Fishtown moms inspired by OITNB transform playground swastika

“It seems like the country is at a turning point. We’re trying to help.”

Beth Huxta

It was in a playground. That was the worst thing.

Fishtown resident Beth Huxta had heard about hateful graffiti showing up around Philly in the wake of Trump’s win, but what made this swastika especially horrifying was that it was painted on a bench right where her 2.5-year-old son played. Where dozens of other kids laughed and ran and jumped and skipped.

Many others in the community felt that way, too.

Within an hour and a half after a photo of the Nazi symbol was posted in the 1,000-plus-member Fishtown Mamas Facebook group last Friday afternoon, the swastika was gone — painted over. Some group members had armed themselves with steel wool and spray paint and headed to Shissler Recreation Center to refresh the bench, but an anonymous sympathizer had already taken care of it.

Courtesy of Beth Huxta

Huxta was relieved, but still shaken. She wanted to do something more.

In a group text about the issue, Huxta’s friend Lauren Kogen mentioned the “Orange is the New Black” episode where Red retrofits Piper’s swastika brand. Inspired, Huxta returned to Facebook and put up a new post.

“A swastika can be turned into a window!” she wrote. “The next time I’m [at Shissler], I’m taking my son’s chalk and we are drawing this. A window. On the bench, on the ground. Join me? When the person walks through who drew the swastika, they’ll see our love and that their hate is gone.”

Her call to action rang loud and true. On Saturday morning, after a fitful night of sleep, Huxta and her husband Greg Conant grabbed a huge bag of chalk and arrived at the playground around 8:45 a.m. They drew one window on the bench itself, right where the swastika had been, and then started drawing as many windows as possible on the ground, radiating out from the bench like beams of light.

“Dude, it’s like abstract art!” said a teenager as he walked by.

A handful of other families at the playground began pitching in — little kids doing their best to get the shape of the windows correct — and around 10 a.m. others from the Fishtown Mamas group showed up with more chalk to replace the dwindling supplies. One mom, Jenn Nicholas, came up with the hashtag #letthelightin2016, and word of the project began to slowly spread across social media.

“How many windows are you drawing?” one seven-year-old wanted to know, as he tried and failed to count the profusion of squares that by now covered almost the entire center of the playground.

“As many as possible,” Huxta replied.

Huxta notes that people who come upon hateful graffiti can report it to the Philadelphia Anti-Defamation League, ideally after first photographing the instance. It’s a good idea to also alert Philly 311, so the city can take action to remove it.

Though the Shissler art installation was temporary, since it was in chalk, Huxta hopes the hashtag will continue to proliferate.

“It has become very meaningful to me,” Huxta says. “It’s a message to everyone who feels helpless, lost, scared, angry, sad or defeated.

“It’s also a message to the people who are committing these hateful acts. I hope the person who painted the swastika walks by these hundreds of windows and sees how we came together peacefully against their hate.

“It seems like the country is at a turning point. We’re trying to help.”

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