Following last weekend’s white nationalist protest last weekend which left one counter-protester dead and others injured in Charlottesville, Va., Montclair Local reached out to a number of local leaders – community groups, town government, political organizations and religious groups – for their thoughts:
Al Pelham, president of the Montclair branch of the NAACP: It doesn’t surprise me that it happened. It’s sad that it did happen, but it doesn’t surprise me because unfortunately with the rhetoric that Trump — particularly when he was his campaign mode — has basically just emboldened people with those racist tendencies. They don’t have to hide anymore. You can come down to the University of Virginia with torches. You don’t have to worry about hiding your face anymore because you’re going to make America white again.
Unfortunately, I think it will happen again and again because those guys, Nazis, neo-Nazi guys, they’re like, “We’ve got a president, we’ve got an attorney general, we’ve got a guy that on the president’s staff, his chief strategist is one of us.”
As angry as we are, they now feel more power and they know they’re going to come out in 2018 and make sure their type of folks are in and President Trump has all the power he needs to go into 2020. I know there was a little peace rally up at Brookdale Park, and I can respect that, prayer vigils and stuff. But the bottom line is people have to get really busy and have to register to vote. They have to vote locally. They have to be involved in the process. We can’t just look at the results on CNN and say, “Oh my God, we’re sad,” but then two weeks later we don’t even remember what happened in Charlottesville until it pops up again in some other place.
Just like I thought the Trump victory would energize people to get involved, this has to energize people to get involved. If we’re angry, let’s get angry with our votes, with our voices … People have to be really educated on the politics … People have to join something —the NAACP, their church group — just doing something. To me that’s the big thing.
The Rev. A. Benito Prado, administrator, St. Teresa of Calcutta Parish: I am horrified by the recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia. The presence of the sin of racism in our day reminds us Christians as to still how much work we have to do in prayer and witness in recognizing each person as created in God’s image and likeness. I look forward to working collaboratively here in Montclair with all people of faith and people of good will to change the hearts of those who do not see the dignity and worth of every person, despite our differences.
The Rev. Campbell Singleton, senior pastor, Union Baptist Church: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (II Chronicles 7:14)
We are not born hating people because of the color of their skin. Racism is taught, internalized, practiced and passed down from generation to generation. It is deeply ingrained in America’s origins, inscribed in the American psyche and we have been sickened by its poisonous presence.
For centuries, racism has been normalized and accepted as “Just the way it is” and for some “Just the way I like it.” President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign was a code for “Make America White Again” and a rallying cry to restore the oppression of our separatist past replete with the sale of human beings, lynching and economic exploitation. President Trump is reckless and unfit to be president! He is fanning the flames for a race war in this country and at the same time escalating a nuclear war with another country.
His base, including the KKK, white supremacist, and neo-Nazis, has been emboldened by his divisive rhetoric, election and outright advocacy. The terroristic activity played out in Charlottesville, Virginia, is part of a recent outbreak and uptick in overt heinous crimes. More persons have joined the white nationalist movement and engaged in lethal violence resulting in death, injuries and a more divided nation.
For centuries, these extremists have operated in the shadow but now they have removed their masks and come into broad daylight and mainstream. President Trump’s delay to condemn the proud torchlit demonstration of hate in Charlottesville and then claim, “there are good people in the white nationalism group and both parties are at fault” is yet another example of his complicity and support of a white power culture. We now have a new visible generation of racists ramping up an old agenda. I believe the impetus for this resurgence is the fear of racist white people being a minority and losing power. This is a menacing thought for them.
In light of the Colin Kaepernick controversy, I wonder how, when, and where is the appropriate time, place and method to confront systems of white supremacy and move toward a just nation free from historical insidious impulse to hate and war. In Charlottesville, a freedom fighting people had the courage to stand together in a nonviolent anti-hate protest and were heartlessly mowed down by a hate-filled motorist, ending the life of Heather Heyer and injuring 19 persons.
The good news is that it is possible to disrupt the generational teachings and practice of racism one person at a time. It is possible for you to teach and practice love and resist evil. Change is possible. I firmly hold to the teachings of Jesus who said, “With God, all things are possible.” The God that raised Jesus from the grave with all power in His hand and overcame the world has the final Word in human affairs and God’s Word to us is a Word of hope and life.
Cary Chevat, co-founder, BlueWaveNJ: Elections have consequences. I am surprised that those who knowingly and willingly voted for a racist, and those who don’t think elections are important or were complacent or or voted for third parties, are surprised by the events of the last six months.
The only way to “Make America Sane Again” is to vote. There is an important election in less than 90 days right here in New Jersey and we have one chance to take our country back in 2018. Vote as if our democracy matters.
Joseph Kavesh, chair, Montclair Civil Rights Commission: The Civil Rights Commission strongly condemns all forms of discrimination, including the vile behavior on display by white supremacists and Neo-Nazis this past weekend in Charlottesville. While the First Amendment inarguably protects our country’s most precious rights, when it comes to bigotry, racism and anti-Semitism, there are not “many sides,” contrary to the President’s assertion. It is readily apparent that, despite the great strides made in this country over the past 50 years within the realm of civil rights, we need stronger laws against discrimination at the federal, state and local levels.
