What Charlottesville Means & What We Can Do Now

Reflections on Charlottesville

I was in Columbia SC last Monday, watching the full solar eclipse. While there I sought out the spot in front of the South Carolina state capitol building where the confederate battle flag recently came down. Seeing the clean cement slab lying empty on the green grass where a symbol of division and hate had flown put my previous weekend in Charlottesville in perspective.  That cement slab, relieved of its flag, reminded me of this:

There are moments when history accelerates…and it’s important to seize those moments.

There are times when we can impel decision-makers to make bold choices that move us toward inclusion; moments when hurtful symbols of white supremacy and black subordination can, with focused effort, be toppled from their perches.

For Columbia South Carolina, June 2015 was such a time.  For Richmond Virginia, today is such a time.

In June 2015 an avowed white supremacist murdered nine African American members of Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church. In a powerful act of civil disobedience 10 days later, Bree Newsome scaled the flagpole in front of the capitol building and brought the flag down. That action was so courageous, so visually dramatic, symbolically potent, and well timed, that it created ripple effects that still continue today. Shortly after, SC Republican governor Nikki Haley, with the support of the SC legislature, signed a law to remove the battle flag permanently–a remarkable development. For Haley, who’d previously expressed support for the flag as a symbol of “Southern heritage,” events had forced a change in perspective.

Some are now saying that “Charlottesville could be to Confederate monuments in Central Virginia what Charleston’s tragedy was to the flag in South Carolina.” 

This is true–if we make it true.

Moreover I believe that this moment crystalizes the larger reality that monuments are only the tip of a much deeper iceberg of racial trauma. Transforming symbols of white supremacy is  necessary, but that’s only the first step. The deeper work of confronting the truth of our country’s history of white racial oppression, apologizing for that history, and making amends for that history, must begin now.  

What Can We Do Now?

Join in Reflection Tonight
The Peace Center will convene a opportunity for reflection about Charlottesville, white supremacy and nonviolence for RPEC members and friends to discuss and process tonight, Monday, August 28th, at Richmond Friends Meeting (4500 Kensington) at 6pm. Please come.

Take a Stand on Monuments
After Charlottesville, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney announced that he is expanding the mandate of his Monument Avenue Commission to allow for consideration of monument removal. This provides an opportunity for a substantive, truthful and healing transformation of Monument Avenue. Although the September 13th commission public meeting has been postponed, it’s crucially important to submit your views here: https://www.monumentavenuecommission.org/input/ . Symbols of white supremacy and black subordination have for too long dominated our city’s public spaces. The time is overdue for change.

Peace Center Advocacy Team
The Peace Center’s newly reorganized Advocacy committee is launching, staffed by new staffmember Jelani Drew. We will be preparing trainings for change and organizing activities to mark the one-year anniversary of the Trump inauguration.  Join our efforts on an ongoing basis by contacting jelani@rpec.org.

Guns and White Supremacy
Our elected leaders need to know where we stand when it comes to white supremacists and guns. Virginia’s pro-gun laws restrict localities from regulating and controlling firearms, even semi-automatic weapons with large magazines toted by neo Nazis. This purist defense of the right to bear arms makes marches and rallies by heavily armed white supremacists border on paramilitary invasions. I do not want armed neo-Nazis marching down Monument Avenue toting submachine guns. Do you? Contact your US Representative here. Contact your State Delegate here.

“Voices from Charlottesville”
Mark your calendar for our scheduled program Voices from Charlottesville, to be held on Sept. 28 at the downtown public library in partnership with Bijou Theater.

Ten Ways to Fight Hate: A Community Response Guide
Handbook on Fighting Hate:
Read the Southern Poverty Law Center guide on community responses to fighting hate. It opens: “Hate is an open attack on tolerance and acceptance. It must be countered with acts of goodness. Sitting home with your virtue does no good. In the face of hate, silence is deadly.”

Stand in Nonviolence

At RPEC we stand in the tradition of radical transformative nonviolence. For us this means working actively to dismantle systems of oppression including racial oppression, which is itself a system of violence, but doing so in a way that does not inflict harm on others. Nonviolent actions often enact in the here and now the world we want to see. (The Freedom Rides were one such example. Bree Newsome’s act is another.) This moment calls for more acts of creative nonviolent resistance like the action that Bree Newsome took–actions that prefigure the world we want, while moving hearts and minds…and accelerating history. 

This is Part III of this Reflection.  Read Parts I & II: Charlottesville: Why I Went & What I Saw, here.