Suffice it to say, emotions are high in “the resistance” right now.
Last week’s terrorist attack in Charlottesville, Virginia, where hordes of armed white nationalists clashed with their detractors, seems to have been an inflection point in America’s post-election identity crisis. Before, there were warnings of growing extremism, but now it's obvious that there are emboldened extremists on the right who’d like to see anyone who’s considered a threat to white patriarchy — be they people of color, women, Jews, LGBTQ people, etc. — subordinated at best and removed or exterminated at worst.
Decent people recognize the hideousness of that ideology, despite the commander-in-chief’s apparent sympathy for it, so, it would seem as good an opportunity as any to rally together behind liberal values like diversity and inclusion. But, how to act in response is a question that’s effectively dividing the liberal-left even further.
On Sunday, a handful of grassroots organizations held a rally in solidarity with counter-protesters in Charlottesville. Hundreds turned out for the nearly two hour long event that was punctuated by outbursts and shouting spats, confusion and anger, misunderstandings and assumptions. To be sure, there were empowered moments, but the infighting left many attendees feeling disheartened, likely to the pleasure of right-wing onlookers.
Philosophical and, to a greater degree, tactical differences bred conflict between leftists (an assemblage including Antifa, the Colorado Springs Socialists, Democratic Socialists of America, Industrial Workers of the World and the Green Party), who stood atop City Hall steps, and liberals (an assortment of sign-toting community members flanked by local leaders and a few elected officials), who gathered on the sidewalk below.
One source of consternation was the apparent failure by attendees to properly respect that
Heather Heyer, the young white woman mowed down in Charlottesville, was part of an IWW bloc, meaning she was a Nazi-puncher not a Kumbaya-singer. Thus, leftists bristled at the idea that liberals would co-opt her as their own martyr, whether unwittingly or not. Heated arguments broke out, too, over whether a prayer was appropriate at a political event and
whether a combat veteran ought to lecture the crowd about nonviolence.
The speakers carried on though the mood stayed tense.
In broad strokes, the debate playing out in the resistance movement revolves around the efficacy of nonviolence, though it’s more nuanced than it may seem. When a white guys flies a neo-Nazi flag, is he inciting violence? And, if so, does that justify punching him in the face? Or, do pacifists have the right to tell Antifa not to practice self-defense? Does bringing a firearm to a rally prevent or invite harm? Can you share a movement with those whose tactics you wouldn’t yourself choose? And, of course, what would the exalted Martin Luther King Jr. say about all this?
Rosemary Lytle of the NAACP offered an answer to the latter during her rousing speech. “Do your research, people," she told the crowd. "MLK was a pacifist but he wasn’t a pushover. Don’t get it twisted. … It’s possible to act nonviolently but fiercely.”
After the conclusion of speeches, a march around downtown and a brief convergence back at City Hall, attendees disbanded. Some seemed amped; some dejected. Squabbling would continue online later that evening.
Before heading home, Aja Black, of the hip-hop duo The Reminders, recalled a frustrating exchange with some members of the leftist bloc. “It’s weird,” she said, to have white people tell her, a woman of color, “how to feel and how to fight [white supremacy].” Black’s take on the rally? “We all agree there’s something wrong and something needs to be done, but we can’t agree on what to do about it.” That said, “We need a heart and a fist in this movement. We need each other.”