Anya Davidson and son Dolev Rabinovich, 7, of Readfield make signs Sunday during the “Love is Louder” rally at Mill Park in Augusta. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

AUGUSTA — Rabbi Jonah Steinberg, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League New England, stood Sunday in the same city park where, four months earlier, someone painted swastikas and racial slurs.

Echoing the theme of the “Love is Louder” rally, Steinberg sought to reassure community members that love really is more powerful than hate, even in a time of war.

“We’re gathered here today, in Augusta saying, as this gathering is themed, ‘love is louder,’ and we find ourselves saying that in a time of war,” Steinberg told a crowd of roughly 200. “And the question is, does that make sense? And I want to say, and I hope we can all believe, that it does make sense, that the love in which victims are held in hearts will long outlive the terror of this time. And indeed that love is far more powerful. I do not feel absurd, standing here with you today, in central Maine in a time of war to say, in the end, love is louder.”

Organizers planned the rally in response to recent events — including a rally in August by a group of Neo-Nazis that ended up at the State House where members, wearing masks concealing their faces, reportedly did a Nazi salute. In July, vandalism including spray-painted swastikas and racial slurs was discovered in Mill Park in Augusta, the site of Sunday’s rally. In September, a “Zoom-bombing” during a Hallowell City Council meeting saw people using fake names and spouting anti-Semitic, homophobic and racist comments. Most recently in October, an anti-Semitic message was written at Cony High School.

Attendees hold signs and cheer Sunday as music is played by Pat Colwell and the Soul Sensations during the “Love is Louder” rally at Mill Park in Augusta. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Organizers of Sunday’s rally said they sought to show that the message of love was much louder and more widely embraced than the recent hate-filled messages, and that hate has no home in Maine.

“Members of the organizing group were hearing from different corners of the community that residents wanted to do something. They were looking for an outlet to show what our community and the beautiful state of Maine is really all about,” said state Rep. Raegan LaRochelle, D-Augusta, an organizer of the event. “It’s not about extremism, or symbols scrawled on walls. This is the Maine we all know and love. So thanks to each of you for being here today, supporting your neighbors and friends. And showing the world that in Maine, we reject hate.”


Attendees hold signs and cheer Sunday as music is played by Pat Colwell and the Soul Sensations during the “Love is Louder” rally at Mill Park in Augusta. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Numerous people carried signs reflecting the theme, including “Hatred darkens life, love illuminates it,” “Stand Against Fear and Hate,” “All you need is love,” “All cultures together (equals) one people,” and “Let’s be better humans.”

Rabbi Erica Asch, of Temple Beth El in Augusta, said what happened in Augusta is part of a larger pattern of increasing antisemitism in the United States in recent years. She said Temple Beth El regularly has police patrols come by the synagogue on high holidays and Jewish children, including her own, worry about being targeted for being Jewish.

She said the show of love’s strength Sunday was great, but urged attendees, once they put away their signs, to think about what happens next, and to take small steps, such as reaching out to see how other people are doing and to continue to show commitment to creating a loving, just community.

“These quiet acts of everyday love are more powerful than any hater can imagine,” Asch said.

Before speakers took to the stage, LaRochelle read, through tears, the names of the 18 people killed in the recent mass shooting in Lewiston, as silence fell over Mill Park.

The local longtime band Pat Colwell and the Soul Sensations played for the crowd at the start of the rally. Part of the band returned to the stage after their set to lead the crowd in singing the gospel and protest song “We Shall Overcome,” with some of the lyrics modified by David Offer, president of Temple Beth El, to reflect the event, including “Love is louder here. Love is louder here. Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe, love is louder in Maine today.”

The event was organized by the recently formed Greater Augusta Unity Committee which, according to a news release, has representatives from civic groups such as the Calumet Club and the Augusta Elks Club, religious groups and political leaders. Organizers had said they hoped to draw about 500 people to the event.

Augusta Mayor Mark O’Brien quoted Martin Luther King Jr. to warn against responding to hateful groups with hate toward them in return.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that,” he said. “Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

Golden doodle Ivy joins others including Hallowell’s Stacey Mondschein Katz, pictured with her handmade sign, during Sunday’s “Love is Louder” rally at Mill Park in Augusta. Ivy is held on a leash by owner Ed Seidel of Damariscotta. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

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