People hold a candle-light vigil on August 16, 2017 in Charlottesville

August 21, 2017

The murder of Heather Heyer and the injury to 19 other peaceful protestors by a neo-Nazi terrorist in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 12 marked a tragic new low in U.S. history.

A virulent, violent strain of racism, misogyny, xenophobia and anti-Semitism has infected the US body politic and expressed itself in hate-filled marches by unhooded KKK members and swastika-wearing Nazis. The iconic videos and photos of white neo-Nazi men marching, saluting Nazi-style and chanting “You [African Americans] will not replace us! Jews will not replace us!” and carrying menacing torches are juxtaposed with the scenes of a peaceful vigil in memory of Heather Heyer with a multiracial crowd of women and men carrying votive candles. That stark contrast helps to focus a central question for the people of the United States and the world: Which side are you on?

This moment is evocative of the scenes from Birmingham broadcasted on TV sets across the world in 1963. Sheriff Bull Conner unleashed attack dogs and water hoses on young Black civil rights protestors and awakened the consciousness of white America to the sins of Jim Crow and consequences for African Americans and the entire nation. As a nation, we had to decide who we would become. Would we allow the staunch segregationists to divide our country or would we seek racial justice and peace?

Today, we face a similar choice under different circumstances in the 21st century. This is a watershed moment to take stock of the unfinished business of the Civil Rights revolution and to resist the return of a mass fascist movement in the US.

President Donald Trump bears a great deal of responsibility for the rise in racist violence and white supremacist ideology. His coddling of neo-Nazis and his espousal of racist language has given legitimacy and impetus to a movement dedicated to hate. But Trump’s words and deeds are only the inevitable result of a culture and politics purposefully cultivated by Republican Party operatives and powerful elites. In a recent column, “The Other Inconvenient Truth,” New York Times columnist Charles Blow put it this way:

…[I]t seems too simplistic, too convenient, to castigate only Trump for elevating these vile racists…  Yes, Trump’s comments give them a boost, grant them permission, provide them validation, but it is also the Republican Party through which Trump burst that has been courting, coddling and accommodating these people for decades. Trump is an articulation of the racists in Charlottesville and they are an articulation of him, and both are a logical extension of a party that has too often refused to rebuke them.

While Republicans have a special responsibility to speak out against racism and bigotry, all of us have an urgent duty to mount a strong resistance to Trumpism, Nazism, and white supremacy. It means forging a new American identity across racial and ethnic lines anchored in a deep sense of a shared humanity and a common destiny. It means organizing for racial justice, economic security, and equality for all. It means committing ourselves to building a society where diversity does not breed division; where love, compassion and respect reign over hatred, bigotry and mean spiritedness. It means creating a world where there is no poverty, no violence, no walls. It means fighting for an inclusive democracy, a responsive government and a nation where all people belong. Only this will ensure that we’re on the right side of history.


Editor's note: The ideas expressed in this blog post are not necessarily those of the Haas Institute or UC Berkeley, but belong to the author.