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We live in a country with good people all around—great Americans committed to all that this country stands for. And, yet, in the midst of it all, what was laid bare in the events in Charlottesville over the weekend was the fact that in some communities and towns across America, ugly, divisive factions are at work seeking to pit citizen against citizen. Responses to this abhorrent gathering ranged from silence, to tepid statements to the most clear, fearless call-outs for what it was: a modern version of the Nazi spirit that swept across Germany in those earliest days, or the racial bigotry that swept across swaths of our own nation in our own dark past, resulting in a bloody war, sometimes pitting brother against brother, 150 years ago. And while, yes, this was one incident and perhaps not an exact parallel to the more dramatic and ubiquitous events of the past, still, it merits contemplation.
In our work at the Case Foundation over the last 20 years, we have maintained a strong focus on igniting civic engagement, with a firm belief that an active, engaged citizenry makes for a strong democracy.
Taking up the lessons from ugly factions that emerged in other places through history, and even across our own nation in the past, we recognize that we cannot wait until divisiveness takes a stronger hold in our streets, or impacts us in a personal way.
In Charlottesville and across the country, we must call out hate and bigotry—and individuals and organizations that promote them—for what they are. We must stand up with a voice and with actions early, when we see this reprehensible movement on display. We must stand together with those being targeted to offer our support and assurances that we’ll have their back. We must be swift and clear with our words to send the strongest signal possible that hate and racial bigotry have no place in America. Our voice, our actions should be directed with full awareness that we want to be counted—counted in the present as those who will stand up for the values of this nation and for its citizens, and counted through time so the next generation may never have to ask, “How did they let this happen?”
In short, we need to turn this threat of division into an opportunity to come together as citizens.
In the coming days, we each must ask how we can use our voice, our participation, our resources and our actions to make a difference. Dangerous movements that threaten society often start as one moment with just a few participants. But just as Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of the “fierce urgency of now”, we, as caring, committed citizens must create our own positive movement to overwhelm the voices of hate, bigotry, violence and division before they are given a chance to grow and further infect our communities. We each have a role to play and now is the time to play it.