Today, I was near a protest against the alt-right. My participation was minimal. I sat on my bike and watched from a distance. Or, my plan was to watch from a distance, but they kept moving and changing direction. A new group would show up. Protestors filled in. Several times, I found myself caught between the two sides.
My t-shirt said, “Keep Calm and Study.” I wanted to sing, “All we are saying is give peace a chance…” What does the alt-right really believe? What do the protestors believe? I know some of the clergy. They believe in peace and love. But, other protesters shouted profanities and were clearly looking for a confrontation with the alt-right. In a context like the rally/protest in Charlottesville, there is no space for dialogue. It is tense. People yell. They shout slogans. The other side screams back. People scuffle, bunch up, and punch and push each other.
Some people are organized. A protestor had a microphone and seemed to be in charge. He shouted, “Move in!” Then, when the tension seemed ready to boil over, he said, “De-escalators! Come to the front!” De-escalator? That sounds appealing. Who gets that job? I would like to be a de-escalator. Or, maybe not. I was a short distance away when someone started spraying tear gas. I could not see which side. When it started to burn my eyes, I walked my bike through the crowd and away from the noise.
At one point, someone set off a purple smoke bomb. Someone else yelled, “Everyone back!” Like lemmings running off a cliff, mob mentality kicked in and we all moved back. A lead protestor encouraged people to move back up and told everyone to hold firm.
Different groups of alt-right people marched around. Each group had flags and matching outfits. Helicopters circled overhead. Drones whizzed around. The press took pictures and video. Extra police formed lines. The Virginia State Police were in riot gear. And, there was another group that looked like military police.
What did I learn?
Nothing. The alt-right has a constitutional right to hold their rally. I might not agree with what they say or what they believe in. But, I hold dear the constitution that gives them a right to rally. The protesters have a right to peacefully oppose the alt-right. Unfortunately, protesting gives legitimacy to the rally. My presence contributed to their legitimacy.
The police try to keep the peace. They do not know what different people intend to do in the rally/protest. They do not know what I plan to do, even though I told each one I saw that I was there to pray for them. If no one showed up, the alt-right would have no one to yell at. No protesters would yell at them. My presence contributed to their uncertainty and probably made their job harder.
I am a proponent of dialogue—having a conversation to discuss differences. I went because I wanted to say something against the alt-right, but my presence accomplished nothing. The hate group still hates.