Candlelight Vigil

Last night I located old taper candles and my husband cut circles of cardboard with star-shaped openings to be used as drip sleeves. I was leaving for a candlelight peace vigil in Oberlin, a response to what happened in Charlottesville, and didn’t want to go without bringing candles extras to share.

Before I left my husband told me to be careful. “What worries me,” he said, “is you believe everyone is a good person.”

That’s true. I just believe the core of humanity is a great deal harder to find in some people.

I don’t know anyone who isn’t worried about what’s going on in the U.S. The weekend’s mayhem was a microcosm of the whole. While white nationalists and neo-Nazis wreaked havoc in a beautifully diverse southern city, state troopers and police watched but did not intervene.   Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe said the majority of white supremacists were carrying semiautomatic weapons, so officers couldn’t engage without escalating the situation. Although dozens of people were badly injured and 32-year-old Heather Heyer was killed, the governor commented on the success of police inaction, saying, “And yet not a shot was fired, zero property damage.”

As I headed from our little township to Oberlin, I drove through a rural community even smaller than ours. And there in an open field I saw several pickup trucks parked nose to nose, sporting large Confederate flags upright in the beds. Men were outside the trucks talking.

This was a shocking sight.

It’s sometimes hard for a quiet progressive like me to live in an area that voted resoundingly for Mr. Trump, but it’s also a see-both-sides gift because I have many conservative friends and neighbors who are caring, dedicated people. I have literally not heard a bigoted attitude expressed by people in my township for well over a decade.  (Perhaps the peace flags on my porch are the magic charm.)

I slowed down. My first impulse was to pull over and talk to these men. I wanted to establish some kind of rapport, a few moments of innocuous conversation, then ask in a confused way, “So what’s up with the flags?” I’ve found asking an innocent question in an innocent way can spark a moment of genuine discussion. And I was honestly curious about what they’d say. After all, it’s not as if northerners can claim any historic fondness for such a flag. These guys were standing in a field less than 20 miles away from our country’s northern border of Lake Erie. Our area is rich with Underground Railroad sites and abolitionist history.

I thought, maybe my excuse to stop could be asking for directions. Or maybe where the nearest gas station might be. I had an initial presumption that I’d be protected by my white skin and nonthreatening middle aged-lady self.  But then I remembered my husband’s concern. And I remembered a report that the neo-Nazi site Daily Stormer posted a crude celebration of Heather Heyer’s death, writing that she “deserved” to die. So I drove on.

The vigil in Oberlin was quiet and respectful. We walked, we sang, we listened to speakers like Peace Community Church pastor Mary Hammond who said “We need to offer a public response to what has happened, not just the last few days but the last few centuries. It is on us…” and to professor A.G. Miller who said, “The forces of evil have been unleashed. We have to stand strong with love and tenacity and courage, and we have to push back.”

I know the practice of nonviolence asks us to get involved and to do so using time-honored tactics.  Nonviolence asks us to recognize and deal with hate speech before it escalates.  It asks us to look for ways to find the humanity in people like those men with their Confederate flags before acts of hate happen. Open dialogue with the very people she condemned is what inspired Megan Phelps-Roper to renounce her membership in the extremist Westboro Baptist Church.  It’s what led neo-Nazi skinhead Christian Picciolini to stop spreading hate and work to lead others away from such ideologies. It’s how Daryl Davis, as an African American, befriends Ku Klux Klan members in hopes they will have a change of heart.

Yes, I realize it was best that I didn’t stop for a chat with strangers displaying Confederate flags. Not the right moment for a lone woman driving a rusty Honda with a Bernie sticker.

But I know we have to look for ways to speak up and when we do, to speak up for all of us. That means people who don’t look like us, pray like us, think like us, live like us, or vote like us. After all, that’s what allegiance to “liberty and justice for all” really means.

I encourage you to read and share this Southern Poverty Law Center information:  “Ten Ways to Fight Hate: A Community Response Guide.”

