By Francin Vasquez
The threat slowly forced itself forward, reaching every shadow, every corner, every chest, every heart. It yelled from the sidelines that it would walk inside, take over the streets, and tarnish everything with words of hatred.
It was January 2019, and rumors of a white supremacist rally in Princeton’s Palmer Square began circulating on social media. Flyers were spread in many areas in town and around the University.
In this type of situation, Mayor Liz Lempert’s hands were tied. Under the First Amendment, freedom of speech is protected—even if that speech consists of slurs from white supremacists. As long as there is no threat of violence, no legal action can be taken. “[We] have to make decisions where there are no real answers, and it’s painful,” Lempert recalled in a recent interview.
But neither Lempert nor Princeton were silent about the scheduled white supremacist rally. Shop owners, students, residents—everyone—united to say that they did not believe in those ideologies.
Princeton’s white supremacist rally did not have a deadly ending. After all, it did not happen. Instead of expected hate signs and racism, the town was filled with love and welcoming. Hundreds of people showed up to protest against the white supremacists, and the white supremacists themselves stayed away.
“Forces from outside are repelled by the community. This is who we are, and there is no space for this speech,” said Lempert. “The people said ‘we don’t want you.’”
When one thinks about the name “Princeton,” their first thought might be the prestigious Ivy League university. However, the word Princeton is more than a private school with high expectations for their applicants. Princeton is where people come together to work with each other. By fighting off hatred, the Princeton community showed itself to be strong. By rallying against hatred, Princeton gave us all a reminder of the meaning of America.