When a small number of heavily armed Ku Klux Klanners from North Carolina are given vast amounts of media attention for holding a rally here in Charlottesville, Va., on July 8th, I believe people opposed to violence and racism should go nowhere near them but in no way ignore them.
The inclination to ignore them and hope they’ll fade away into history like trials by ordeal or dueling is strong. Judging by popular social norms and their dwindling membership, the KKK seems to be on the way out. Why give them any attention that could help promote them?
Well, for one thing, violent racism is not on the way out if we’re judging by presidential elections, hate crimes, police crimes, the prison system, the choice of communities to run gas pipelines through, or many other factors. And the only way my comment on “social norms” in the previous paragraph makes any sense is if we write off the generally accepted bombing of seven dark-skinned Muslim nations as somehow non-racist.
So I’m in general agreement with those advocating keeping a distance from the Klan rally, though I’m opposed to police intimidation of activists, but I do not think staying home or trying to minimize the problem is the right approach. I’d like to see people who care about stopping racism and violence travel to Charlottesville on July 8th from far and wide. I’d like to see big rallies a good distance away from Justice Park. The choice of a church very nearby as a gathering place seems misguided.
Normally, I’d of course propose that a protest be as close as possible to its target, and that it be disciplined in its nonviolent approach. There are reasons that won’t work here:
1) Recent confrontations have made very clear that many anti-racism activists lack either discipline or nonviolence or both.
2) Teams of trained nonviolent interveners would be hard-pressed to prevent violent conflict.
3) A truly nonviolent approach toward people who believe they are taking a stand for justice as they perceive it is not a protest but an invitation.
Not long ago, in Texas, a group planned an anti-Muslim protest at a mosque. A violent anti-anti-Muslim crowd showed up. The Muslims from the mosque placed themselves between the two groups, asking their would-be defenders to leave, and then inviting the anti-Muslim demonstrators to join them at a restaurant to talk things over. They did so.
I’d like July 8th in Charlottesville to witness major demonstrations for nonviolence and an end to bigotry, racism, islamophobia, and anti-Semitism. I’d like these demonstrations to make some acknowledgement of the other two evils that Dr. Martin Luther King grouped with racism, namely extreme materialism and militarism — the latter, after all, being the reason Robert E. Lee’s statue still stands to be defended by racist rallies. Virginia has banned the removal of war monuments.
But I’d also like to see skilled mediators and others of good will and good heart extend an invitation to members of the KKK to come unarmed to discuss in small groups, without cameras or audiences, what it is that divides us. Might some of them recognize the humanity of those they scapegoat if some of us recognized the injustices they’ve faced or the unfairness they perceive in affirmative action or in the acceptability of “whites” only as a topic for insults, not as a source of pride in the manner permitted all other racial and ethnic groupings?
We live in a country that has made its biggest social project war, a country that has concentrated its wealth beyond medieval levels, a country that consequently experiences incredible levels of unnecessary suffering exacerbated by awareness of its unnecessity and unfairness. Yet what we have of social supports for education, training, healthcare, childcare, transportation, and income is distributed in non-universal, divisive manners that encourage us to fight among ourselves. The KKK members are not billionaires. They’re not living off the exploitation of workers or prisoners or pollution or war. They’ve just chosen a particularly harmful object for their blame, as compared with those who blame the Republicans or the Democrats or the media.
When the KKK members come to condemn us for seeking to remove a statue, we shouldn’t look down at them like grand generals astride monster-sized horses. We should welcome them to explain themselves without microphones or guns, person to person.