Based on consultation with local authorities, houses of worship, social justice groups, educational organizations and other non-profit entities and educational organizations here in the greater Lexington Metro area, I want to share my thoughts on how to approach counter-demonstrations to rallies that might be held by Anti-Semitic and racist hate groups. Among the painful realities arising from the aftermath of Charlottesville is that these organizations cannot be counted on to restrain their most volatile members. The murder of Heather Heyer and the injuries sustained by 19 others demonstrate that hurling insults and water bottles can quickly escalate to violence ranging from fist fights to vehicular homicide. When gun-toting anti-Semites stand across the street from a temple, shout “seig heil” and threaten to set the congregation on fire with people in it, we must face the fact that their hate is no passing phase and that the danger they present is real. The insufficient expressions of regret and overabundance of mockery regarding Ms. Heyer and other victims of the violence two weeks ago, as witnessed in interviews and on websites, provide yet another indication that these extremist groups regard those of us who oppose their message as unworthy of the same level of human dignity they reserve for themselves.
More than any specific legislative or social agenda, what these anti-Semites and racists seek is attention. The time has come to practice a strategy that doesn’t give them the very attention they crave. Imagine their frustration and disappointment if they were to find out there were very few people willing to reward their attention-seeking behaviors. Decreasing the level of attention they get from these events will also make it harder for hate groups to sustain the motivation needed to continue. The recruitment and training value of these gatherings will be significantly compromised without the essential ingredient of attention on which they heavily rely.
I am NOT suggesting we should ignore these groups entirely, NOR do I believe that simply paying no mind to anti-Semitism and racism will make them go away. What I am saying is that if you feel compelled to participate in counter-demonstrations, it would be safer and more effective to do so at gatherings an appreciable distance from hate rallies, rather than across the barricades or across the street. Instead of trying to counter the message of hate by directing attention to anti-Semites and racists, let’s counter their hate by proclaiming our vision of peace and justice to fellow Kentuckians, Americans and all those following this conflict around the world. Let us rejoice in a celebration of solidarity with one another rather than engaging in angry shouting matches with those who aren’t much interested in listening and aren’t sufficiently committed to remaining peaceful.
Whether it is fair or not, movements grounded in an ethic of love, justice and equality will inevitably be judged by a stricter standard than those rooted in hatred, anger and superiority. Not only must we take steps to protect one another from harm, we must restrain ourselves from stooping to the level of the opposition. We, and not they, must dictate the standards of the conflict. Our credibility and integrity as participants in a just and peaceful cause depend on it.
If participating in a counter-demonstration seems appropriate to you, please keep an eye out for email updates, and monitor the websites and social media pages of like-minded organizations, for information about where and when peaceful gatherings, to be held a significant distance from that of the hate groups, will be held. Working with leaders in local government, colleges and universities, and other partners, we can make our voices heard and our presence felt without an unnecessary level of risk or compromising our guiding principles. Rather than giving anti-Semites and racists the attention they crave, let’s show up and support one another in demonstrating to the nation and the world that bigotry is not welcome in the Bluegrass, and that Kentucky is not a hate state.
May we conduct ourselves in such a way that when the history of how Lexington responded to events in the wake of the violence in Charlottesville is taught to future generations, we can be proud of what we did and how we did it. As the eyes of the nation and the world turn to us in the days and weeks ahead, let us meet the coming challenge in a manner that conveys the courage of our convictions and our commitment to core values.