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Our Opinion: Saturday marches offer a chance to show what Lake Oswego really stands for

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State Rep. Ann Lininger, former City Councilor Jon Gustafson and dozens of others — from Lake Oswego and beyond — have taken to social media in recent days to make sure the world understands that Kevin "The Geek" Kerwin does not speak for most of us who live here.

And now, even his fellow conservatives have backed away.

Kerwin was one of the original organizers of a "March 4 Trump" event that is scheduled to start in George Rogers Park at noon on Saturday and parade down State Street to A Avenue. And to their credit, Lininger and others have supported his right to march.

"The First Amendment matters now more than ever," Lininger says.

But Kerwin is best known not for his defense of free speech, but for the provocative signs he has plastered across the windows of his downtown computer repair shop, and for messages of hate and intolerance that he has posted to the internet.

Kerwin has used vulgar terms on Facebook and Twitter for women, and the "n word" to refer to African Americans. He has targeted Muslims with vile language and images of a burning Quran. In one of his more infamous Facebook posts, Kerwin wondered why no one has created a video game "where you shoot liberals in the streets."

He recently garnered national attention for window signs that said "ignorant liberals" — and musician Bruce Springsteen, for crying out loud — belong to a "party of complete morons" who should go "straight to Hell where you belong."

"We've had it with you idiots," Kerwin wrote for all to see.

Until Monday, he was asking us to believe that the march he was helping to organize would be "a friendly walk down the sidewalks" to show support for President Donald Trump. But given Kerwin's penchant for bigotry, misogyny and xenophobia — and his boasts to The Review, joking or not, that a "biker gang from Hood River" had offered to provide security for his march — it was hard even for his fellow organizers to believe that his goal was to foster an atmosphere of civil political dialogue.

Instead, the whole thing smacked of confrontation and intimidation, and on Monday, march organizers and Kerwin parted ways.

"This March 4 Trump event is NOT about Kevin Kerwin and his agenda regarding liberals," organizer Carol Pressnall Leek says. "This event is certainly not about hate for anyone or anything. This event is all about a group of people meeting up and marching in support of our fairly elected president. It's a place for us to come together, hear from our local officials, and to march in peace."

That's a good thing.

You see, we agree with Lininger when she describes Lake Oswego as "a politically mixed community of tolerant, thoughtful people." That includes Republicans and Democrats, conservatives as well as liberals. And it includes a willingness by this city's residents to accept the right of all Americans to express their political views by joining a Women's March through downtown Portland or a March 4 Trump in downtown Lake Oswego.

Let's be honest here. Not all Trump supporters are misogynists, racists and bigots. There are millions of hard-working, intelligent Americans who simply believe they have been ignored by a corrupted political system that seems to care more about party than it does about people. They look back over the past eight years and feel that they have been left behind by a gridlocked government and a global economy that has put the American Dream out of the reach of a shrinking middle class, if not destroyed it completely.

Donald Trump tapped into that dissatisfaction. He promised to fight "with every breath in my body" for an "America First" philosophy that will bring jobs back to this country and improve the lives of people not only in rural America, but in its inner cities as well.

There's nothing wrong with parading through the streets to show support for that, which is why we fully support the rights of a national March 4 Trump group to organize a gathering on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and to serve as a clearinghouse for more than two dozen local marches in cities across the country.

But we cannot express the same support for Kerwin, whose anger and rage might have tainted what could now turn out to be a positive statement of legitimate political beliefs. He absolutely does not speak for the residents of Lake Oswego who support Donald Trump, or for the groups that are planning alternative gatherings on Saturday to make sure their voices are heard, too.

Oregon Students Empowered, Independents for Progressive Action and the Direct Action Alliance all promise a "Rainbow Parade" that will walk alongside the March 4 Trump. "We're not there to yell at them or do anything," Alliance member Jacob Bureros told The Review's Anthony Macuk. "They're there to support what they believe in, and we're going to support what we believe in, and we're going to show up in greater numbers."

The groups are also planning to gather from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. in Millennium Plaza Park for "Stand for LOve," a family-friendly event that will include information tables, music, face painting and a host of speakers. Bureros, Lininger and Gustafson will be there; so will Milwaukie Mayor Mark Gamba and Clackamas County Commissioners Martha Schrader and Sonya Fischer.

Alison Renz, a co-founder of Women in Action Northwest, says her group will be there, too. So will a locally organized event that's being billed as a "Lake Oswego LOve-In."

"Our mission is not to meet hate with hate," Renz says, "but to meet hate with love."

Those may not be words that resonate with Kevin Kerwin. But they speak directly to the heart of Lake Oswego and what it means to be a member of this community.

And it's the message we hope the rest of the world hears on Saturday.

— Gary M. Stein