“Today, Boston stood for peace and love, not bigotry and hate. We should work to bring people together, not apart.” Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey, said on Twitter that he “couldn’t be more proud of” the city. “Peaceful, moral, resistant,” he tweeted. “That is our city and commonwealth.”
“We probably had 40,000 people out here, standing tall against hatred and bigotry in our city, and that’s a good feeling,” the Police Commissioner William B. Evans said, adding that though there were a few unconstructive rioters who showed up who wanted the hate groups to come for a fight “99.9 percent of the people were here for the right reason and that’s to fight bigotry and hate.”
At the risk of seeming parochial, indulge me in this bow to my city for how it preemptively stared down, out-prepared, and ultimately detoured from stepping foot in our city the highly orchestrated plans of a network of neo-Nazi/white-supremacist groups which paraded through and wreaked havoc on Charlottesville, just over a week ago.
Every city has its tribalism around sports teams and other icons which give it a sense of shared identity. The Red Sox may have lost to the Yankees on Saturday but in my book our city had already “won” an incredible victory earlier that day.
In philanthropy there is much talk about how to “scale” and replicate effective models of social change. While we wish we could stick with winning baseball games, the way Boston handled the threat of a neo-Nazi, white supremacist parade descending on our city toting guns, clubs, torches, and hate in their hearts is a model of preemptive peace for any next stops on their nationwide “tour.” And maybe some lessons that can apply to other areas of life as well when we need to rise to our highest and best human selves to wisely and delicately protect something dear while safeguarding against an unknown threat…
I wasn’t able to attend the counter-protest in Boston as I was gathering kids from summer camp. Wow, a lot happened in just the one week they were gone that sounded like a scene from a bad movie as I was recounting it to them. When we got home we watched the non-drama unfold in Boston on the news. Yes there were a few ugly exchanges of counter-protesters with the police which they handled efficiently with the same no-drama approach they used with the protesters. Those “Blue Lives” went to great lengths to honor the precious ideal of freedom we hold dear as Americans that honors the right to hold different views while skillfully and bravely modeling for the world how to respond when this right crosses the line of fomenting violence—whatever “side” one is on.
From the moment I saw that Boston was the next expected “stop” on the national “tour” of the groups that showed up at Charlottesville, I felt a mixed set of feelings that ranged from utter disgust and shock, wanting to run the other way and not give them the narcissistic, oppositional stage they seek, and a sense of maternal protectiveness toward the city that has been my home for almost 25 years. Up until just the day before the rally, there was still little information about what groups would be there to protest and what the counter-protest would entail. So many people were unsure of how and what to do to engage in a constructive way to stand for peace while still processing the parade of menacing hate that began in Charlottesville just a week before with an eerie parade of mostly young men carrying torches and wearing Nazi garb and ended with a car driving into a crowd of counter-protesters killing one and injuring dozens.
When I woke up on Saturday morning, the day of the “free speech” rally in Boston, I felt a pit in my stomach and found myself praying for our city and for all of the incredible people and partners of the Imago Dei Fund who I knew would be there—getting teary even writing this—bravely standing as people of peace in this highly polarized moment that we are living through where things that so many of us thought we had left in the dustbin of history are flaring up and are eerily creeping into the mainstream.
A lot has happened from Charlottesville to Boston and still there are other cities where the same web of creepy “alt right”/white supremacist/white nationalist groups are rallying their troops under the smokescreen of “free speech” or historical preservation to descend on a city carrying torches and spewing racist venom. It will be interesting to watch how each city will respond. Some will say that Boston over-reacted. Maybe we did. Who knows how much money we spent to prepare for Saturday to create an environment that made it unattractive for the same groups that descended on Charlottesville to step foot in our city and use us as a stage to attempt to mainstream their extremism. Who knows what would have happened if we had not prepared as we had. While it was not clear before the rally whether there was a direct connection between the organizers of the “free speech” event in Boston and the white-nationalist “Unite the Right” rally that took place in Charlottesville, Boston listened to its instincts and kicked into gear to preempt hate and terror from wreaking havoc as they have done so skillfully every marathon since the 2014 Boston Marathon terror attack.
Thanks to the leadership and skills of our mayor and police commissioner and so many civil society groups, as the police commissioner described, 99.9% of those in attendance came with peaceful intentions and no injuries or deaths happened. The city honored the First Amendment rights of both the protesters—who dwindled down to a mere fifty or so—and the counter-protesters and let the city speak its values. Sadly there were a few counter protesters who came wanting a fight and they are a vivid reminder of the lower side of our collective human nature that can easily descend to tribal hatred and reverse supremacy wars that foment more violence rather than dampening it down.
What I saw in my newsfeed and heard from friends at the counter-protest was a beautiful day of solidarity and reaffirming our shared values and ideals in a free and inclusive society where no one group is entitled to a supreme position.
Who knows how organized and determined the groups that made up the “Unite the Right” protest in Charlottesville are. Many warn that they have been gaining momentum online for a number of years under the banner of anti- “political correctness” and white, male identity politics which have eerily taken on a nationalistic and “Nazified” tone. As Dara Lind said in her article Unite the Right, the violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, explained – The alt-right rally was a coming-out party for resurgent white nationalism in America:
“The Nazification of the alt-right… The arc of the Unite the Right rally — from an ostensible attempt to bring a broad coalition of conservative groups together to protest the controversial removal of a statue, to a ‘Nazified’ rally for ‘the pro-white movement in America’ — mirrors what’s been happening to the alt-right as a whole. The movement’s leaders have become increasingly willing to dabble in white-nationalist rhetoric and tropes, while attempting to avoid direct accusations of being themselves white nationalists. The rise of the alt-right is one face of a broader backlash against ‘identity politics’ and ‘political correctness,’ which have left some white Americans feeling that they’re losing ground to nonwhites — or that America is losing its identity — and that political, economic, and media elites are either uninterested in defending their heritage or actively trying to eradicate it. Among some younger, more internet-savvy people, hatred of ‘political correctness’ has paired neatly with online troll culture, in which pushing boundaries and offending people is seen as harmless at worst and a show of cleverness at best.”
