A lot of folks are saying KKK and Nazis should never have been allowed to march in Charlottesville, that local officials should have declared it hate speech and a threat to public safety. But don’t you think that many thousands of us confronting the haters shows the world something? Isn’t the First Amendment working in this case? Surely, it encourages passionate activism.
— Ben, Bed Stuy
A big bunch of cowards from Trump on down to local politicians and cops in Cville let torch-burning Klansmen and neo-Nazis parade before the world. It was psychological cruelty to people for whom lynchings are fresh in mind. I’m thinking of African-American children most especially.
If we could surround the KKK with thousands of peaceful people, that seems ideal. But lets be realistic, there are some of us who will be suckered into matching the self-righteous violence of the hard right we face.
We should go in the other direction. Much of the 36 percent of the country that still supports Trump are probably more complex than they seem. Nelson Mandela put it very much to the point: “People must learn to hate, and if they learn to hate, they can be taught to love.”
We need to engage them. We need to learn to talk and listen with everyone we can, and find a way to reverse our fear of The Other — those with different religions and skin colors and cultures, but also all the living beings of the Earth.
The climate crisis tells us that we can’t waste time with unproductive anger. Not now. We need to self-cultivate a radical forgiveness that encourages the same in others. Learning to talk across class and race and gender, standing at a front door with something better than a Democratic candidate to offer. Lets talk about saving each other. Lets talk survival. This is what the Earth is asking us to do with her fire and floods.
• • •
Dear Reverend Billy,
I’m sick of this goddamn country. By hook or by crook, I’m getting out. I’m tired of its racism, its wealth inequality, its crazy President. A citizenry that elects a man like that deserves to sink into the ocean. You’re a well-traveled man. Where I should move?
— Samantha, Greenpoint
I’m writing from Belfast, Northern Ireland. The choir and I were invited by local activists who asked for our help bridging the religious divide and addressing the political violence there. Meanwhile, they teach us. We take in each others’ struggles. One thing we’ve learned — we can’t escape Trump by “pulling a geographic.”
You can try to find yourself a private Norway, but the political class across the world is concocting different combinations of surveillance, guns, debt, marketing, celebrity culture, toxins, hunger and fear. “Apocalypse management” is the new leadership. Around the world people have the sensation that they are falling into chaos.
Go out into the place where you live. Sit on your front stoop and really take a look at your neighborhood. That struggle to save the corner bodega from another Starbucks is the key to freedom. Free your local park of pollutants, get to know a conservative neighbor, find your radical patience, plant a rooftop garden. Dig in!
Reverend Billy is an activist and political shouter, a post-religious preacher of the streets and bank lobbies. He’s been in New York forever with the activist performance group the Church of Stop Shopping. Got a question for Reverend Billy? Just email RevBilly@Indypendent.org and unburden your soul.
Photo: Clergy and other protesters band together following a deadly attack on anti-fascist protesters in Charlottesville on Aug. 12. Credit: Mike Ben Zev.