Elie Wiesel once said: “One thing we have learned is that when you face evil, don’t let it grow, fight it, right away. Had Hitler been fought immediately there would have been no Holocaust. Be watchful.”
Congressman John Lewis said the same thing. There were magnets made of this quote in many Civil Rights museums that I visited. He said: “When you see something that is not right or just, you have a moral obligation to stand up, to speak up. Find a way to get in the way… get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”
In Pirkei Avot, the rabbis wrote: “Lo alecha hamlacha ligmor – it is not your responsibility to finish the work, but you can’t desist from it.”
A call for action has been sounded. My facebook feed just told me to be in Memphis at 3:30pm today to meet with the mayor to pressure on him to remove the Confederate statues there. Following Durham and Baltimore – Memphis is next.
What occurred in Charlottesville on the weekend is horrific. Donald Trump has no moral compass – responding exactly like Pharoah did, encouraging the violence. Trump’s psychopathic tendencies will not allow him to denounce the actions of the white supremacists who used violence to squash the opponents protest, resulting in the death of a 32 year old woman. Donald Trump is like Pharoah. Rav Daniel Landes, wrote an article today in the Times of Israel where he wrote about Pharoah’s desire to make his nation “Great Again”. Sound familiar? Landes wrote about how Pharoah let loose roaming gangs to create mischief – (white supremacists, perhaps?) – for they knew, that what Pharoah wanted was random acts of violence that could be blamed on the victims themselves who somehow provoked them. That’s what going on. Trump is blaming the alt-left for their “violence”. Even on BBC’s Newsnight a few nights ago, there was a voice from the “unite the right” movement who cited that it was the left who are violent. The supremacists cannot be turned into sympathetic characters. We have to get in the way – but not into trouble.
Martin Luther King Jr’s inspiration of satyagraha – of non violent civil disobedience, was the only way that enabled the 1964 and 1965 Civil Rights and Voting Rights bills to be passed by the Federal government. Exposing the violence from the white supremacists is the answer. Continuous exposure.
Since my return to England, in the past week, Confederate monuments have been torn down in Durham, North Carolina as well as Baltimore, Maryland. Why?
Confederate statues were built in the early 1900s in response to Reconstruction, to herald the leaders of the Confederacy during the US Civil War that ended in 1865. After the end of the war, the Union federal troops occupied Southern states until the mid 1870s. Reconstruction then enabled African American businesses to thrive, schools, universities and other educational institutions were set up, and culturally the community began to thrive. In 1896, in response to the feeling of being encroached, the Supreme Court passed the Plessy vs Ferguson decision, creating a separate but equal set of laws which deliberately set back the African American population, forcing their dreams to be deferred. So Confederate statues were erected, to glorify Robert E Lee, Nathan Bedford Forrest and other Confederate soldiers in concrete permanence.
Several weeks ago, Ali and I were in Durham, North Carolina. As we drove into the city, we pulled over in front of the Courthouse building. We spotted several statues in front of the building, including a memorial to the local soldiers who fought, in World War One, World War Two, the Korean War and then a statue that honoured “the men in gray” – the Confederate soldiers.
And yesterday it was pulled down. Roy Cooper, the Democratic governor of North Carolina called for the state to initiate the removal of Confederate statues from state property. “These monuments should come down,” Cooper wrote. “Our Civil War history is important, but it belongs in textbooks and museums – not a place of allegiance on our Capitol grounds.”
I am sure this week will bring even further movement. There is so much to read. So much to think about. So much to feel. Have to keep our eyes on the prize.