By: Matt Thompson
On Saturday, August 12th of this year, a rally by White Nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia, captured the attention of the entire nation and possibly, the entire world. As fate would have it, during the subsequent days, I was involved in the facilitation of several large group discussions where the impact of those events became “the eight-hundred-pound gorilla in the room” that crept into each and every conversation of any particular day’s events.
The response by president T-rump (I’m well aware of my spelling) left me pissed off. I don’t know any other way to put it. Doing my job as a “neutral” and paying attention to the process of creating space for all opinions to hit the floor was harder for me this week than any other time I remember in thirty-plus years of this work.
I graduated high school in 1965 and remember the impact of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 on my parents and the rest of our African-American community and the doors I thought they opened for me as a blossoming adult.
Now, fifty-two years after my high school graduation and vision of social parity (or at least full citizenship) I was psychologically smacked down by the response of our national leadership and what came to mind for me was the term “illusion of inclusion”. I chose to air my true feelings through social media outlets like Facebook and twitter or through deep, personal conversations with my racial and ethnic peers or with White allies. I also remember resenting the outrage expressed by my White allies and my self-righteous attitude of “What do YOU know?”.
Meanwhile, I found myself trying to facilitate conversations between groups of people; some of whom were familiar with each other and some were just coming together for the first time. I felt a bit hypocritical as I asked them to speak their truth but to listen to others with genuine curiosity and a desire to understand, not to judge. Meanwhile I was in high judgement mode.
As it so happens, one of the featured speakers at one of my events this past week was Boston Police Commissioner, William Evans. Now, the last thing this pissed of Black man wanted to hear in that moment was the voice of a “Top Cop” telling me how restrained he was preparing his team to be. My little inner voice was just dripping with sarcasm as I thought “yeah, RIGHT!”
Now fast forward to Saturday the 19th and the forty “Alt-right” free speech protesters on the Boston Common were offset by forty thousand counter protesters marching in from two miles away. I had family members in attendance at the counter protest but I chose to stay home and text and phone in the logistics and information from the broadcast media so my family could balance their on-the-ground perspective with some news they could not otherwise access.
The Alt-right speakers finished their demonstration early and the police then decided to end all the demonstrations on the Boston Common as quickly as possible. What a setup for violence, especially from the counter protesters, a good number of whom hadn’t even set foot onto the Boston Common.
Surprisingly, the law enforcement officials showed great restraint, even in the face of provocateurs who tried to incite a confrontation with the police. When small incidents did happen, the police elected to pursue the individual provocateur and arrest them while allowing the main body of counter protesters to continue their demonstration. With forty thousand people on the ground the police only ended up arresting/stopping thirty-three people. I do know at least one of them was a provocateur because he was wearing a “Black Lives Matter T-shirt with a “88” tattoo on his wrist. (For the uninformed, the eighth letter of the alphabet is H so his number stands for HH or “Heil Hitler”.)
My family returned feeling safe and unthreatened and in solidarity with the other counter protesters. Other friends who were in attendance also said the same.
Between the sheer number of counter protesters who did not want the Alt-right protesters voices to be perceived as having any validity here in Boston and the true restraint of the Boston Police, I was forced to admit that there just MIGHT be hope for the future of disenfranchised people even under the current presidential regime. Just maybe, I ain’t as alone as I felt in that moment on Saturday, August 12, 2017.