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Picnic turns hate into a neighborhood fest
Call it a case of making lemonade from lemons.
About 300 people withstood blustery weather and Kitsap Countys most festival-filled weekend to attend a Hate-Free neighborhood picnic in Central Kitsap on Saturday.
Sponsored by a variety of groups, the event was an in-your-face outgrowth to the pamphletting by the white supremacist group National Alliance in the Parkwood East neighborhood last February.
Saturdays event was sponsored by the Parkwood East Homeowners Association, Kitsap County Human Right Council, Kitsap Human Rights Network, and MD-Business Infrastructure Services LLC.
One of the organizers was Homeowners Association Vice President Keith Goodsell. He said the neighborhood had long talked about having a community picnic.
It took a catalyst, Goodsell said. It was unfortunate that it had to be something traumatic.
After the initial fliers hit the neighborhood, Goodsell said the association and law enforcement officers brainstormed how to combat the racist fliers.
We really didnt like what they tried to do, Goodsell said. We tried to get them on a littering charge.
But Goodsell said Kitsap County Sheriffs deputies said the perpetrators would have to be caught in the act. Still Goodsell said he was willing to press littering charges at $400 per home for 429 residences. But the National Alliance sympathizers were never caught. Goodsell said even if they would have found the pamphleteers, it would have created a collision of the 1st and 9th Amendments to the Constitution.
We would have dealt with it, he said.
Later the group was found pamphletting in Renton, said Mark Frost, another event organizer and Parkwood East resident.
They are trying to get a foothold, said Frost.
With the Hate-Free picnic, Frost said he hoped to send a strong signal to racists and white supremacists.
We wanted to send a very clear message that this is not acceptable and not in our neighborhood, Frost said.
Leif Bentsen, human rights coordinator for Kitsap County, also helped organize the event.
I am happy with the turnout, he said. We are here to help. We are here primarily to support.
Bentsen said the county helped in sending out two mailings to ensure everyone in the neighbor hood knew about the event.
The Human Rights Network donated the food for the event.
Central Kitsap County Commissioner Patty Lent made a short appearance and called the event a day of unity for the community.
Kitsap County Sheriff Steve Boyer also stopped by for several minutes between attending civic parades in Bremerton and Poulsbo.
Bentsen said that Bremertons Unitarian Universalist fellowship provided $150 for the generator for the band.
The band Timmy and the Twisters was playing their first-ever gig.
We have graduated from a garage band, said band organizer Tim Alexander. We are a living room band.
As the crowd mingled and munched on hamburgers and picnic food, the band blared out several sets of 1960s and 1970s rock n roll hits.
Several booths were set up to allow people to talk with KCSO deputies, or sign a Hate-Free Communities petition or a copy of an ersatz Declaration of Independence.
As the picnic hit its mid-point, Goodsell was asked to describe the overall purpose of the picnic.
Community unity is a good way to put it, he said. We want to make a statement. We want people to build relationships and go from there.