By Lacey Williams, Youth Programs Manager
When I heard that neo-Nazis were coming to town, it made me angry. There was no way I was going to let white supremacists come to my town unopposed. As the youth director of the Latin American Coalition, I see the daily toll that hate has on immigrant youth. It wasn’t even a question of would we act, it was only a question of how.
After much consulting with our immigrant youth leaders and a few national partners, we settled on a clown theme and quickly discovered a similar action had taken place in Knoxville, TN a few years ago. We figured this was something we could really run with and let our senses of humor go wild. We reached out to some allies in other communities and, of course, created a Facebook event. Through word of mouth our event just seemed to explode and tickle the imaginations of Charlotteans and North Carolinians.
Don’t Ignore Hate
During the planning process, most of the feedback we got was very supportive, but some folks were really encouraging us to not address the event. They said we would only bring the white supremacists more coverage and that we would lend credence to their message.
We disagreed, wholeheartedly.
One of the most important things to know about hate is that when left unaddressed it doesn’t just go away. As a gay person, I know the pain of someone spewing anti-gay hate speech and watching people just walk by like nothing is happening. When good people do nothing to stop hate then they also become culpable for the damage it does. And something that became clear to me before the protest was that their hate was going to get coverage no matter if we showed up or not.
When I woke up Saturday morning I had an unexpected message. It was from an acquaintance of mine who is a rabbi in Charlotte, and someone I deeply admire. The message read, “I can’t be at today’s protest event because it is Shabbat and I have other commitments but I wanted to let you know how deeply I appreciate your organizing this event. So much of my family was wiped out in the Holocaust. I am named for one of my father’s aunts who died in Auschwitz. The thought of a neo-Nazi event in Charlotte makes me sick. Thank you.”
I thought to myself. “That. That is why we are doing this today.” Let us resolve to always live in a community where hate never goes unchallenged.
It’s About Intersections
As we were preparing for our protest and learning more about the hate groups involved- the National Socialist Movement (NSM) and the Ku Klux Klan- it was quite clear that these groups went beyond just hating immigrants. Sure, the rally was focused on “illegal immigration,” and that is one of the reasons the Latin American Coalition took the lead in organizing a counter protest. But when you looked into the platform of the NSM, their ultimate goal is to limit immigration to whites, heterosexuals, and, presumably, Christians. The KKK also has similar sentiments. Furthermore, the NSM would like the government to forcibly remove all non-whites from the U.S.
As a person who works in immigrant rights work, I work with students who have multiple identities- gay, undocumented, working class, non-gender conforming. There is no clearer place where the intersection of identities lives than in the ideology of these types of hate groups. They don’t just hate gay people or just hate immigrants, they hate different. We have to do a better job, as advocates that represent different oppressed communities, of coming together and speaking out against hate. The Latin American Coalition will work harder to bring people together to work for collective liberation from oppression and for inclusive access to social and civic institutions.
Humor, Not Hate
When we were deciding how to respond to hate in our community, humor seemed to be the right tone. Any other response would have told the NSM and KKK that we took them seriously.
The truth is there were counter protesters who yelled obscenities at the Nazis. There were people looking for a fight. Those tactics don’t move our country forward. Violence discredits our message and allows the media to create a false equivalency that both sides are “full of hate.”
A fellow advocate in the community told me that though it is important for us to counter anti-immigrants in our community, it is also imperative that we not “become them.” We can’t ever lose our humanity in the fight for social justice and we can’t reduce the humanity of our adversaries either.
It’s Time for Reform
This protest has captured the hearts and minds of many people across our state and across the country. In a time of unrest, relentless partisanship, and ‘post-racial’ racism, it’s often difficult for people to come together about anything, let alone immigration issues. I’m willing to bet 20 clown noses that there were a few people standing with us who really didn’t know how they felt about immigration.
But the point is that most people know how they feel about blatant hate. We can’t ignore that much of the fuel of the anti-immigrant fire is hate, xenophobia and racism. We have serious work to do in reforming our immigration policy and 65% of voters in the recent election said they favored a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. That’s 65% of Americans who disagree with the NSM and the Klan.
For the other 35%, go ahead and come on over to our side of the fence. It’s the right side of history. And we have better jokes.