Crushing the Right As It Tried to Unite

By Jamie Stiehm

August 15, 2018 4 min read

WASHINGTON — I went down to the demonstration as a summer storm gathered in Lafayette Park, the seven-acre square facing the White House. It turned out the opposite of what I expected.

It was the one-year mark since the August 2017 deadly race riot in Charlottesville, Virginia, where one young woman lost her life. The exact same "Unite the Right" angry white supremacist crowd was coming to town to, you know, celebrate the anniversary.

So the city braced for the onslaught of "very fine people," as President Trump described both sides in the Charlottesville street scenes. When he defiantly uttered those words, his presidency took a wrong turn that could never be righted, so to speak.

The late Heather Heyer, a counterprotester, had died under a speeding car (in reverse) in a sea of hate, blood and skin under the Virginia sun. The Charlottesville police, woefully unprepared, did nothing to protect her and the brave band of counterprotesters from harm. And it got vicious very fast while the authorities watched.

Charlottesville, a university town, was shattered, and is still picking up the pieces. Nothing like that was supposed to happen there.

On our day, the summer storm was more sky than earth. A hard rain started falling almost on cue for our visitors, led by Jason Kessler, to stage their little rally. I was told by friends to wear a helmet, goggles, even Kevlar by an Army pal. I was advised not to go at all, but I couldn't stay home.

Scores, hundreds, thousands of people massed in a huddle, wielding signs, exuding a vibe of strange peaceful anger. Everyone I saw pouring into the park came to drown out Kessler's shouts. We were kept separate from them, white male supremacists, by a heavy blue line of police, a line nobody crossed.

The cops' body language: Don't even think about it, bro.

"I'm glad to see people of all colors and kinds, shapes and sizes," a woman said to me.

The assembly could not be typecast. It was more than aging hippies who knew what to do from the '60s. There were plenty of young people, hipsters on bicycles, families of all ages. Washington, about half white and half black, is a more diverse place than most know. The signs spoke loudly of hate having nowhere to go here. Some remembered Heather.

Then it dawned on me, under our umbrellas. We couldn't see or hear Kessler's rally near the equestrian statue of Andrew Jackson. Why? Because far from having 400 of his ilk marching in the streets, "fewer than 40 turned out," The Washington Post reported. Were they scared of being shamed? What a humiliating rout.

Not even Trump was home to host the "very fine people."

President Jackson in bronze reminded me of the first race riot that happened here, in August 1835. Jackson was president. Mob violence rose sharply under his watch. The old general hated "mob-law," always race-related, but had no sympathy for slaves or free people of color.

Turning to leave, I ran into a circle of Friends — also known as Quakers. As part of the counterprotest, they were holding a meeting for worship right there in the square — in silence, and anyone could speak if moved by the spirit. A Navy chaplain was among the group. They invited me to join them at the meetinghouse for supper. The lentil soup was excellent, and so was the company. I am always happy to be among Friends.

Quakers are pacifists, and among America's first slave abolitionists, who organized in 1833.

The day after Trump became president, a grand old civil rights leader told me to beware of "Confederates" all over again.

America progresses, but fitfully.

But there was room to feel good. The "right" side won the day.

To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit the website Creators.com.

Image courtesy of Jordan Uhl 

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