Renée Baskerville, Fourth Ward Councilwoman: I applaud Charlottesville’s Mayor Singer, the Charlottesville City Council, and Gov. McAuliffe for their handling of the barbarous situation in Virginia. It is emblematic of the bigotry, racism, fascism, ethnocentrism, micro-aggressions, racial/ethnic alienation; gender identification/expression discrimination, misogyny, xenophobia that has festered below the surface in America since its adaptation of an economic system anchored in slavery. The Bannonesque philosophy and rhetoric stoked the flames leading to the volcanic eruption in Charlottesville.
The antidote for the deranged behavior, and the wanton, reckless forms of total disregard for human life is a free public education of equal high quality for all, without regard to ZIP code; and the types of ongoing actions we undertake and environments we work to create in Montclair, where by law, policies, words and actions we seek to increase our hospitality index: to promote racial/ethnic/ inclusion, understanding, and affirmation; and sustain diverse talent pools of excellent workers and contractors. We work to strike the delicate balance between the First Amendment rights of our residents and maintaining safe and inclusive spaces for all regardless of their political or religious ideology (without censorship).
We welcome the opportunity to partner with Charlottesville to share some of the lessons painstakingly learned by Montclair in our ongoing efforts to maintain our reputation as one of America’s most diverse and inclusive townships.
Rabbi Ariann Weitzman, Bnai Keshet Reconstructionist Synagogue: As a rabbi who is deeply concerned about racial justice, anti-Semitism, and justice for all oppressed peoples, I was horrified by the events in Charlottesville. On Sunday, I read the first-hand accounts of rabbis, other clergy, and diverse counterprotesters who witnessed the violence, intimidation, and hate and stood up to it. I read the story of Congregation Beth Israel, located near Emancipation Park, standing up to threats of violence as armed neo-Nazis walked by shouting horrific things and white supremacist websites threatened to burn down their synagogue. I remembered the quote from Rabbi Nachman, which I translate as “The whole world is a very narrow bridge, and the most important thing is to not become overcome by fear.” Those standing on the side of the right and good chose not to be overcome by fear, despite having every reason to be.
The white supremacy we must fight in this country is home grown, with deep American roots that extend to this country’s founding and the centuries of colonization that preceded it. Even though it is baked into the bread of our nation, I continue to have hope for change. I know that those who were forced to labor and suffer to build this nation are at the forefront of building it into a nation of justice and love, and I trust them and put my faith in them.
I know that those of us whose families came here by choice and found opportunity and hope, like my family, will be standing beside them.
Maureen Edelson, Scoutmaster, Old/New Boy Scout Troop 4 Montclair: I’ll continue to pray daily for goodwill, respect, order, health and dignity among citizens and leaders of Montclair, the state, and the nation. To join with me, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chris Smith, football coach, Montclair Pop Warner Bulldogs: [Charlottesville] kind of hits home because my niece is a sophomore at UVA, my brother graduated from UVA, my sister-in-law graduated from UVA. I’ve been in the area for 20-something years, so I know it very well. So to see stuff like that happen is disappointing because you would think something like this would be in our rear-view mirror, in the course of history. To see people literally try to go back to an ugly period of time is really incredibly disappointing. I don’t know if these folks are just not students of history and they don’t see how this stuff typically ends. … And what our president is doing and not doing and saying and not saying — this stuff is crazy.
What I really want to do, and part of why I volunteer in football, is that I want these kids to see a different side of life and what’s possible. And just give them a role model and show that it’s not everything you see on TV. It’s not even what our president says it is. We have a lot of kids who I’m sure have immigrant parents and I’m sure we have kids who were born here and come from the South and come from all over the place. And that type of diversity should be celebrated, not denigrated.
To see people try and separate people strictly based off of skin color is crazy and clearly some people have not learned much. Disappointingly that … seems to be growing. I wish I had the answer other than we need to support each other and love each other and when we see something wrong … we do something about it. We don’t not say anything, we don’t leave it up to omeone else to do something about it. That everyone gets involved and says that it’s not right.
Written by Margaret White and endorsed by the Ministry and Oversight of Montclair Monthly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends: As a community, we are deeply saddened by this tragedy and appalled by the raw hatred, racism, and violence that were on shameless display by the Supremacists and other alt right groups. As Quakers, we believe deeply in the equality of all people, who all have “that of God” in them, and we abjure (totally reject) any violence against others. We will not give way to despair, but will renew our commitment to all the nonviolent ways there are to work against these rampant forces of hate, injustice, and inequality. As a community, we will strive to support each other in our individual ways of responding, such as prayer, actions for social justice, or simply efforts to make our daily lives reflect our beliefs in kindness, equality, and respect for all. We will lean on our faith in divine goodness, for we believe that Light can overcome darkness.
Note: An earlier version of the essay by the Rev. Campbell Singleton has been updated.