 

15 thoughts on “Candlelight Vigil

  1. It’s hard to read about and see the images on the news, to listen to the echoes of a hatred for the other I find so alien and incomprehensible.
    Little children are not born hating each other, they are taught to hate, despise and brutalise, to oppress, marginalise and spew ugliness. What mother or father could do this to their child? Ugly, ugly…
    I’m glad for your safety that you drove by, but I wish you had been able to engage without fear, for the sake of those stupid men and for your own peace of mind.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a powerful and needed post, Laura. Even though I’m trying to shut out the bitter negativity since Trump’s election, this hate can’t be ignored! I don’t know where this all will take us but I stand in disbelief that in this age, white supremacy still exists. The candlelight vigil sounds lovely yet somber, pulling people together in the name of LOVE. Love will win over hate.❤

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I am glad, dear Laura, that you did not stop, that your instincts won. Thank you for the link about fighting hatred in communities. Several weeks ago a white nationalist group put up posters around Rochester, MN. My son-in-law Eric Anderson and some friends invited people who are against exclusion and hatred to have their photos taken and then accompanied by the words “Our future belongs to us” and the hashtag Noplacefor hate. Here’s a link showing what they did: https://www.facebook.com/NotInMyTownRochesterMN/ I forwarded your post to Eric. Hope you are well.
    =

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Amy. This is an awesome response by Eric and friends. The faces on the posters are wonderful. It just occurs to me that acts of nonviolence like this can’t help but be beautiful.

      Speaking of which, for folks reading this comment, Amy is herself a poet who sends a dose of truth and beauty out in the word with a daily acrostic poem. You can find her work here: unravelingy.blogspot.com

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  4. I got an ‘access denied” message when following your link. advice?

    And thank you for words that help some of us describe feelings. You’re better with words. I’m better with other things. : )

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  5. It’s not a popular view I know, including on this extremely valuable site, but I think the problem is that we’ve lost sight of the best of the founding father’s tradition that saw a free people, not the state as the best fount of solutions and progress. America’s Achilles heel has always been its indifference to philosophy, both to the secular Enlightenment tradition on which it was (imperfectly, incompletely, inconsistently) founded and the German reaction destroying it now. Too many Americans, sensing their intellectuals have turned against them, have responded with an instinctive, self-protective anti-intellectualism.

    When the state moves from its legitimate function of protection to prescription, the question immediately begs: whose prescription?

    State-coerced utopianism always splinters society into warring factions vying for the privilege of having their agenda proclaimed in the public interest and imposed on their fellows by force, or simply in self-protection against other factions. No matter how well-intentioned, state-coerced agendas invariably sow polarization, corruption, privilege with its inevitable obverse: disenfranchisement.

    It is the difference between the secular Enlightenment tradition of liberalism espoused by figures such as Milton, Locke, Jefferson and Mill and the “progressive” socialist-statist, faux-liberalism that stole the word in the modern era in a textbook case of Orwellian newspeak. Today, locked in their Sisyphean struggle, rightists and leftists battle for their constellations of agendas but both agree on the need for compulsion to implement them.

    Alexis De Tocqueville, writing of early 19th century America, found the principle of religious tolerance agreeable to all. As an atheist I was and am dismayed by the eagerness with which modern atheist’ advocates, “liberals,” and “progressives” promoted state muscling of their agendas – much as I might agree with many of them – an offense they rightly accused the Church of in days of yore. This galvanized the religious right to defensive political action under the helm of ideologues who might otherwise have been peacefully content to chew their cud and count their millions in the back rooms of their mega-churches.

    “He that would make his own liberty secure” Thomas Paine warned, “must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.”

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  6. PS: De Tocqueville also marvelled at social cohesiveness of early 19th century American society, noting that the misfortune of one was felt by the entire community and all rallied to help. Today compassion is largely seen as the government’s job. “That’s what I pay my taxes for.” In my view nothing has done more to sunder the cohesiveness of our families, communities, and society. When the state declares a problem “solved” it tends to cut off thinking and creativity in that direction. A free, creative, humane citizenry has always been a better fount of progress and solutions that actually work.

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