Recently, I attended a rally against violence on the Meriden Green sponsored by the Women and Families Center and Chrysalis Center — they’re two local agencies that help to heal victims of violence and work to bring attention to the impact violence has on others.
Although about 50 people attended this event — including Mayor Kevin Scarpati and several Democrats on City Council — I noticed that not a single member of the Republican or We the People parties bothered to show up (and I wonder why that is, since we are witnessing an increase in violence across our country).
Hate groups, spurred on by a president who recently promoted the moral equivalence of Neo-Nazis and the KKK to those protesting against them, are growing more visible and aggressive directing their revulsion and bigotry against minority communities, certain religions and immigrants.
In the early 1960s, when there was significant civil unrest in America, I read a book entitled “Black Like Me,” written by middle-aged white journalist, John Howard Griffin. Griffin underwent a medical treatment to temporarily change the color of his skin to experience life as a black man in the south. His account had a major impact and helped me to understand some of what the oppressed had to endure.
Today, when I see and hear the hatred and violence against these groups of people, I see the faces of my friends and colleagues who are Latino, African American, Jews, and others who are the targets of these racist haters. And in those friends and colleagues I see wonderful Americans who possess the best of our family values — hardworking, loyal, caring and loving individuals who support and give back to their communities in numerous ways.
I’m fortunate to know and have friends from different cultures and backgrounds. I feel privileged that I’ve had the opportunity to get out of my comfort zone and reach out to others (and have been accepted, in return). My life has been enriched immeasurably by these relationships. So it personally pains me when haters threaten violence and harm to my friends and others like them.
This bigotry and hatred is un-American and has no place in a civil democratic society. It’s a scourge and must be condemned, prosecuted and eradicated if this country is ever to live up to the principles of its founders.
I am surprised and saddened that more Americans are not rising up to oppose these haters. Are they afraid to step up? Do they actually support the president’s racist behavior? This lack of a proactive response is shameful and cowardly. What will it take for them to finally say “enough of this!”? I hope it comes sooner than later.
The theme of many of the anti-violence groups is love.
While I certainly agree that we need to be a more loving and caring society, I don’t think love alone is enough because love without action is not as impactful as it could be. Rather, I believe that a message of “love-plus-action” — (speaking out and acting out in a non- violent fashion) is needed to gain positive results. I hope we have learned from the lessons of the past where unchecked hatred and violence against minority groups turned into the horrors of Nazi Germany.
What can we do to combat this rise of hatred and violence?
I suggest that we should make ourselves open to new experiences, that we reach out to someone not of our culture or faith, attend a cultural festival, study other cultures, try different food and listen to music of different cultures. Join a group that has a diverse membership; make a new friend different from you. Seek out opportunities to challenge hatred, violence and bigotry.
Resist any urge to defend the indefensible when people say or do something that is anathema to our American values. Above all else, do not remain silent in the face of hatred and oppression. To do otherwise is to embolden the haters. Racism is taught, and our hope for future harmonious race relations lies with our children. We owe it to them to demonstrate that we stand for tolerance and love against racism and hate.
It takes courage, energy and commitment to resist and battle racism. In the words of President John F. Kennedy: “The rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.”
For the sake of democracy and the future of our children, the struggle is worth it.
Michael S. Rohde is a former mayor and city councilor of Meriden.
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