The evening of the Women’s March in D.C., I felt one of the greatest senses of pride I’ve felt in all my life. Sitting at the Union Pub, behind the Capital, with hundreds of women turned towards the TV screens, watching as the news broke of the marches all over the world. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room. We had made a powerful statement that would not soon be forgotten. Since moving to Virginia, I’ve been involved with many protests. For Climate, for Black Lives, for Refugees and Immigrants, for Native Americans, and each and every time I left feeling united, feeling stronger, feeling full and whole. Because people seeking higher ground is always beautiful and inspiring. It is a work that gives my life great meaning and joy. And yet, I didn’t feel these things yesterday leaving the protest against the KKK in Charlottesville. Instead I felt confused, even a bit dirty. I didn’t feel that same buzz I’ve grown so accustomed to feeling when standing up for people and causes I believe in.
On Saturday July 8th, the Ku Klux Klan had requested a permit to gather and protest the removal of monuments commemorating soldiers of the Confederacy. When word reached the citizens, various forms of resistance were planned; including various unity concerts around the Downtown Mall just two blocks away. Over a thousand people were expected to protest at the monument where the Klan would hold their rally.
I arrived before the crowds to a group of about thirty people carrying banners and wearing t-shirts with messages like “Black Lives Matter.” There was one couple holding confederate flags claiming they stood against the KKK but for the monuments. “They’re history and shouldn’t be removed. And what’s with this “Black Lives Matter?” We think ALL lives matter.” A few organizers from Black Lives Matter pushed through those yelling “Racist Go Home” and flipping the bird to calmly and politely explain what they mean when they say what has become the catchphrase of this resistance. As the group at the monument grew they began marching in circles with a large banner chanting messages of solidarity and struggle for black citizens. Reading off the names of people in Virginia who had been killed by police officers. Two bullhorn evangelist with banners asking “Where will you go when you die?” arrived and made the event all about them for a while. They were met with loud drums and dancers ignoring and laughing away their every word.
Silly analogy or not, what followed was much like the battle scene from Gangs of New York (better known by its parody in Anchorman.) From around the corners of nearby blocks hundreds from other groups marched to the monument. A group of clergy led their congregations singing songs from the Civil Rights Era. People of Faith-Jew, Muslim, Christian-marched hand and hand setting the example for the entire crowd of a peaceful protest.
For a bit over an hour the crowd sat and wondered if the Klan would even show up. Would we see these men in white robes and pointy hats? That was until police officers in riot gear arrived and made a pathway. A group of twenty or so people stood in front of the entrance locked arm and arm refusing to move to allow entry into the park. Each of them were arrested and carried away. Which indeed puts a bit of a foul taste in my mouth. As bands and chants grew louder and louder off in the distance you saw the middle fingers and cameras go up. And soon after the pointy white head-wear. Men and women marched by with Nazi salutes, vulgar name calling, confederate flags, and posters with Bible verses claiming that Jews are the children of Satan. (They couldn’t spell Bible btw.) All in all the 100 klansmen turned out to be just 40. Their arrival was much like that of the rival team at a college football game. And whatever words the Klan wished to shout were unheard over the countless boos and “Black Lives they matter here!” chants. They got to sit in a cage protected by law enforcement and wave their flags and showboat the fact that they still exist. Whatever statements they attempted to achieve obviously failed. Nobody but the press spoke to them. (And shame on the press for that.) No arguments from protesters were heard. Just the loud voice of support for black lives and the loud slurs of hatred towards the Klan. The leader of Black Lives Matter asked the officers if he could go and speak to them. He brought literature about what BLM was about and wanted to truly share way for a truce. Even attempting to get the crowd to help because “Yelling at them isn’t building any bridges. It’s changing nothing!” He wanted to offer love and to be a voice for change. But the officers didn’t let him or anyone through. There was no interaction between the groups other than their entry and exit. It was boos and showmanship.
They were there for maybe 45 minutes. And as they left I began to feel that sickness. I looked into their eyes. I saw deep sadness and brokenness in so many of them. And well…that should be obvious. Which is why I so desire to show them something so unfamiliar to their constant way of life. LOVE. They know hate. Feed off hate. Receive what they give out. And there’s a part of me thinks “that’s what they get.” But I believe in truths greater than my own desires. On so so many of the signs were words about love and unity. Lin Manuel-Miranda’s famous speech (a go to for progressives) “Love is love is love is love!” was on many of the signs. But allow me to point out the obvious opposite. Hate is hate is hate is hate! And the people who spit, cursed, blamed the cops, yelled “good cops resign” made the whole event sour. It felt like the message of unity, of joy, and song was drowned out by so many people who understandably have had it up to here with racism and injustice. I drove home that night believing Charlottesville made a clear statement about protecting their image and their citizens who are targeted by this kind of hatred. And that can be celebrated. Thousands of people showed up to speak out against racism and terrorism and this is such a beautiful thing. There was humor, there was joy, and song, there was love indeed present throughout the crowds. But we need that in more people. In more groups. In more hearts. Young Progressives need to capture this more than just about any other group. You’re not being heard when you insult the insulter. Your enlightenment is not taking root when you curse another’s ignorance. Learn how to communicate your thoughts without screaming and being so emotionally unwound.
Those who simply talked to the couple carrying the confederate flag actually got to express their ideas and challenge the self-titled “rednecks.” They got to explain that Black Lives Matter is not to say that other lives don’t. Rather that “All Lives Matter” isn’t true until black lives do. I believe they actually moved people forward by challenging weak ideas and views. But those of you who got in their face with your middle finger cursing them out just elevated their anger and hatred and sense of their being left-behind and ignored by the rest of culture. And yes such ideas should be left-behind but the people who hold them can’t be ignored. It’s this isolation that creates radicals and terrorists. ISIS and Klans. The more you blindly curse groups without dialogue the more detached they become. And they retreat to the groups that will welcome them. Which often are groups that take hold of how you made them feel. What greater fuel for a group like ISIS than the way many of our nations politicians and media talk about Muslims.
“They don’t want to understand you.They hate your culture. They want to silence you. But we’ll fight them. We’ll stand for your values and heritage.”
What hurt this more is that many of those who did this were gay and trans-people who should deeply understand that sense of abandonment. Can you see that in your enemy and can you find that common ground? Are we capable of this? Surely we don’t want to do it, but can we see why it’s the higher road? The healthier road? It actually saves our hearts from becoming the very thing that has tormented us for so many years. When we see our wounds in even our enemies. That my friend is salvation. It’s the healing grace of “me too.”
I understand those who believe that people in the Klan are incapable of change or of finding love for those they’ve spent a lifetime hating. But I suppose I’m just more hopeful than that. And I have to be. I have to believe your signs. I have to believe that love wins.
May we take that higher ground. May we not let hatred from another produce hatred in our hearts. May we stand for rather than stand against. And debate the worthiness of our ideas without infringing the worth of any person.
Even a person in the Ku Klux Klan.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love wins.-1 Corinthians 13