As an official of the Custer Fair, I feel the need to clearly state our position now that the fair and the boycotts are over.
Security at the fair is a priority. We hire Evanston Police and Fire for this purpose. Their pay comes from the fair. Money received for payment of booth space largely goes to pay staff for the fair, of which police are a part. When we came to the City to request the services of the police again, we were told that we would need to barricade the entrances.
This is because there have been many incidents worldwide of people driving cars into crowds.
We were presented with two options to barricade the gates. The first one was enormous physical blockades at a cost of $1 million; the second was the vehicles, at a lower cost. Of course we opted for the vehicles, as they were less expensive and could be easily moved to allow vendors and residents in and out.
We were informed that a Mobile Command Center would be one of the vehicles, as there have also been instances of dramatic weather shifts endangering fairs. Strong winds can fast turn tents into flying poles, and microbursts are a possibility.
The van has the ability to see a microburst coming, so we would be able to get vendors to lower their tents, and advise fairgoers to seek safety in any one of the safe locations we have throughout the area. We thought this was fine.
We had no idea the command center would have DHS [Department of Homeland Security] slathered on the side. The claim that Custer Fair chose the DHS van is an inflammatory half-truth.
I fielded the first angry Facebook message at around noon on Saturday. And they kept coming. The notices of the boycott was soul-crushing. I was unaware of the protest being arranged on “Intersectionally Evanston” and “Evanston Mamas,” as I am not a member of those groups and I was busy with the Fair. I was sent screenshots by a friend of mine (who is a member) on Saturday evening.
Let me address some of the concerns I saw on social media:
We were not checking papers. Why would we check papers? This makes no sense. Custer Fair welcomes everyone, as evidenced by the incredible array of nationalities represented by our craft and food vendors. This past weekend, I walked the Fountain Square Art Fair briefly and saw a predominantly White vendors and a White clientele. I also went to the Farmer's Market and saw the same thing.
The van was manned by the Evanston Police Department and the Evanston Fire Department. I do not know who was claiming it was unmanned. The van was manned by people watching the weather. Anyone questioning this was welcome to take a tour.
Most people declined a tour.
ICE was not present. Clearly.
We were not surveilling guests. If the government wishes to surveil people, it will not use a big obvious van at the end of the block.
Frankly, most of what I read was inflammatory, written to provoke a negative response, and there was no way I could have responded in such a way as to allay anyone’s alleged concerns. I chose not to respond in those forums.
The boycott hurt the fair badly, financially. It hurt us, it hurt our vendors. It will hurt for a long time to come. I don’t know how else to say it, but this was an incredibly misguided and wrong-headed effort. The boycott was intended to stand for immigrants, saying it was harmful to immigrants, yet our fair vendors, both food and craft, are comprised largely of immigrants. They suffered financially. The boycott hurt the very people it was intended to help.
Since the fair, I have reached out to some of the women responsible for the worst of the damage, requesting an in-person meeting. None of them have replied. My invitation stands, and will always stand.
Custer Fair is simply a fundraiser for Piccolo Theatre. It is not, and has never been, a racist organization that seeks to help the government deport people. That claim is patently absurd on its face, and I would hope that Evanston Neighbors would remember Piccolo as a theater that produced comedies for everyone and held theater camps for their children.
Ms. Hudson is the Assistant Director of Custer Fair.