Last Saturday's scenes from Charlottesville were shocking. The rallies and vigils since then have helped us feel connected with other people, and given us hope, and tomorrow's rally is important. There's also a vigil in Medford on Sunday.
The Somerville vigil on Wednesday, and the rally in Medford yesterday were especially meaningful to me because they expressed real community. People saw friends, remembered working together for years, and planned what to do next.
Here's what I said Wednesday; I've also included the text and video of School Committee member Andre Green, who gave a very challenging speech.
We were shocked, but we shouldn't have been surprised by what happened in Charlottesville. Racism, hatred of foreigners, and violence aren’t new in American history -- or even in Somerville history. (Remember the burning of the Ursuline Convent?) They have been here from the beginning. What is new in very recent history is the level of support they are receiving from the president.
Groups that promote racism and nativism and violence thrive on social support. The president’s words and actions embolden them and make them feel powerful. Their rallies let them find social support for their ideas.
We also find support from each other when we gather like this. But this is also a demonstration -- a showing that the forces of hate are not in the majority, that most people do not approve their message. Vigils like this are powerful responses. They undermine the social support that emboldens and empowers the forces of bigotry.
In the early 90s Somerville was -- as it always is -- changing. There was a lot of fear and resentment of newcomers of color. There was violence, including at the high school. Some leaders made statements that encouraged fear of outsiders. Somerville stood at a crossroads. What kind of community would we be? People came together in a Count on Me movement. We pledged to speak up against racism and bigotry. We wore buttons in many languages: count on me to speak up if I hear racist conversations. It didn’t stop violence and racism all at once. But it led to the Human Rights Comission and the Sanctuary City resolution. No elected official after that gave encouraging words to racism or fear. People in this community chose our history.
Now through events like this we help counteract the President’s statements and actions and we deny the forces of hatred the social support they thrive on. He has a bigger microphone. But there are lots more of us.
There was a sign on Woody Guthrie’s guitar during the Second World War: "This machine kills fascists."
I like Pete Seeger’s sign better. His banjo said: "This machine surrounds hate and forces it to surrender."
That’s what we’re doing. We are surrounding hate. We are choosing our history.