We’re a country divided, on issues too numerous (and at times, ridiculous) to mention. A quick look at your Facebook news feed likely provides a daily reminder of this, as friends on both sides disagree on everything from politics to what constitutes discrimination. But when hate, in any form, is allowed to manifest itself in the manner it did in Charlottesville, it becomes time to step back, take a breath and put differences aside.
That’s exactly what a number of American cities did in response to the ugliness in Virginia. Gatherings and demonstrations were hastily organized in the days that followed as a show of solidarity with those killed and injured on the campus of the University of Virginia. From the accounts we read, these gatherings were, for the most part, non-partisan, with people on both sides of the political spectrum coming together against a shared opponent: Hate.
One such gathering was organized in Powell. After a Facebook post invited residents to Washington Park, about 40 people gathered near the bandshell last week to share their thoughts and concerns. Now, it’s easy to dismiss such events out-of-hand, as many have been known to devolve into a finger-pointing excuse to bash opposing viewpoints. But that isn’t what happened in this case. The conversation was heartfelt and informative, as those gathered brainstormed ways to combat hateful rhetoric in ways that don’t feed into violence.
“We wanted to take politics out of the equation; it has nothing to do with that,” said Harriet Bloom-Wilson, one of the organizers of the gathering. “It has to do with hate groups not having any place in our communities. It wasn’t politics that motivated us. It was the sight of something that our grandparents fought for, our parents fought for and that many of us have deeply-held associations with.”
Our takeaway from the gathering at Washington Park was that people can, and when presented with an opportunity, engage in a civil conversation.
Those who participated in the events at Charlottesville will argue, and argue correctly, that their hateful protests are protected by the Constitution. They are. Counter-protesters can argue the same. But both sides need to realize there are consequences to free speech — and the First Amendment does not protect criminal behavior.
We won’t defend what neo-Nazis or the KKK have to say. However, in a free society, they do have a right to say it. As do people who bash their president. Or burn our flag.
But hate should absolutely be protested. Drowned out. Shouted down. And it should be done together.
Hopefully, in a way that doesn’t cost lives — and brings our divided country closer together, instead of further apart.