Peace & Justice Center: Reflections on the Violence in Charlottesville

Thank you, Peace and Justice Center, for sharing this perspective piece: 

My response to the heinous violence in Charlottesville has become longer than I intended but I want to send you something and I don’t know what to cut out of it. I want to be part of your loving community and I want to know you are part of mine. I want to be sure you all know ways that you can be engaged in uprooting white supremacy and violence. I want to stay connected.

My reflections and thoughts are below. Read them if you are interested. But also, take action. If you need ideas of groups to join or events to attend, please visit our community calendar or the PJC’s upcoming events page. If you have an idea and you need support, please be in touch. We are here with our own campaigns for nonviolence, fair trade, and racial justice, and we also exist as an activist hub. Please take advantage of us as a resource. I also share some other great resources and a couple of relevant events at the end of this post.

My reflections from Saturday: I was out of cell range most of Saturday and Sunday. When I had a signal briefly on Saturday evening, the first phone message started with, “You’ve probably heard by now…” My initial thought was of North Korea and nuclear devastation. Instead, it was “just” the situation in Charlottesville. For a moment, I was relieved that we weren’t about to blow up or blow anyone else up (or slowly poison them with radiation). That moment passed quickly and then I was bitterly sad. It stung. I imagined being in the crowd as a car charged at us. I was scared.

When my brain started functioning more clearly with less of a ringing, high-pitched tension in my body, I had a thought that I’ve had many times before: The two most significant threats to the survival of the human species are climate change and nuclear war. However, assuming we are able to avoid those tragedies, or at least while we postpone them, many people’s humanity is diminished or robbed by oppression of all kinds….

So, while we work against climate and/or nuclear destruction, I need to also work with all of you against the interconnected injustices including racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, classism, ableism, transphobia, so that more people can experience true living.

And it’s not as if all these issues are distinct. The imperialist nature of our nation needs soldiers willing to kill. To create soldiers to do this killing, we have inflicted a masculine culture that deadens our boys to varying degrees of their own humanity. And to recruit enough of them, we have systems of economic oppression that make the military the best option for many. The sexist classist system is needed to feed the war machine, and the war machine in turn perpetuates these systems and more. Don’t forget the connection between oil and war and environmental destruction. Don’t forget that the people who are currently living with water sources poisoned by the ongoing creation and storage of nuclear weapons in the southwest are mostly indigenous communities.

It’s enough to make one very, very angry. Practicing active nonviolence is not easy.

There is a famous quote, usually attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson, that states “What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.” This quote says to me, “Get to work on your inner life – make peace with yourself, Rachel. Be creative and loving. Take time to laugh and connect.” This is no small challenge! It reminds me to ask myself, “If I die doing the work I do, do I want to die as a peaceful, loving, connected person, or do I want to die a stressed out, angry, reactive person?”

Human rights work has never been easy or carefree. This work takes power and strength. The power and strength of active nonviolence is so much harder to cultivate in the face of such terror. But if we are to transform the world, we must “be the change we want to see.”

And here is what I know about the reaction of Vermonters: there have been at least seven vigils in Burlington, Brattleboro, Montpelier, Barre, Rutland, and Middlebury.

Please be aware though, here in Vermont, where the governor started his statement about the tragedy in Charlottesville by saying that “Vermont has always been a leader in civil rights, tolerance and acceptance,” that we are not immune. In fact, at these rallies, many people were uncomfortable with the ways that white supremacist culture reared its head. Having organizations headline the events rather than individuals can be problematic. Who the speakers are can be problematic. Relying on POC (people of color) to be our educators and minstrels can be problematic. This is hard stuff.

This part I am saying to my white sisters, brothers, and others: I have been told repeatedly that Vermont-style racism is scarier for many POC because we are so “nice.” Our racism is rooted deeply and is buried. We have to dig in to see it sometimes. There are perhaps less overt racists than in Virginia (maybe not though – there are plenty of confederate flags here too, we’re just a smaller overall population), but our unchecked bias leads to more oppression. And digging in is painful. Racism hurts white people too. And when we first realize that, we might want to make the conversation about us. And that is also problematic.

One thing we do at the Peace & Justice Center to mitigate that it hosting a monthly drop-in discussion group on Toxic Whiteness. If you would like to join us from another part of the state, we can try to teleconference you in.

Also, while we do the inner unfolding of where we hold privilege, and while we take action in the streets, write letters, call politicians, organize campaigns, have hard conversations with people we don’t agree with, and all the other things we do as activists, I implore you to also take care of yourself. Here are two Chittenden County opportunities that I’ll mention briefly:

And here are some useful resources:

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