Altamont marches in support of Black Lives Matter, kneels for George Floyd

The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer

Coming together: After Dawn Donnelly, wearing a straw hat, thanked Saturday’s marchers “from the bottom of my heart,” several rushed to hug her and each other. 

ALTAMONT — Dawn Donnelly said she was taken aback to see a large Trump flag displayed on Maple Avenue where she lives.

But after Saturday’s peace walk, she said she felt loved by her neighbors. Donnelly joined in a group hug with several of them.

“I’m one of the women of color in the community,” said Donnelly as she thanked the overwhelmingly white crowd “from the bottom of my heart.”

She and her husband were on an apple-picking excursion when they discovered the village and liked its atmosphere, she said. Five years later, they bought their first home, on Maple Avenue, where they are raising two children.

After the two-and-a-quarter mile walk through the leafy Victorian village, Donnelly praised the mothers who had brought their children on the walk and spoke about the importance of raising children to care about the land, the Earth, the environment, and each other.

“Your kindness speaks volumes,” Donnelly told the crowd, which responded with applause.

Just before Donnelly spoke, Emily Hard had called for people to kneel for eight minutes and 45 seconds: the length of time that a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on the neck of George Floyd — a black man, lying on the ground, crying out that he couldn’t breathe — until he was dead.

Silently, the marchers had fallen to their knees in the village green. Traffic continued on its way — its thrum, the only sound. A passerby stopped and joined the group.

Hard, who also knelt, kept an eye on her cellphone to see when the eight minutes and 45 seconds had passed.

“It’s a long time, isn’t it?” she asked as she stood.

About 100 people had gathered at noon in Orsini Park. Many had learned about it through Facebook posts made by April McLean.

The rally had started with a rousing prayer from Rev. Matthew van Maastricht, the pastor of the Altamont Reformed Church. He stood in the gazebo that centers the village green and urged the crowd to “confront one another without hatred and bitterness … [so] that the barriers that divide us crumble.”

He also said, “Black lives do indeed matter.”

McLean led the way with a sign that said, “Use your privilege as a platform: Stop the cycle, Our children deserve better.” Her T-shirt, like her sign, declared she is a “Black Lives Matter Ally.”

Some of the walkers were inveterate protesters; others had never been to a protest before.

Villagers Greg Georgio and Kate Provencher held a long banner between them that said “Black Lives Matter.”

Georgio has been part of a regular weekly peace vigil held every Friday in Schenectady since Sept. 11, 2001. “We’ve never missed a Friday,” he said.

The banner, he said, was made by Mabel Leon, who lives in the Schenectady Stockade, and is a member of Grannies for Peace and Women against War.

Georgio wore an Industrial Workers of the World T-shirt. “Anyone can join the Wobblies as long as you’re not an employer,” he said. “I was very much a leftie and anti-capitalist,” he said.

“We’re in the midst of a health pandemic and also a pandemic of racism. We have to respond,” Georgio said of his reason for joining the Altamont walk.

Two marchers who were raised in Altamont and who just graduated from college, Alec Betancourt and Allison Reiner, were part of the throng.

Betancourt, who has a degree from the University at Buffalo in environmental engineering, said he was wary of  joining larger protests in Albany because of concerns of spreading COVID-19 but he wanted to “be a part of the cause.”

While it was tough not having a traditional ending, with a graduation ceremony, to his college career, Betancourt said, “Many people are in a much worse situation.”

“I wanted to show support for George Floyd in a safer environment,” said Reiner. “Standing up against racism is very important.”

Reiner has just completed a degree in biology and statistics from St. Lawrence University — an up-and-coming field, she notes, with the coronavirus — and will be going to the University of Michigan for a master’s degree in biostats.

In the midst of the current upheavals, Reiner said, “I’m trying to focus on things I’m grateful for right now.”

Eight-year-old Teddy Courneen, who was there with his mother, held a sign that said, “Know peace.” “I feel like brown people should have just as much rights as whites,” said Teddy.

Elaina Brown was there with her boyfriend, Mel Oliver of Colonie. “I was wanting to do something to show support,” said Brown who held a sign that said, “No freedom ’til we’re equal.”

Ann and Stewart Linendoll held a sign between them as they walked along Fairview Avenue. “We’ve been protesting forever,” said Ann Linendoll. “It seems things should have changed long ago.”

She and her husband believe that this time will be different.

“Already in New York State, the governor has proposed legislation that should make a difference. I do hope other states follow,” said Stewart Linendoll. “We need a uniform code for police conduct.”

Mike Seinberg said of being Jewish, “We have a different take because it wasn’t that long ago they murdered six million of us … Jews have traditionally supported civil rights. In the sixties,” Seinberg said of the sometimes deadly reaction to peaceful protests, “A number of the people killed were Jews.”

Seinberg said he knew firsthand what it was like to be taunted with slurs. He said it is important to stand up against oppression.

He wore a mask that said, “Trump lies. People die.”

Katie Fahrenkopf said she was marching because she is a teacher.

“I teach students of all different colors, all different backgrounds. It’s important to take a stand for my students and for my daughters,” she said.

Fahrenkopf and her husband, village Trustee Nicholas Fahrenkopf, have two daughters; 4-year-old Adelaide Grace was marching with her mother. Adelaide carried a sign she had made herself, urging kindness.

When the marchers reached Main Street, police officers stopped traffic at intervals to help them safely cross the street.

The marchers gathered in a parking lot to begin the walk back to Orsini Park and organizers urged them to chant, “Black and white, it’s time to unite. It’s time for unity in our community.”

But the crowd marched on, mostly in silence.

Neighbors from their front porches and yards occasionally waved to the group or clapped or shouted encouragement. Some families peeled off from the walk, holding weary children, as they reached their homes.

Drivers of cars going by would honk their horns or wave encouragement.

As the walkers entered the home stretch on Maple Avenue, Tim Urban stood next to the sidewalk with a red bin of ice water, offering drinks to hot marchers. He said his wife and daughter were among them.

A chant was raised, “No justice, no peace.”

After the kneeling and the eight minutes and 45 seconds of silence for George Floyd, organizer April McLean told The Enterprise, “I think it went awesome.”

She said she had expected maybe a score of friends would show up, rather than five times that many.

McLean said she had deleted nasty comments responding to her post about the rally because she wanted “to keep it positive.”

Her post stressed that it would be a “peaceful vigil” and said, “Signs are welcome as long as they promote peace, unity and kindness.”

McLean said she came up with the idea for the walk “to support black folks fully as human beings.” She went on, “I don’t stand by violence … We needed to let our voice be heard in a nice way.”

The work will continue with a newly formed group called the Altamont Allies, she said.

McLean pointed to a new sign in the park, congratulating the Altamont Elementary School fifth-graders for graduating and moving on to the middle school. The sign pictures the face of each child.

One of them is McLean’s 10-year-old granddaughter.

“She’s part Arabic,” said McLean. “How would I feel if people held that against her?”

Joined: 02/11/2019 - 12:11
Love this!

This makes me proud to live in altamont and raise my girls here. These are the people that choose to speak instead of remain silent and because of it real change is possible!



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