When groups supporting racial genocide, fascism and violence against those who look or believe differently than they do gather together, organizing a counter-protest may seem like the right thing to do.
But it can amount to throwing gasoline on a smoldering fire as evidenced by the tragedy that happened in Charlottesville, Virginia. It also plays right into the hands of those trying to fuel their agenda through escalating violence and fear.
A better course of action, as suggested by U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, is to take the higher ground - to stand together against those who incite violence and racism, but doing it in a non-violent, non-confrontational way. Klobuchar quoted Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer: "When I think of torches, I want to think of the Statue of Liberty. When I think of candlelight, I want to think of prayer vigils."
Here in Douglas County, we're isolated from the kind of hate-filled groups that gathered in Charlottesville, a city of about 50,000. But that doesn't mean that something on a smaller scale can't happen here or that local residents won't someday find themselves caught in a place that's in the crosshairs of a potentially violent confrontation.
So what is the best approach to take? The newspaper received an email last week from PeaceVoice, a media distribution service for peace and justice-oriented opinion pieces, that offers insights. Writers Stephanie Van Hook and Michael Nagler noted that the real answer to violence is not counter-violence, but the demonstration of a counter-force. They suggested the following:
1. When a hate group is coming to town, instead of directly confronting them and falling into the trap of chaos they want to create, instead of providing them the publicity that blows their importance out of proportion, we can engage in other activities and get the media pointed at those, such as a pro-peace concert or dance contest at the same time as their meeting. Or failing such an alternative, just plain ignore them - the way the good people of Montgomery just ignored a normally terrifying Klan ride in 1958. It shows that we are reclaiming our spaces with humanity and safety while acting together as a mature, loving community.
2. Another creative solution that can deflate the vehemence of a hate rally is to gather the community to donate money to a group like the Southern Poverty Law Center for every square foot covered by the hate group. Turn their gatherings turn into nonviolent, anti-fascist, pro-peace fundraisers.
3. In all this, though, it's important to not unthinkingly imitate past sensational nonviolent actions or tactics. Each situation is different, and we need to explore what is at stake and plan for a variety of possible outcomes. Maybe we'll get arrested by the police, but what happens if we don't? How will we take care of each other if we do? If someone is hurt? If we don't ask these kinds of questions, we leave the door open to violence, which can only add fuel to the fire.
Van Hook and Nagler concluded: "Make no mistake: nonviolent action takes courage, planning, and intelligence. It's the best and quite possibly the only way to really counter these manifestations of hatred and ignorance that are disfiguring our society."