheduled on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend.
Ken Oliver of North Sea, who organized the first event of the weekend, said he hopes to see that good will continue. He noted there is “quite a bit of interest” in the Back the Blue event.
“This is not a protest against anybody,” he emphasized. The idea arose after a golf outing with friends and volunteer firefighters. The group lamented the absence of a Memorial Day parade for the military, which inspired Mr. Oliver to create the event.
“This has been a bad year for everybody,” he said. The “nice, peaceful walk,” could help local businesses by bringing people into the village, he pointed out. “People will spend money in town that’s so dearly needed,” the retired New York Police Department and Southampton Town Police officer said.
The Back the Blue rally begins at Agawam Park at 11 a.m. Following a blessing and the Pledge of Allegiance, attendees are invited to march a route down Windmill Lane to Jagger Lane, to Main Street, then Jobs Lane, then back to the park.
Saturday afternoon, the Black Lives Still Matter rally will begin at Agawam Park at 4 p.m.
According to Ms. Votino, the second rally was prompted by concerns raised about the Back the Blue event.
“While outsiders will be coming into our community bringing their hate under the guise of supporting law enforcement, WE will gather and stand united like we do,” she wrote on social media. “We have held protest after protest, all peaceful, all positive, all showing appreciation for our first responders including the police that partnered with us. We have had open and honest continuing dialogue with our local departments. If this was a first responders appreciation day, we would show our respect.”
She continued, “The “back the blue” rallies on Long Island have been filled with people spewing political rhetoric, violence, hate and racism.”
Ms. Votino documented racist slurs slung at people of color during the Back The Blue protest held in Eisenhower Park earlier this summer.
“This is not a counter-protest,” Ms. Votino underscored. “We will not be taking any action during their rally. But we will have the last word in our community. Hate will not go unchecked.”
Mr. Oliver, who earlier this month refused to identify himself, believes opponents have misunderstood his intentions. Using an email titled “Patriots of America,” as a contact point on a flyer for the rally may have lent itself to misinterpretation. Other, similarly-named organizations, exhibit white supremacist beliefs.
“People had preconceived notions about what it was,” he said, reporting that he did receive an email from someone thinking Patriots of America was a Neo-Nazi group. It was an email address he created to avoid using his personal account, he said.