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Charlottesville Protest

August 14, 2017

Last Saturday the worst fears of the people of Charlottesville, Virginia came true: the white supremacist protest and counter protest near the Robert E. Lee statue clashed violently, eventually leading to the death of a young woman, the helicopter crash and death of two state troopers, and serious injuries to many others.

The blame for this tragic result lies principally at the feet of the white supremacist groups that came to Charlottesville proclaiming racism and armed for violence.

But I have to question the wisdom of those who organized the counter protest. I’m sure they did not want violence to erupt, and I assume they took various precautions and measures to try to avoid it. But responding to an armed and angry group with another angry group (at least some of whom were armed with pepper spray), and getting in each other’s faces and yelling at each other, was a recipe for disaster. Responding to fear and anger with fear and anger causes those emotions to escalate; it simply hardens the divide and feeds the hostility, strengthening the hate on both sides.

A better plan, as one person suggested to me yesterday, would have been for the counter demonstration to have been scheduled for the following week. Ignore the white supremacists while they’re in town. Don’t feed their protests with additional attention and emotion. After they’re gone, hold another protest–one filled with a commitment to inclusiveness and equal justice and peacemaking. Surely such a demonstration would have been much larger and more effective than the one sponsored by the white supremacists; and no one would have been hurt.

I read in the local paper this morning that a Southern heritage group has requested a permit for a rally next month at the gigantic Robert E. Lee statue in Richmond. Let’s learn from the tragedy in Charlottesville and respond in a wiser fashion.

On the other hand, the white supremacist who used his car as a deadly weapon last Saturday probably did more to further the removal of Confederate statues than any counter demonstrations could have accomplished. Now Confederate statues will be linked in the popular mind with white supremacist-instigated murder. The public will not tolerate the veneration of statues that feed such behavior.

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”


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  1. Ferne permalink

    I pray we will find a way to peacefully bring the message of tolerance, compassion, and love in the months to come. Jesus said, “Pray for your enemies”; hard to do that at many times. Peace be with us.

  2. I appreciate your thoughtful response. While I understand the desire to not escalate a sitiation, I don’t think ignoring white supremacist protests is the answer. They’ve been ignored for too long and seem to grow in the shadows like mold. A timely counter-protest brought attention to the hate and racism of the white supremacists.

    Having said that, I don’t believe for a moment that exposing their hatred, was worth the lives of three people.

    • Thanks for this comment. I agree that a timely counter-protest is in order, but probably not at the same time and place. Ideally, I favor neither ignoring nor angrily confronting white supremacists. I favor dialogue. Their hostility is based on anger, which is based on fear, which is based on ignorance and feeling left out. More of us need to pursue real dialogue with them–listening, sharing, relieving fear, and allowing for gradual transformation. This has been done successfully many times. Most white supremacists are not evil or filled with hatred. They are ordinary human beings motivated by the same emotions we all have. Learning and transformation is possible.

      • I both agree and disagree. Perhaps the dialogue is possible for people like you. In fact, that may be part of the role progressive white people need to play. However, people who are white supremacists don’t generally listen to black and brown people. They are threatened by us, and willing to violently oppose us at times. So not only are attempts at dialogue not effective, but they are dangerous.

        Dialogue has a role to play, but it can’t be the only way forward. I don’t have time for gradual transformation when my life and humanity are at risk. We must keep the urgency of these situations in mind. Time is a privilege. As is space for dialogue. What action would you suggest for those without such privileges?

  3. White supremacists potentially listen best to brown and black people. I was recently inspired by the documentary “Accidental Courtesy” which shows Daryl Davis, an African-American, dialoguing and transforming KKK leaders. We may not have time for gradual transformation, but there is no alternative (except us coercively imposing “correct” behavior on others). Prejudice and racism can’t be banned through laws; they can only be unlearned through gradual processes and new relationships. Peaceful rallies are part of that process. Regardless of what we think about dialogue, my point about demonstrations/rallies/protests is that they are counter productive if they are displaying our own brand of hatred and violence in the process of opposing hatred and violence, and hardening the positions of the opposition.

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