Thursday night this conservative commentator spent a few hours in Downtown New Bedford with a group of about 75 progressive activists who had invited me to address their rally. The rally was to "celebrate peace, tolerance and diversity."  I was asked to join City Councilor Dana Rebeiro to speak about tolerance,  The was sponsored by the City of New Bedford which didn't please me at all.

I admit that I had certain expectations, or maybe trepidations going into this.  Some were well founded while others, surprisingly were not.  My first expectation was that my appearance would be roundly rejected by those in attendance.  It was not.  There were some grumblings from the crowd when I suggested that we all face common problems in our lives.  I believe we do.  And while several of the speakers chose to politicize their remarks most did not.  Even those with banners and signs were fairly benign in their messaging.

My message to the assembly was simply that tolerance is a two way street.  You cannot expect people to be tolerant of your point of view if you refuse to listen theirs.  In the case of gay conservative Milo Yiannopolis or Republican Congressman Steve Scalise, violence was used to silence those views.  My point was referenced later in the program by an Imam.

Three things left my head spinning  a bit.  First, a young Hispanic girl who confessed to being an "undocumented immigrant" spoke of how "unwelcoming"  America has been to her and how she and other illegals live in fear.  This, as she addresses a crowd from the front steps of the public library with the Police Chief standing by her side.  She also attended public schools in the community. What a cruel people we are.

Another speaker, a woman representing the Jewish community spoke about unspecified attacks on mosques and synagogues while never mentioning the world wide persecution of Christians and the destruction this week of a monument containing the Ten Commandments just 24 hours after being unveiled at the state capitol in Arkansas.  She also suggested that Muslims are the new "persecuted people."

Yet another speaker blamed the Trump Administration for anti-gay graffiti that was painted on his fence, suggesting that Trump wants to "get rid of" members of the LGBT community.

It's non-sense like this from largely uniformed and impressionable people that fuels the divide in our country.  The refusal by some to listen and understand what the other side is saying  only serves to widen the chasm.  Unchallenged rhetoric only leads to greater misunderstandings.

I am glad that I attended the rally.  I thank my boss, Michael Rock and Councilor  Rebeiro for encouraging me to do so.  When we take a step outside of our comfort zone to take a look around and see what's out there we gain a better understanding of what the other side is all about. When we are willing to listen we begin the process of finding common ground that could lead to a resolution to some of the issues we face.

I hope the message of peace, diversity and tolerance is carried away from last night's rally and out into the community.  Only time will tell.

Editor's Note: Barry Richard is the afternoon host on 1420 WBSM New Bedford. He can be heard weekdays from Noon-3pm. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

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