Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Battle of Charlottesville: The Battle for America's Soul

Flower Power, 1967, photographed by Bernie Boston on October 21, 1967,
while he was sitting on the wall of the Mall Entrance of the Pentagon

I was raised on God, news and newspapers, and there was a daily ritual for all of them. If I wanted to watch television, I had to watch what the adults were watching, twice a day: the news. There wasn't just one paper in our house, there were three. Oh how I wished The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal had comics. Pray, read, watch, talk: politics and religion. And yes, our holiday dinner tables were battle grounds.

I was eight when this picture was taken. With two older sisters, the anti-war movement and the civil unrest of the 1960's was imprinted on me as they clashed with my Republican father and grandparents who tried to feed us a steady diet of, "Blacks and Jews are destroying the world" and "Kids today are slovenly, lazy, cowardly drug addicts." The civil unrest of the new generation had shaken heir post WWII, comfortably numb lifestyle to its core.  

In many ways, things haven't changed.

Like many of you, I was shaken to my core yesterday. Glued to the television and Twitter, my anger and anxiety ratcheted up in direct correlation to the unfolding events in Charlottesville. How could this be happening? Nazi flags? Torches? Chants of "blood and soil"? Armed protesters? David Duke vowing, "We are determined to take our country back" (from whom?) Violence! Is this the start of a Civil War? This is not my country! Then, Trump's vapid, vacuous response sent me over the edge:

But my friend Mel, a young woman wise beyond her years, brought me back down to earth:

She is right. Sadly, this is my America; it always has been. I don't like to think about that, but that's the problem: I must. We all must because, as Mel reminded me, the United States of America is a country founded on prejudice, slavery, bigotry hatred and fear. "Veni, vidi, vici", was "How the West Was Won". And until we confront the effects of that head-on, re-write the history books, change the curriculums, come out of our dark corners and speak the truth, things will never change. 

But, that doesn't mean that we don't stand up to hatred and bigotry. Far from it. 

These symbols have no place in our country (neither does a president who refuses to denounce them), except maybe in an educational setting. Millions of people died under their oppressive regimes, and millions more gave their lives to end them. If these people think this country would be better off if these flags flew over the White House, I suggest they move to one of these lovely places.

Photographer unknown

Neither do these:

Joshua Roberts / Reuters

Notice what it says at the bottom of the banner: "Screw the Klan..." Read the signs in the background: "Make Racists Afraid Again". A banner that said, "Fuck Fascists" was prominently featured in video clips of the clashes. While the majority of the peaceful protesters were peaceful, these sentiments are not. As Ghandi said, "An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind."  

I don't claim to offer any solutions to this mess. No matter how bad things get, humans always have the gift of hope. And I do hope the elected officials in DC will work this out. 

Naive, eh? Yes and no. I alone can't solve these problems, but here's what I can do: stand up for my beliefs in a non-violent way. Violence will only beget violence. That picture at the top of this post may be cliché, but non-violent protest was at the core of Dr. King's dream. 

By last nite I was emotionally drained. People I spoke to were, too. But, the collective unconscious was humming because by the time I woke up this morning, there were already two peaceful protest events scheduled in my area for today. I will definitely be at one of them.

What will you do today? Tomorrow? In the coming weeks and months? Will you turn off your TV? Pretend none of this is happening? Or will you try to make a difference in your part of the world? If there are no events scheduled in your area, start one. Stand on a street corner with a candle and tell passers-by why you're there. Get more people to join you. Write letters to the editor. Volunteer. Educate. Activate. Motivate. Speak out. Make an appointment with your state and federal representatives and demand they denounce this hatred and bigotry. 

Be the change you want to see in the world.

But whatever you do, do it peacefully. Remember, when you point your finger at someone, there are always three pointing back at you. What will they be pointing to?