It is hard to tell how fringe these groups are but what is clear is that in this current political environment they are more emboldened to “step out of the internet” and that their message is gaining traction particularly with young adolescent white males who are drawn to some aspect of their identity politics and all too easily find themselves entangled in a more orchestrated web of scary ideas and groups which plain and simple do not accept the diverse society that is America today.
I don’t know about you, but I keep being engulfed by this eerie and sad feeling of despair that the reference points of “normalcy” as a country are sliding backwards over a half century or more to the days of Jim Crow, to the days when all those Confederate monuments were erected to memorialize a culture where it was acceptable and “Christian” and “Biblical” and moral and reflective of a “natural” and “divine order” to own and subjugate other human beings because some (white folk) were deemed to be a superior class of humans entitled to rule and own and possess freedom and the rights of citizenship.
I don’t know for sure, but it seems like something shifted in the air at Charlottesville that showed us in vivid and more extreme form the ugly face of supremacy ideas that have been gaining traction on the internet and in too many hearts and minds in American society…
Whatever city or town you hail from, whoever you voted for in the 2016 election, people of good will across the ideological, political, religious, and racial spectrum—yes even many who voted for Trump—were stunned to the core by the flagrant and emboldened display of hate and racial supremacy exhibited by the protesters in Charlottesville who descended on the city with torches in hand, slave-owning symbols draped over their bodies, haunting Nazi chants coming from their lips, and hearts filled with hate and entitled supremacy.
I have a friend who lives in Charlottesville so I was clued in and watching the events as they transpired. Much of my family wasn’t as clued in and while they all condemned the march I found myself having to say “honestly, really really, it was as bad as CNN is describing it!” Firsthand accounts like minister/author Brian McLaren’s, What I Saw in Charlottesville, describe vividly the sense of menacing and “unabashed racism, the seething hatred, the chest-thumping hubris, the anti-Semitism, the misogyny, the shameless desire to harm their opponents, the gushing love for Trump, Putin, and Stalin, of all people.”
As much as I don’t want to enlarge their platform, I do think it is important to hear firsthand and unadulterated the “Unite the Right’s” words, ideas, and vision for America. It actually is as shocking as what CNN and other news outlets reported. (Some informative links about who these groups are and how they have been organizing on the internet: https://www.splcenter.org/news/2017/08/15/people-groups-and-symbols-charlottesville, https://www.voanews.com/a/groups-protesting-in-charlottesville/3985479.html, http://www.npr.org/2017/08/15/543730227/unite-the-right-charlottesville-rally-represented-collection-of-alt-right-groups)
In the same vein of doing the hard work of understanding the deeper unsavory roots of ideas coming back “into vogue,” I had planned this month to release the second part of a Fourth of July series about the global decline of freedom and the need to take down not only racial but also gender monuments to our slave-holding supremacist past but then Charlottesville happened. Who knew how prescient that post was! Stay tuned for a post connecting the dots between ideologies of white and male supremacy which are flaring up across the globe (and all too often in our pews) and need a brave and enlightened “intersectional” awareness to spot and say no to and ultimately, take down and put where they belong—in a museum. As Rob Okun, editor of Voice Male so poignantly said in The Poison of White Supremacist Masculinity, “The kissin’ cousin of a white supremacist history is our patriarchal legacy.” It is no accident that from Newtown to Charlestown to Orlando to Barcelona these hate groups that are gaining momentum around the world are filled with faces of boys barely out of puberty who are drawn to an identity of entitled supremacy. Patriarchy and slavery are branches of the same ancient and poisonous tree which needs to be uprooted if we truly seek to be and live as a free and inclusive society.
Let me sign off by saluting and thanking the leaders of our city for how in just a few days the whole city—the Mayor’s office, the Police Commissioner, and so many civil society groups including religious leaders and faith-based groups—rallied together to make our city uninviting for anyone coming here to export hate and supremacist ideologies which are holding to a bygone mindset and era which yes is part of our history but which no longer deserves to be memorialized in any shape or form.
“Today, Boston stood for peace and love, not bigotry and hate. We should work to bring people together, not apart,” said Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey. We “couldn’t be more proud of” the city — “Peaceful, moral, resistant… That is our city and commonwealth.”
Thank you Boston for your example of how to be “Peaceful, moral, resistant”.
And a deep bow of respect and gratitude to the mayor, the police, and to all of our Imago Dei Fund partners—the Black Ministerial Alliance, Boston Faith & Justice Network, Highrock Church network, UniteBoston, Emmanuel Gospel Center, Strong Women, Strong Girls—and so many other people of peace and goodwill throughout Boston who stood together shoulder-to-shoulder to create an environment that made hate unwelcome in our city while at the same honoring everyone’s freedom of expression who set foot on the Common. You made our city safe and our nation proud.
May we all feel the ripples of love and peace that emanated from the Boston Common on Saturday and may we be more emboldened than the white supremacists to bravely do the hard work of saying no to all forms of supremacy which undermine our ideals as Americans and our shared humanity as image bearers of God.