‘Allies standing with us’: Estimated crowd of 200 stand with Asians at City Hall rally

Mike Wolanin | The Republic Kylee Waggoner holds a sign that says Stop Asian Hate at the Rally in Support of the Asian American Community event at Columbus City Hall in Columbus, Ind., Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023.

A program sheet for a rally Thursday afternoon to show support for area Asian residents showed that there were seven speakers scheduled.

But organizers of the gathering told the estimated 200 people present in the Cal Brand Meeting Room of Columbus City Hall in downtown Columbus that attendees, too, spoke loudly and clearly just with their presence that ethnic or any other kind of hate would not be tolerated here.

“Your presence makes us really happy,” said Columbus resident Linda Shi, president of the Asian Pacific Islander American Public Affairs Indiana Chapter.

Joy Basa-King, vice president of the chapter and also a Columbus resident, agreed.

“It means so much to us that you are here as allies standing with us,” Basa-King said.

Unity, togetherness and practical ways to build those elements highlighted much of the 30-minute event put together in the wake of the stabbing of a young Asian Indiana University student in Bloomington Jan. 11. Then came the mass shooting Saturday night in the Asian community of Monterey Park, California.

The last such local rally to support Asians unfolded March 26, 2021, on the City Hall steps after a mass shooting in Atlanta killed six Asian women. Thursday’s event was moved indoors because of a damp cold and temperatures in the high 20s by late afternoon.

City leaders have a strong record especially in the past decade on such rallies to promote solidarity and unity among residents, and to show support for those who may feel marginalized. Residents have gathered on the City Hall steps and elsewhere by the hundreds for Blacks victimized nationally by police, for harmony between Christians and Muslims, for immigration reform for Latinos, for stopping gun violence, and more.

Just as at those other gatherings, Mayor Jim Lienhoop reminded the audience that diversity will continue to be upheld and honored in Columbus.

“We know that when these kind of events happen, all of us feel less safe,” Lienhoop said.

He had just attended the local Asian community’s Lunar New Year celebration on Saturday that attracted about 200 people, and in previous years, many more than that.

“The city of Columbus stands with the Asian community and all who feel threatened by violent acts,” Lienhoop said.

Elaine Hilber, a Columbus City Council member who is Asian, reminded people that one way of building solidarity among ethnic groups is by attending one another’s programs, meetings and events. She even encouraged those in attendance to join and support the Columbus/Bartholomew County Area Branch of the NAACP.

“We need to do a better job overall of supporting one another,” Hilber said.

Some people in the crowd allowed signs to speak for them. One young mother and her children carried a sign reading “Live Together.” Local resident Julieta Waggoner made one with cutout letters reading “Stop Asian Hate.” The letters for the word Asian were in different colors to represent diversity.

Those attending included members of both the Columbus Police Department and the Bartholomew County Sheriff’s office, nonprofit leaders, city council representatives beyond Hilber, church members and more.

Bishop Johnnie Edwards, the local NAACP president, reminded people that “we’re still battling evil. But as I look around the room, I have a clearer understanding that our voices are louder than theirs (of hate).”

Lt. Matt Harris of the Columbus Police Department acknowledged differences of ethnic groups, but reminded listeners that “we have far more and much more in common.”

Moreover, Srikanth Padmanabhan, a Cummins Inc. vice president, said he is grateful to live in “a very, very special city where diversity is seen as a strength.”