Grassroots Group Readies Campaign to Counter Anti-Muslim Subway Ads

One New Yorker calls on his neighbors to talk back to hate.

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There’s a new voice in the controversy over anti-Muslim ads in New York City subway stations, and it sends a loud message.

Talk Back to Hate aims to bring New Yorkers together to respond to the American Freedom Defense Initiative–sponsored ads, which are currently next to the clocks in 39 subway stations and feature images of the World Trade Center’s twin towers burning, overlaid by a quote attributed to the Koran.

When Akiva Freidlin, 30, saw the first round of AFDI ads in September, he wasn’t sure what to do. The shocking ads, which likened Muslims to savages, upset many New Yorkers. When he heard that the group and its executive director, Pamela Geller, planned a new crop spanning many more stations, he thought, Hey, anyone can buy an ad.

(MORE: Anti-Muslim Ads Return to NYC Subways)

He started a Talk Back to Hate account on Twitter, a Facebook page and a campaign through Indiegogo, an online funding platform similar to Kickstarter, to raise $7,500 — enough money to buy ads in 10 subway stations. The campaign, which went live Jan. 8, needs $1,440 to reach their initial goal and tell New Yorkers, “Don’t let hate get the last word.” After that, Freidlin hopes to raise additional funds to put up more ads.

“It seems like these ads in particular, by preying on people’s grief and anger over 9/11 and really attacking a particular religious group, just really violate some of the basic communal norms in New York City,” Freidlin told TIME. “Though we’ve certainly had our history of conflicts, people do generally try to get along with one another.”

Freidlin has lived in New York City for eight years. Before, he lived with his Conservative Jewish family in small towns where, he says, he got used to being in the minority. He says he loves New York City because “this is a place for everyone and anyone.” New Yorkers, or anyone else, shouldn’t promote hate and fear of a select few, especially in the hallowed, subterranean halls of the subway.

“I love that it’s a place where people interact,” Freidlin says. “Though sometimes those people are crazy people that you’re interacting with.”

MORE: Controversy Escalates over Anti-Islam Metro Ads