Our country is more divided now than it has been since Confederate guns fired on Ft. Sumter in 1861, starting the Civil War.
Apparently hoping for a “boogaloo” (second civil war), right-wing militia groups are stockpiling assault weapons to use on fellow Americans. President Donald Trump recently retweeted a supporter saying, “the only good Democrat is a dead Democrat.” Trump teargassed peaceful demonstrators, violating their constitutional right to petition the government, so he could pose holding a Bible.
But there are many reasons to be hopeful. The Chinese word for “crisis” also means “opportunity.” And this historical moment may issue forth, as former President Abraham Lincoln said, “a new birth of freedom.”
When Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany, there were protests at first, but they didn’t last long. In July 1932, journalist Fritz Gerlich mocked Hitler’s horrific racial purity ideas in his article, “Does Hitler Have Mongolian Blood?” Gerlich pointed out Hitler’s nose didn’t look Germanic. Months later, Hitler gained power, and Gerlich was beaten to death in the Dachau concentration camp. His shattered and blood-splattered wire-rimmed glasses were delivered to his wife in a shoebox. Terror began quickly.
Americans can be proud that our protests about Trump and racism have not subsided. Eighty years after the Nazis’ defeat, it’s embarrassing to have demonstrations in Berlin against racial violence in the United States. Nevertheless, we are a better country than when Dr. Martin Luther King led a march on Washington.
Today, in spite of significant racism, we are a more tolerant nation than when I was coming of age in the 1960s. Now most Americans embrace the right of our gay brothers and sisters to their “pursuit of happiness,” and racism is largely despised.
This was clearly evident on June 6, when I joined hundreds of people lining North Bend’s streets for a Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest. A young woman, Salma Habashi, from Mt. Si High School organized and led the protesters in chanting victims’ names: George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tamir Rice and Ahmaud Arbery. I wanted to shout, “and Medgar Evers, Emmett Till and Martin Luther King, too,” but I didn’t. This was the protest of a younger generation … a better generation than mine.
Our community should be very proud of Habashi and our Mt. Si students who organized this demonstration. She exhorted BLM protesters to remain peaceful, stay off the streets and keep out of business entrances. When some engaged two “Blue Lives Matter” counter-protesters, Habashi reminded everyone they had a right to also protest.
I was surrounded by young people who had come out to witness for racial justice. One young woman’s sign read, “All Lives Matter…When Blacks Lives Matter.” Another said, “Peaceful Protest.” Many young people held signs reading, “White Silence = Complicity.” I smiled at a white-haired protester’s sign that read, “I can’t believe I still have to protest this crap.”
The BLM- protesters were friendly, happy and even joyful at times. This rally’s spirit likely came from the surprise discovery that we were not alone in caring. A joy I felt myself.
The police were treated respectfully. Some protesters thanked them for being there. When a young person circled the block while revving his engine, which roared like it had no muffler, an old fellow got a chuckle out of a Snoqualmie police officer when he suggested, “We should take up a collection to buy him a muffler.”
One small group remained aloof, clustered together, neither participating nor smiling. Some were armed with guns. One appeared to be wearing an ammunition vest. None wore masks to protect from COVID-19. Protesters wore masks to protect them, but the kindness was not returned. Wisely this group was ignored by the protesters, except for one white-haired old guy who approached them to take their pictures and had his phone knocked out of his hand for his efforts.
Yes, we should celebrate the love and activism for justice that was shown by our high school students. We can find hope in passing the baton to a new generation seeking a more just world.
Still we ask, “How many years must a people exist before they are allowed to be free?”
Roger Ledbetter is a politically-active resident of the Valley. He and his family have lived in Snoqualmie since 1979. Contact him through the editor by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.