Monday evening Sept. 25th, at The Little Fleet, Betsy Coffia, event organizer and former resident of the village of Kalkaska, introduced Kalkaska for Peace organizers, Elizabeth Dunham and Ben Zack.
Betsy: What was your reaction when the President of the Kalkaska Village when he essentially called for the genocide of all Muslims?
Elizabeth: Well, I was a student at Michigan State paying a visit to my family in Kalkaska, where I was raised, when the incident happened. My response was “what could we do to make Kalkaska a more supportive community instead of a joke.” We decided on a three-part strategy:
Political Engagement – things like this happen when you have low-level political
engagement. We saw a need to support people to get involved.
Diversity Education – People uninformed about Muslims and other religious groups
Circulate a petition to recall the village president.
Ben: I am an educator in Grayling. I got involved after seeing the village president’s posts on social media. I wanted to know if anyone else thought that was not right. At first, I was discouraged, but found people in Kalkaska for Peace who were making this an issue. Who felt you cannot just say anything you want and not expect pushback.
Betsy: Did it start with Facebook groups?
Ben: After the “No Hate in Kalkaska” event, we started to organize from that springboard.
Betsy: From that event you went to being more organized. Tell us a little bit about your application for 501c4 status.
Elizabeth: By applying for the 501c4 status as a non-profit organization, we can be political and donations are deductible.
Betsy: Can you tell us about the event you held recently?
Ben: We organized a Roundtable Discussion after our presentation on Faith Diversity. It was organized around the idea that bigotry arises out of ignorance. One woman who participated said she did not know that not all Muslims want to kill Americans. I felt that if we just changed one person’s perspective, it was worth the whole event!
Elizabeth: We had a dedicated team of volunteers. The roundtable was moderated by Steve Spreitzer of the Michigan Roundtable for Inclusion and Diversity. The panel consisted of a panel of religious and philosophical leaders: an Evangelical, a Catholic, a Muslim, a Jew, a Humanist. and a Native American who joined us as well. Panelists included Father Norm Dickson of St. Mary’s of the Woods, Minister Andy Bratton of the Kalkaska Church of Christ, Scott Blair of the Grand Traverse Humanists, Cecilia LaPointe of Red Circle Consulting, Pam Ovshinsky of the Petoskey Temple B’nai Israel, and Tim Attalla, former Michigan Civil Rights Commission Appointee. We received feedback that attendees wanted to hear more from them as they only had ten minutes apiece to speak. Afterwards we broke up into the round tables for discussion. About 100 people attended. We realized that after 9/11 local communities only hear what they are told. We felt we had great support from the community.
Betsy: As an organizer I know how much work is involved. Could you talk about the volunteers and what is involved in getting a recall election to happen?
Ben: Several volunteers began by going around knocking on doors asking if people would support
a recall. They were surprised to find a lot of support for holding this person accountable. It will be great if the community comes together and says, “you do not represent our community.”
Betsy: I have heard people describe this person as a bully. Northern Michigan is our home and Kalkaska is our neighbor. What can we do to help?
Ben: Someone said this is what happens when you close you schools. We need support:
The easiest thing is to keep the conversation relevant. Some people want it to just go away. Like us on Facebook.
Send us relevant articles on the subject.
As we move into the recall, volunteers will be needed to go door-to-door for petition circulation.
Financial support for a bullying program, a documentary on the Native American experience, and more seminars on faith diversity.
Donate to the Village of Kalkaska to defray the costs of a special election.
Betsy: I will help with training people to would like to run for office.
P.O. Box 1259
Kalkaska, MI 49646