By now most folks in Middle Tennessee have heard that the same white supremacist groups who marched on Charlottesville a while back have plans to stage similar “White Lives Matter” rallies in Shelbyville and Murfreesboro, TN.
As a person who was raised on stories of both of my grandfathers fighting the Nazis when they were younger than I am now, it is surreal to be spending time strategizing with other social justice activists about how to respond to those who currently wave the Nazi flag, but here we are.
Recently I have had a number of conversations about these upcoming rallies that have gone like this. “Those people are just looking for attention. What if we all just did nothing, totally ignored them, and they wouldn’t get what they want.”
I understand that logic. Whatever pain leads people to join up with white supremacist groups leads them to seek attention by vilifying others in such ridiculous ways as marching through the streets holding tiki torches. Any attention is good attention, as my children reasoned when they were toddlers, and the best way to discourage that behavior is to not react to it at all.
But while I understand what leads these folks to this conclusion, I ultimately don’t agree with their solution.
On the purely practical level, these white supremacists are going to get attention on matter what. The vast majority of media companies are owned by for-profit corporations, and the most sensational stories get the highest ratings on TV and the most clicks online, which directly leads to the corporations being able to charge more for ads. We consumers of media pay attention to the crazy stuff, and Nazis with tiki torches get our attention and make people money.
On a deeper level, though, choosing to simply ignore something is a sign of the unfair privilege those of us in the white, upper middle class communities enjoy. We can choose to ignore these things because we’re not being targeted. The slogan “White Silence Is White Violence” reminds us that ignoring evil is not simply “denying those people attention”, it is functional approval of what they’re doing. If I don’t say “no”, I’m saying “yes”.
Theologically, I am compelled to speak. The baptismal vows that were taken on my behalf as a child, which I affirmed at my confirmation, include the question of whether I would “resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves”. My ordination vows as and Elder in the United Methodist Church are a commitment to live out and lead others in living out those baptismal vows.
Were I to remain silent, I would not be denying grown toddlers the attention they are seeking with a tantrum, I would be going back on the vows my parents made for me, the ones I affirmed as a teenager, and those I agreed to lead with as an adult. I would be saying “no” to the “yes” I made to God.
So while I respect the choice others are making to ignore the white supremacists, I am compelled to act. Here are a few things you can do if you feel so compelled.
This Saturday, the 21st, Key Memorial UMC in Murfreesboro will be hosting a workshop on non-violent resistance from 1 to 3.
On Monday night, the 23rd, the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRCC) is hosting an informational gathering at Advent Lutheran Church in Murfreesboro from 6:30 PM to 8 PM.
The day of the rally, the 28th, the Murfreesboro Loves Coalition is organizing a peaceful, non violent, non confrontational counter witness to the white supremacist rally.
Please consider attending one or all of these gatherings. If you can’t or don’t feel safe, please pray for those who will be physically present.
These white supremacist groups claim their beliefs and practices are rooted in Christianity. Nothing could be further from the truth, so there needs to be another demonstration of what Christianity is about when everyone will be paying attention. I hope you can join us.