Unveiling a 'Traveling Banner of Love'

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BRATTLEBORO — "Hate does not grow well in the rocky soil of Vermont," is the mantra the four organizers behind the Brattleboro Love Project keep coming back to.

Tracy Murphy, a Goddard College graduate student, Ian Hefele, a multilingual world traveler, Erin Scaggs, a self-professed soccer mom and restaurant owner, and Laura Chapman, a personal assistant, avid organizer and hobby blogger spend hours each day talking to each other over a Facebook group chat, debating the best way they can pool their collective resources to showcase Vermont's neglect of hate.

Within 24 hours of President Donald Trump's executive order stalling travel between the US and seven countries, Murphy organized an "anti-travel ban rally."

Around that time Hefele spotted a remarkable image on his Facebook feed.

"I was the original person getting down on the election and how we got what we got," said Hefele, who works as an admission counselor for SIT Graduate Institute in Brattleboro. While he lives in Vernon, like the rest of the team, he considers Brattleboro his home.

Hefele had a Facebook friend who had moved from Vermont to Poland, and who shared an image of a banner with hand painted lettering reading, "Hate Does Not Grow Well in the Rocky Soil of Vermont."

"The saying really resonated with me," Hefele said.

That image was taken around 1982 to 1983 according to WKVT radio personality Fish, who created the banner with other Wilmington High School students after the KKK decided to hold a rally in Wilmington. The banner was painted in a high school art room, according to Fish.

"I guess I didn't think much of it then, other than it was the right thing to do," he wrote on a Facebook post.

Hefele reached out to Murphy about the idea of creating a Brattleboro version of this banner with the same message. The community needed something tangible to express their beliefs, Murphy said. They needed something they could see. The idea started off simple. Murphy hand-picked a few community members who expressed interest in the idea. She ended up with Hefele, Scaggs and Chapman. And the Brattleboro Love Project was formed.

Of the organizers, Scaggs says no one knew each other very well before the banner but that they came together because of their shared passion for the message of love inspired in the banner. Murphy says the team functions differently but also works together "beautifully."

Scaggs was in charge of fundraising. She had little fundraising experience but thought her position in the community as owner of Elliot Street Fish, Chips, and More would give her accessibility to other small businesses

"I said, 'I'll swallow my pride, pound a little pavement and go around town asking businesses for money,' " Scaggs said.

From small businesses she raised $240; she also started a Gofundme page and raised $1,000 within 11 hours of the page being up. The group was amazed. However, after calculating further costs, they decided to raise the fundraising bar to $1,500. So far they have $1,545.

The remaining proceeds are being donated to Carry Me Home, a local organization that donates clothing and other necessities to refugees. Carry Me Home allowed the Love Project to use its nonprofit status to hang the banner up in Brattleboro.

Donators posted comments thanking the group for the idea. "Much love to all of you in Brattleboro including our 'sons,' Ian Hefele & Adam Christophe. Love Trumps Hate ... Every Hour ... Every Day," wrote Fred and Cris Bonilla.

"Lets grow the love in Vermont!" wrote Debra Kitzmiller.

"So proud of our town!" Michelle Fournier commented.

"I think it speaks to how the community feels about this sentiment," Scaggs said, of the fundraising outcome.

The banner has a political message for the core organizers, but they were also careful to make it as inclusive as possible.

"The banner is geared towards immigrants, refugees, 'the other,'" Murphy said. The idea is for anyone - a parent, a kid being bullied - to see and remember that they are loved, Murphy said.

Murphy thinks that though the message is simple, it's inherently radical. It allows community members to state their stance.

"To name is to own," she said. All of the organizers are in political agreement.

"We have four years, if not more, of making our voices heard," Scaggs said.

Brattleboro has many rules and regulations when it comes to hanging a banner downtown. Chapman was in charge of obtaining a banner that met town regulations. There was only one banner maker in the entirety of Vermont who could make a banner that met Brattleboro's specific qualifications, according to Chapman.

Ann Brush from Banner Arts of Vermont agreed to make the banner.

The banner will hang from March 26 to April 9 on Main Street. There will be an unveiling at 5 p.m. on March 16, the day Trump's new Executive order on travel takes effect. After the banner is taken down the group hopes other businesses and organizations will take interest in it. They're calling it the "The Traveling Banner of Love," and hope that it makes its rounds across the state.

"It's not a state that's ever been great at fostering hate," Chapman said.

Businesses and organizations interested in hanging up the banner should send a message to The Brattleboro Love Project on Facebook.

Harmony Birch is a page designer at the Berkshire Eagle. She can be reached at hbirch@berkshireeagle.com.

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