We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. -– Elie Wiesel
In the closing days of the summer of 2017, a group of khaki-clad neo-Nazis and KKK members marched through the historic campus of the University of Virginia. Wielding tiki torches and an assortment of weapons, the transgressors terrorized the small number of students and professors who were on Grounds during the summer break. Alumni watched in horror on television as our beloved University was vandalized in name and in spirit. On the following day, interactions between the marchers and groups of counter-protestors turned violent. Thirty-two-year-old Charlottesville resident Heather Heyer was killed when a car plowed into a crowd. President Trump jettisoned every fiber of moral leadership by declaring that there were “very fine people, on both sides.”
You had some very bad people in that group. But you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides. –President Donald Trump
One year to the day of the disastrous “Alt-right” march through Charlottesville, Jason Kessler and his band of racists brought their hate tour to Washington, DC., Kessler did not have the element of surprise on his side this time. Tens of thousands of counter-protestors from all walks of life were ready and waiting in Washington for the #UniteTheRight2 march. People from every age group and various organizations gathered at Freedom Plaza and in front of Lafayette Park to stage a united front against bigotry. Organizing entities included Black Lives Matter DC and several anti-fascist groups. Labor-affiliated groups danced and sang in front of the AFL-CIO headquarters on 16th Street. But mostly it was just regular, everyday people from the greater Washington, DC area who wanted to take a stand and defend our city against the growing scourge of white nationalism and hatred.
Rise Up and Fight Back
People stood up and fought back with creative signs, speeches, chants and dance. To paraphrase the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr, physical force was met with soul force.
When the feeble “Unite the Right 2” marchers finally arrived with their police escort, they were shuffled into their protective pen where they enjoyed the free exercise of their First Amendment rights. They were then swiftly stuffed into waiting vans and hustled out of the city. A cleansing rain rolled in and washed the stench away.
There was much discussion on our local message boards about how we should respond to this challenge. Some counseled that we should “just ignore” the marchers. But Paul from Takoma chimed in with this message:
Today on WPFW there was a great conversation about the coalition of religious groups, Black Lives Matter, and anti-fascists organizers that are coalescing to make the point that this type of hate must be resisted, not passively, but actively. They do not want violence or anything like a repeat of want happened in Charlottesville last year, but they think that silence emboldens the hate groups and gives them tacit permission to continue to expand their vile, hateful messages. While the neo-Nazis, KKKers, white supremacists and white nationalists along with the anti-immigrant and refugee forces both within and without the GOP have the right to spew their hatred and bigotry, in my opinion, we cannot allow a vacuum to be created or it will just keep expanding.
The Path Forward
Thankfully, I believe that civilized Washington came together and achieved the desired result. Folks are learning how to stand up and fight again. Rev. Graylan Hagler from Plymouth United Church of Christ told The Huffington Post, “We’re making a statement that these hate groups are not welcome in Washington, D.C.”
It was also very encouraging to see young people grab the reins of leadership. Their actions on Sunday were creative, organized, forceful and energetic. The millennial generation is much maligned, but they made a good account of themselves on this day.
Appreciation is in order for all of the organizers of the counter-protest groups. The Metropolitan Police Department handled the situation with professionalism; their presence was felt on every downtown block, but they were not heavy-handled or provocative in any manner. Even the Department of Public Works deserves credit…their dump truck blockade game is on point! Metro is catching some flak for their “red carpet” treatment of the neo-Nazis, but overall I think that law enforcement did a fine job keeping everyone separated and safe.
The next step for the progressive coalition is to maintain that focus and energy through the November elections. There is light at the end of the tunnel. Hard times don’t last always.