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Top 10: Hudson hosts first ever "Longer Table"

Bob Kobylarczyk, who is in his 70s and said he has lived in Hudson for 45 years, said he wants to know his neighbors better. Here he peruses food selections at Hudson's Longer Table event Sunday, Aug. 5. Jackie Renzetti / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 2
Darla Meyers handed out brochures calling for Christians to speak out against Islam near Lakefront Park Sunday, Aug. 5, and white roses, which she said were a reference to the White Rose resistance in Nazi Germany. Jackie Renzetti / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 2

Editor's note: This story is part of a series looking back at some of the biggest stories of 2018. Find the rest of the series here: Top Ten 2018.

In August, the Hudson Inclusion Alliance hosted the city's first "Longer Table" event.

With picnic tables lined up spanning 160 feet, about 350 people turned out for the potluck-style meal at Lakefront Park.

"We want to punctuate Hudson with a very welcoming event," said HIA co-leader Tony Bol at the time. "It is a scrappy concept with good intentions."

The event was part of the Hudson Inclusion Alliance's ongoing efforts to promote inclusion in the area. "Longer Table" parties have been held in cities across the country since Tallahassee, Florida hosted the first one in 2015. Experts in civil discourse told the Hudson Star-Observer events like this one, which encourages focusing on similarities between neighbors, can go a long way towards unifying a city.

Bol says his group focuses on finding ways to proactively support diversity in Hudson. The HIA holds meetings about once a month and also meets individually to discuss inclusion with local organizations and businesses, he said.

"We want to say it's safe to explore inclusion," Bol said in a previous Hudson Star-Observer story. "That's what we believe the solution looks like — to say, let us all keep talking."

This work is necessary, Bol has said, in part because of anti-Muslim actions from a group called the Citizens for the St. Croix Valley, which was added to the Southern Poverty Law Center's list of hate groups in 2018. The SPLC is most famously credited with lawsuits that shut down the Ku Klux Klan and continues to track intolerance in the country. The group's anti-Muslim conspiracy theories, spread during public comment at Common Council meetings, in letters to the newspaper, and on social media — as well as the group's events featuring anti-Muslim speakers — prompted the SPLC to add it to its hate map, a spokesperson for the center told the Hudson Star-Observer at the time.

After the Hudson Star-Observer reported a story in May 2018 on the city's social climate — which included the SPLC classification — representatives from the Citizens for the St. Croix Valley spoke at multiple Common Council meetings during public comment to denounce the SPLC's credibility and maintain they are not a hate group. They also passed out pamphlets to area businesses further detailing why they should not be called a hate group, including more anti-Muslim language.

Aside from concerns over the Citizens for the St. Croix Valley, several residents told the Hudson Star-Observer they believed the town needed to address what they saw as a decadeslong pattern of intolerance. The May 2018 story includes specific anecdotes, including one from a Hudson High School student who says she and her friends, including girls who are Muslim and Mexican, were harassed by boys at a school football game, who chanted "build that wall" and threw garbage in their direction.

Bol has said that he thinks most people in Hudson support diversity but that more proactiveness is needed to ensure that negative actions like these don't define the area.

In 2019, HIA plans to continue hosting events, including a second "Longer Table" and a possible civil discourse workshop.

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