Thursday, May 7, 2015

An Arkansas Tea Party group plans an anti-equality rally. Guess what happens next...

There is a big and largely untold story here about cultural and political shifts south of the Mason Dixon Line. They don't get much coverage but I've been noticing items like this.
RUSSELLVILLE, AR -- Hundreds of people marched down Main Street in Russellville for the definition of marriage in Arkansas just three days before the U.S. Supreme Court considers the fundamental question of whether same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry.

The rallies were on the same street at the same time, but were on opposite sides of the street because of people's opposing views on same-sex marriage.

The march started off calm. Nearly 80 people walked on Main Street to the Pope County Courthouse holding signs that read, "One man + one woman = marriage and family" and other signs that supported heterosexual marriage and disagreed with homosexual marriage. The group, which included members of the Tri County Tea Party, headed its own march with a separate march trailing behind.


All while hundreds of people rallying at the other march chanted "marriage equality" across the street.


That was the message speakers at the original rally tried to get out, but struggled because of the loud chants across the street.

Even though March for Marriage was the first march formally announced, supporters were outnumbered by the crowd across the street.
Outnumbered is a bit of an understatement.
Because I've heard conflicting numbers regarding the folks on both sides of the two rallies in Russellville this weekend, I asked Travis Simpson, a reporter at the Russellville Courier, who was there on the scene on Saturday.

He said the crowd supporting marriage equality was the larger of the two, "no contest." Simpson said he estimated there were perhaps 30 rallying against same-sex marriage, but around 200 on the pro-equality side.
Nor was that the end it.
On Saturday, a group called Pope County for Equality organized a rally in Russellville to show support for marriage equality and LGBTQ civil rights in Arkansas. More than 300 people showed up — quite a significant turnout for a community of under 30,000. Klay Rutherford, an organizer of the event and an undergrad at Arkansas Tech University, sent this report to the Arkansas Times. All pictures are courtesy of Pope County for Equality's Facebook page.

Residents of Pope County gathered in Russellville at 3 p.m. on Saturday, May 2 for a march and rally for marriage equality. Over 300 attendees marched through downtown and congregated at a stage near the historic Missouri-Pacific train depot.

The event was sponsored by Pope County for Equality, an online organization that advocates for the equal treatment of all individuals, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity. Speakers included Dr. MarTeze Hammonds, Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion at Arkansas Tech University; Jeannie Fowler Stone, a proud Christian and an accepting mother of a transgender son; and, James Bittle, a retired sergeant in the U.S. Army who is gay and recently married. Hammonds, Stone and Bittle are all residents of Russellville.

Event organizers said, “Our goal is to be an overwhelming presence of love and acceptance. We aim to lift people up, start discussions, and show our community that we are more than a stereotype. We simply want to bring our community closer together in a setting of love and peace.”

An impromptu marriage proposal took place on stage as Russellville resident Morgan Walker got down on one knee, surprising the crowd and her new fiancé, Silvia Harper (also of Russellville). The band Sad Magick provided entertainment.

The rally was held in part as a response to an event the previous weekend (Saturday, April 25) organized by an Arkansas River Valley Tea Party group in support of defining marriage as between one man and one woman. Protests that weekend were organized by pro-equality individuals not affiliated with Pope County for Equality. While many media outlets downplayed the presence and role of the protesters at the April 25 event, we estimate that there were at least 250 pro-equality protesters and no more than 50 participants among the the anti-equality crowd.

Pope County for Equality would like to thank the Russellville Police Department for their unbiased approach in handling both marches. Despite the surprising turnout at both events, they occurred without incident or injury.
In the fairly near future, I'm planning a deep dive into how the culture and politics of the South are shifting in ways that our standard metrics tend to miss. For now though, just remember that Russellville is in the most Republican part of the state.

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