Throughout her life, Caryn Sobel has sought to fight against injustice. The Newburgh resident is now making that life goal a reality with a local #NoHateHere movement, which she started in November 2018.
“People want to make their mark in the world,” she said. “This is a great way to make a difference.” The massacre in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and the violence that broke out in August of 2017 during a white supremacist riot in Charlottesville, VA, inspired Sobel to stop talking about injustice and take action. “What good is talking when there’s no end result in mind,” she says. “I got the idea to get to know our neighbors and bring them together by organizing the community and reaching out to people around Newburgh.”
The name for the movement started out as she and her friends came up with an idea for a hashtag for social media. #NoHateHere was already being used by different people to create social media accounts, but Sobel was and still is determined to make it unique to the City of Newburgh and its environs. “People were using it, but I sort of commandeered it,” she says. “For Instagram, I have used #NoHateHere_Newburgh.”
Being a board member of the Newburgh Jewish Community Center (JCC), Sobel knew exactly where to start. “It was a nice spot to start with the Jewish community and build bigger,” she says. “But I was careful to let people know, when starting, that this is a movement for everybody. I tried to reach out to everyone in the community.”
She has noticed racism firsthand as a resident of the Hudson Valley. “I remember when I was a kid, there was a KKK rally nearby, and I had nightmares they were going to come get me,” she says. “There are parts of the Hudson Valley that are racist, and I never really understood why.”
As a student at Horizons on the Hudson Elementary School in Newburgh, she noticed bullying toward her and others, which she was quick to stand up to: “When I was a kid, I was a little bit bullied, so it was always easier to stand up for others than myself.”
Fast-forward to today, and Sobel continues to experience hateful incidents as a supervisor in a local Starbucks. From customers calling out teenage baristas for messing up their order simply because they are teenagers to a frequent customer who displays behavior of a white supremacist, Sobel has had her fair share of uncomfortable encounters that have prepared her to become an activist for social change.
Thus far, according to Sobel the reaction to the #NoHateHere movement has been strongly positive: “I think for the most part, people have been supportive and are looking forward to what’s coming next. People are eager to get involved.”
Sobel is determined to promote the message of getting past the differences we all share. “Just because someone supports someone you don’t like doesn’t mean they’re inherently wrong,” she says. “I’m a strong feminist, and one of my good friends is a strong conservative. She’s awesome, even though we disagree on certain things. We need to stop seeing people in black-and-white terms and start seeing the gray area, and with these gatherings, which can open up people’s minds, we can let people know that there is common ground.”
The movement comes at a time when social media is being used by many to galvanize social movements. From #MeToo to #LivingWhileBlack, posts and videos have been used nationwide to address social concerns to the masses.
Sobel understands the need to post incidents of discrimination on social media, but she wonders why the people taking videos and posting them do not stand up for the targets of discrimination themselves. “I think publicizing what’s going on is a good thing, but I also think standing up for what’s going on is a good thing,” she says. “I don’t know if they’re trying to get attention or if they’re actually trying to fix things.”
#NoHateHere hosted its first forum at the Newburgh JCC in December, which created a rousing conversation on different forms of discrimination. More than 60 supporters attended the forum. “People were being very open about the experiences they had,” she says.
Sobel envisions a bright future of spreading #NoHateHere’s anti-hate message across the country. “I’d like to expand to the Hudson Valley, then maybe all of New York, and maybe go national,” she says. “If there’s enough interest here in forming groups standing up to hate, there has to be interest elsewhere.” Organizers are currently planning another forum to be held in the near future. More information can be found at NoHateHereNbg on Facebook.