Thursday, August 17, 2017

What if it were La Crosse? [with updates]

Charlottesville, Virginia is about the same size as La Crosse, so as the news unwinds about the white supremacist rally there, I started wondering what if this had happened in La Crosse and, since it didn't, then I started wondering what if this happens in La Crosse in the future?

So, what if it does? How can we be prepared to do "better" than Charlottesville in being pro-active and in our response. How can we press our social institutions to do better? How can our community groups do better? How can we as individuals do better?

For example, many report that the Charlottesville police did not even attempt to "keep the peace." Lots of eye witnesses say that police just stood by while white supremacists beat up counter protestors. A very graphic video shows one man being beaten, punched, and kicked in the parking garage next to the police department. This article describes how congregants of a Charlottesville synagogue had to hire private protection because the Charlottesville police "declined to provide a guard for the site."

Surely, La Crosse can do better than that.

And yet, in La Crosse there have been many incidents including fairly recent incidents that expose racism in our police department, on area campuses and in our community. We may no longer be an official "sundown town," but racism and hatred toward different faith groups and the LGBTQ community continue.

In his "Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America," Rev. Michael Eric Dyson challenges those of us who live comfortable white lives in our institutionally white supremacist society to make it stop.
"[E]ven though whiteness is not real, it is still true. ... It is true because it has the power to make us believe it is real and to punish those who doubt its magic. ... It is most effective when it makes itself invisible, when it appears neutral, human, American."
In a recent Truthout article, Austin C. McCoy says, In the Wake of Charlottesville, Let's Call for Structural Transformation  ".... mainstream narratives about Charlottesville that focus primarily on Trump's bad character and the actions of one murderous racist (Fields), leave something to be desired: They obscure the need to creatively confront and defeat the white supremacist right. These limited narratives belie the structure of white supremacy in the US. Ultimately, this framing tells many of us on the left what we already know: Neither liberals nor conservatives have a real strategy for eradicating white supremacy at its root."

It's not just a few surface spots of rust, in Charlottesville and in La Crosse (and Madison and most every other place you can name), it's a corrosive network of decay and rot that has weakened every institution, every life, every future. The election of Donald Trump did not suddenly usher in white supremacy and racism. We've tolerated and even nurtured an us versus them ethic in our most basic institutions. In fact, in many cases it's "the American way."

So, there are two questions. What can we do every day from now until we die to change this institutional disease? And what can we do right now to ensure that our community is able to better deal with a Charlottesville style overt display, even celebration, of white supremacy, racism, and hate ? Because this weekend, apparently at least nine more similar rallies are planned around the country and they won't stop soon.

It seems to me that one thing we can do right now is pledge to stand with and protect vulnerable groups. Also, we can call on and urge our local law enforcement institutions to work now on a plan that providets real service and protection to the community.

We might also consider and plan what is the best response by a caring community to a march or demonstration by those espousing hate or violence against our fellow citizens. Counter protests may be counter productive, encouraging more hate and violence. Some communities have countered hate marches with community gatherings in another location, encouraging community members and the media to ignore the hate groups.

Preparing an appropriate response ahead of time is something our community could do right now. To me, planning an event that turns away from the hate and encourages the community to come together and renew vows of inclusivity and cooperation makes sense.

Martin Luther King, Jr, a radical in so many ways, repeated over and over that you cannot hate away hate. It's not a slogan and it's not an easy thing to actually do. Even if you can come to the intellectual point of agreeing that hating the most vile racist, white supremacist Nazi does not help change that person, coming to that point physically and emotionally in the heat of the moment with physical and verbal threats and attacks takes a lot of training and practice for most of us. Our institutions and our habits have not prepared us to meet hate with love, but, King and others say that's the only thing that works.

The ACLU, an important civil rights institution, after earning kudos and praise for its strong defense of immigrants caught in the Donald Trump edicts a few months ago, has now, in some circles, become the toad for defending the rights of the racists to demonstrate and speak. Their point is that you cannot allow government to limit the speech of any group, vile as it may be. Limiting speech does not make the ideas go away. Often it pressure cooks the hate. 

Ted Rall, a victim of unemployment by association, reminds us that firing people for their beliefs is not the solution. So the "victories" of identifying the racists and getting them fired is not the way to end the racism or violence or hate. Unfortunately, public shaming for reprehensible behavior seems no longer an option for confronting and changing it. Especially when "leaders" like Trump and Scott Walker ("Trump can speak for himself") give that behavior a pass.

The solutions are not easy. It's not just condemning the vile, but somehow transforming the vile. How do we do that? I don't know.

There will be another vigil on August 27 led by the Interfaith Coalition of La Crosse. Maybe some ideas about strengthening our options and abilities to act and react in positive ways can be discussed.

In the meantime, connecting with local groups like SURJ and Shoulder to Shoulder and others can help to build a base of resiliency.


Here are a few resources that might help:
from Medium: Eight things we can do right now to help Charlottesville
from Mother Jones: Law enforcement playbook for keeping the next far-right protest in check
from The Leadership Conference: 10 Actions That You Can Take To Stop White Supremacy And Stand Up For Civil And Human Rights

Also, Madison Mayor Paul Soglin is calling for removal of city-owned monuments to Confederate soldiers in Madison's Forest Hills Cemetery 

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