2005-06-06 Grand Haven Tribune "Whites only picnic attracts attention of residents"

Whites only picnic attracts attention of residents
Grand Haven Tribune

It looked like a typical picnic in the park Saturday with people sipping soda, eating hotdogs and burgers, sharing thoughts and ideas. But outside the perimeter of Spring Lake’s Central Park, police officers loomed, ready to spring to action. And in the parking lot, about a dozen curious observers gathered to watch the picnic unfold.

Saturday’s picnic hosted by White Voices of America has fueled much controversy and publicity in the last two weeks when fliers started popping up in the Tri-Cities advertising the event as being restricted to people of predominantly white ancestry.

The Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance (LEDA) hosted a forum on inclusion last Thursday in response to the planned
picnic. Many feared the WVA group represented racism, discrimination and “white supremacy”.

WVA spokesman Cory Traxler has said all along his group has nothing to do with racism or white supremacy. “Only time is going to prove what our organization is about,” Traxler said at the Thursday forum. Saturday’s picnic was peaceful and uneventful. According to Traxler, WVA is concerned about “reverse discrimination” and aims to promote equal and cross-the-border rights for all races with no special privileges granted to any group. He believes anyone with other than mainstream/politically popular ideas or beliefs is treated like a minority in society. About 20 people and a handful of print and broadcast media attended Saturday’s 5-8 p.m. event. Close to a dozen onlookers stood in the Central Park parking lot, watching the picnic and from afar.

Both local and state police patrolled the area during the event. Bob Cook, who lives just east of Central Park, said without all the publicity, the WVA event probably would have been ignored. “It’s America, it’s a free country,” Cook said. “But I don’t agree with it. In this day and age it’s not a good thing.” Village resident Casey Painter agreed. “This is not the voice of our community,” Painter said, basketball in hand.

“It’s their voice.” Local resident Veronica Dare said she was “here in quiet protest.” Dare, who is Asian-American said she was curious to know “who in my community would oppose my existence here.” She said she was pleased to see others in the community watching from afar. “It’s good to know the community doesn’t support this,” Dare said. “If this group feels discrimination is an issue, why not join LEDA? This is an issue all people need to discuss to find out where the balance is.”

When Traxler came to the parking area to address the spectators, he assured his group “doesn’t want to treat people of other races badly.” WVA’s assure isn’t with other races, he said, it’s with political policies that don’t treat all people as equals. “Your issues are a concern for everone,” Dare told Traxler.

Bring it forth so everyone can address it. It is a community issue, a national issue. If you try to deal with this in a non-segregated manner, it will be more constructive.” Traxler indicated he would be open to such a meeting with LEDA. When asked if WVA would consider changing its name to something more inclusive, such as “United Voices of America,” Traxler said that would be taken into consideration.”

Fruitport resident Rich Phillips attended Saturday’s picnic out of curiosity. “I know where they’re coming from,” said Phillips, who said he was passed over for a job because of affirmative action. “They’re young kids, but there’s nobody that’s doing anything for poor or middle-class white folks. It’s tough for these kids. They don’t have the United Negro College Fund.”

Phillips, 49, a Vietnam veteran, is frustrated the U.S. is sending money overseas “and we have homeless people right here. I’m not a racist at all, but once you say the word “white” you’re politically incorrect, chastised and hounded. There was a program on TV today called “Clack Superstars of Music.” What do you think would happen if there were a “White Superstars of Music?” People would freak out. It’s frustrating for these kids. If they don’t have money for a college education, they see minorities getting a break and they can’t find a break."

“I have a problem with reverse discrimination,” Phillips said. “I’ve seen a lot of it in government-not always does the best person get the job. Many people have been passed over because of their color.” Philips said in 1984 a Holland company agreed to hire him. He had already taken a physical and ordered his uniform, he said, when the personnel manager called to inform him “it won’t work out.” “An African-American came along and they gave the job to him,” Phillips said. “I sit down with bikers and businessmen. I’ve been to 17 countries and 49 states and find the same story. I’m getting sick of it.” Shortly after Phillips left the picnic, WVA members invited the onlookers to join the picnic and help them-selves to food. “Share our food,” said WVA member Nikki, who asked that her last name not be printed because of a pending divorce. “You don’t have to stand in the parking lot. Come in and we can discuss things. There’s no point in segregating. We don’t want to fight with our community. We want to work together.”

Earlier that evening Nikki praised the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. “We’re just trying to get our community together to help poor white people,” said Nikki, adding that she longs for further college education but has done as much as she can afford and “I can’t get a Pell grant. The NAACP is a wonderful organization. They’ve taken their people and brought them up. That’s what we want to do-help people get into school and better themselves.

We’ve got homeless people right here in Spring Lake, Michigan.” Dare and her husband, Will Walters, who is white, walked hand-in-hand to the picnic area to pick up WVA fliers. “I thought it was great that he came out and invited people in,” Dare said. “But he could have been inviting everyone else in the group but by his (“whites only”) literature he was not inviting me. “Racism is just another one of these issues-a way to separate us,” Dare said, adding that she wishes WVA members would study American history and learn of the past that led to our present. Dare believes the words we’ve adopted into our languages serve a disservice. She points out the common terms “white” and “people of color.”

“There is no difference between us. We are all people of color-the only difference is some hues are lighter and
some are darker."