Ann Braden, founder of the advocacy group Gun Sense Vermont, can erase hateful emails with a tap of her computer’s delete key. But the Brattleboro mother couldn’t so easily dismiss news of a recent anonymous letter telling the Islamic Society of Vermont it wasn’t welcome in the state.
Such words can’t be papered over, she thought. Or can they?
Braden, aiming to supplement Valentine’s Day with year-round social action, has formed the Local Love Brigade. The open-to-all citizens army, inspired by the adage “the pen is mightier than the sword,” already has sent 500 heart-strewn postcards to the Colchester mosque and hundreds more to victims of harassment statewide.
“Love can be seen as a soft and gentle emotion, but it can also be fierce and strong and powerful,” she says. “That’s really what we’re channeling here.”
Braden, a former middle school social studies teacher, wasn’t looking to lead one group, let alone two. She began Gun Sense Vermont when, searching for a local organization campaigning for tighter firearms laws after the 2012 Newtown school shooting, she discovered there wasn’t one.
Similarly, Braden launched the Local Love Brigade after she learned about the December letter expressing disdain toward Muslims.
“I started having conversations,” she recalls. “Through those, this evolved.”
The more than 1,000 members in the effort’s Facebook group can report and learn of individuals or institutions facing problems, as well as how to make and mail postcards.
“Band together when there is an incident of hate,” its page urges, “and respond with giant helpings of love.”
To protect privacy, the group offers only general statements about those it’s aiming to support.
Take an unidentified 9-year-old Jewish girl: “She has found swastikas engraved into the school’s buddy bench at recess and has had several students say horrific things to her. One student told her that ‘Hitler killed her family because (she) doesn’t believe in Christmas.’”
Then there’s the man whose Black Lives Matter signs keep getting stolen. And the woman who teaches English to non-native speakers and discovered her car defaced. And the same-sex couple subjected to homophobic catcalls. And the advocates for state paid sick time legislation who found their tires slashed and a fire set behind their workplace.
Responding to other recent news, the group also is sending postcards to Syrian refugees now resettling in Rutland, as well as to South Burlington High School students who successfully petitioned to drop their Confederate-associated Rebels nickname, only to face a public backlash.
“The rhetoric that dominated the past election was designed to try to isolate and divide people based on fear of the unknown,” Braden says. “Our goal is to bring people into the fold and make them feel supported, especially those who are vulnerable to being separated out.”
The group is inviting the public to postcard production sessions Fridays in February from 3 to 5 p.m. at downtown Brattleboro’s Catherine Dianich Gallery. Out-of-state supporters, for their part, have set up branches in Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas, Virginia and Washington and are set to expand into Colorado and New Hampshire.
“The more postcards the better, but even one makes a difference,” Braden says. “People feel frustrated when bad things happen and want to know, ‘What can I do?’ This is so simple, so powerful and so inclusive.”