Prior to going to the August 25 “Interfaith Gathering Against Hate” at Temple Emanua-El, which featured Eva Paterson as guest speaker, I received an email from Indivisible SF that provided guidance for how their members should respond to media inquiries at the expected Patriot Prayer rally that had been set for Crissy Field in San Francisco the next day (before the organizer cancelled it after the San Francisco police communicated their vigorous plan to prevent violence). Those instructions included:
Do not criticize any other activist groups or activists. You can say, “That’s not an effort that we organized,” “No, I am not a part of that group,” or “We took a different approach of…” but that’s all.
If you are asked about violence or disruption, you can say that Indivisible SF is nonviolent and is here to demonstrate our opposition, not to antagonize or silence.
The media may try to bait you into either criticizing or condoning violent counter protests. Don’t do it! This feeds their “both sides” narrative and can be used to hurt our allies, even ones who didn’t actually commit any violence. Just come back to what we believe and why we are here.
Having mixed feelings about that guidance, as people gathered at the Temple, I asked several participants if they believe nonviolence advocates should publicly criticize those who initiate violence in efforts to shut down or silence free speech by neo-fascists or white supremacists. Most of them said yes, we should criticize them, though one or two were not certain. Many of them said they consider it a difficult and important question.
I also asked one if he believes that the nonviolence community should come together to develop a common plan for how to minimize violence at demonstrations. He replied in the affirmative and elaborated with great passion about the current fragmentation.
I also took note of one respondent’s suggestion that we organize a well-trained team of nonviolence advocates who would travel and engage in well-structured dialogues about race and related issues with folks with whom we have strong disagreements. He recommended bearing in mind the report from one former neo-fascist who said that what led to his conversion was hearing people talk about how neo-fascist statements affect them personally.
The interfaith service itself was marvelous. One highlight for me was the Jewish music. Another was Episcopal Mark Andrus’ statement that he has concluded he was wrong that Trump’s election was a 1939 moment — because as it has turned out, we have learned from the 1930s that we must resist. And the Buddhist Reverend Ron Kobata quoted a passage from Howard Thurman recommending that you ask yourself, What is it that makes you come alive?
Though she faced a tight time limit, Eva managed to get in a number of strong points. Early on, she asked the participants to meditate on and connect with all of the people in the world who are not bigots. I believe she said they constitute a majority.
After presenting some statistics on the increase in hate crimes in the United States, she said:
We need to show up for each other at other’s events and physically bear witness.
Believe a Higher Power will get us through this.
We must do this with love. We have to try to love them — or at least wish they would go away, which elicited considerable laughter.
We must stand up against evil and bigotry.
Remember the world is a beautiful place.
Art knows no fear.
And with that final comment, she closed with two poems.
The low road
By Marge Piercy
What can they do
to you? Whatever they want.
They can set you up, they can
bust you, they can break
your fingers, they can
burn your brain with electricity,
blur you with drugs till you
can’t walk, can’t remember, they can
take your child, wall up
your lover. They can do anything
you can’t stop them
from doing. How can you stop
them? Alone, you can fight,
you can refuse, you can
take what revenge you can
but they roll over you.
But two people fighting
back to back can cut through
a mob, a snake-dancing file
can break a cordon, an army
can meet an army.
Two people can keep each other
sane, can give support, conviction,
love, massage, hope, sex.
Three people are a delegation,
a committee, a wedge. With four
you can play bridge and start
an organization. With six
you can rent a whole house,
eat pie for dinner with no
seconds, and hold a fund raising party.
A dozen make a demonstration.
A hundred fill a hall.
A thousand have solidarity and your own newsletter;
ten thousand, power and your own paper;
a hundred thousand, your own media;
ten million, your own country.
It goes on one at a time,
it starts when you care
to act, it starts when you do
it again and they said no,
it starts when you say We
and know who you mean, and each
day you mean one more.
Still I Rise
By Maya Angelou
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like suns and like moons,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
My 1:20 minute video of the event is on YouTube at https://youtu.be/5czf1wWeJh8