Students angered by actions at The Pickle

Story by Briana Gruenewald

A small group of students who call themselves Students Against Discrimination and Hate Speech set up a table on the Campus Mall Wednesday and today to raise awareness about recent discrimination at the local establishment, 341 Water St.

Seniors Daven Raj, Bryna Rabehl and Allie Shilling first banded together last spring following an incident at the bar’s annual Pickle Fest. According to Rabehl, the bar owner stood on the DJ stand and uttered pro-American and anti-Muslim chants.

“The first time it happened, I was enraged,” Raj said.

The effort to act on the issue fizzled down during the end of the semester, but was brought back to the surface this summer. The bar owner, Jed Hart, began a campaign called “Save an American, Kill a Terrorist.”

Raj said Rabehl contacted him and informed him about the campaign, as he was doing a summer program in Boston.

Raj said he thought the campaign was crazy and was interested in starting up the Students Against Discrimination and Hate Speech initiative again this fall. The campaign “gives us something to go off of from last spring,” he said.

Jed Hart, owner of The Pickle, said he doesn’t know how this issue escalated to him being against Muslims specifically. He said he chanted “F*** terrorists” at the spring 2010 Pickle Fest because that is what his stance is.

“Over the years I’m sick of having terrorists being treated like you or I would,” Hart said. “I denounce terrorism every time I hear about it.”

He also said he does not know what the Students Against Discrimination and Hate Speech are exactly about, but he encourages the students to talk to him directly.

“I wish they would come talk to me because I’m sure we can agree on some things,” he said. “Once they educate me to what they’re doing, I’ll educate them to what I’m doing.” He said that might allow everyone to realize a common ground.

So far this semester Raj, Rabehl and Shilling have met with the Office of Multicultural Affairs, Center for Alcohol Studies and Education, and Affirmative Action to learn how they can bring this issue to the forefront of students’ concerns. They also contacted several organizations who they thought would be interested in joining the effort.

Currently, the Students Against Discrimination and Hate Speech is made up of about twelve students who meet weekly to discuss plans of action regarding the issue.

Emelia Tan Gim Seet is the International Student Association representative for the Students Against Discrimination and Hate Speech. She said this is a significant issue because of the large amount of Muslim students that are on campus.

“I know a lot of people who are (Muslim) and they are nice people and are human as well,” she said. “I feel that it is not fair to them that the owner of The Pickle is coming up with campaigns to promote his idea.”

The Pickle, which was established in 2006, attracts many UW-Eau Claire students and organizations, such as the American Marketing Association.

Senior Brianna Welle is a member of the organization. She said Hart has been very generous with giving donations to AMA and expecting nothing in return.

Welle is aware of the campaign, referring to it as “awkward and rude.”

She is not personally supportive of the campaign and said it is not something AMA as a whole has discussed but that they “probably should.”

Senior Jessica Swenson goes to The Pickle regularly, frequenting the bar about once every other weekend. She said the atmosphere and the events, like Pickle Fest and Pickle Palooza, are why she continues to go to the bar.

Swenson said she doesn’t know much about the recent campaign as she has only heard about it through word of mouth, but said it won’t necessarily stop her from going there.

“Everyone has their own way of expressing patriotism,” she said. “Some are just more extreme and out in the open than others.”

Raj said the way the campaign is going about expressing patriotism is instilling fear in students and community members and action must be taken against it.

He said the purpose of the table on campus this week is simply to raise awareness of the issue and to gather testimonials from students about specific instances of discrimination at the bar. They also hope to recruit students who are interested in organizing a march from the Campus Mall to protest outside The Pickle.

“Our long-term goal for this initiative is to have students and community members of any age, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, et cetera feel safe in and around the community,” Shilling said.