Response to Aug 12 Rally in Charlottesville

The following is Adam's statement in response to the August 12 Unite the Right rally:

As a long-time resident of Virginia’s 5th District, husband, father, person of faith, and president of my congregation who worked with other faith leaders to plan how best to address the Unite the Right rally, I want to comment in detail on the events of this past Saturday.

Saturday’s rally in Charlottesville was a tragedy. The sentiments of racism and anti-Semitism were cruel and unfounded, and the expression of those sentiments in the form of violence was barbaric. We thought, and now know, that there were at least some protesters there with no regard for human life.

So many people did heroic work to prepare for this onslaught of hate, and in the face of it:

  • Some of you taught people to confront evil through de-escalation and non-violent direct action, and some of you took time to learn and use that training.
  • Some made calls for clergy to come from around the nation to stand in solidarity, while others answered that call. Some preached, some worshipped.
  • You donated food and water to care for those on the front lines, or you distributed that food.
  • You worked to protect people, and to provide aid, both in your professional roles and as volunteers.
  • You screamed in the face of injustice, even as you were being pepper-sprayed.
  • You held services and worshiped at your black churches, and at your synagogue, on perhaps the most dangerous day of your life to do so. I listened as some of you cried—as you’ve been doing for four hundred years—that treating you like a second-class citizen will never, ever be acceptable. And I watched as others of you carried your sacred Torah to safety, and then vacated your temple just hours before a call went out to burn it down.
  • You linked arms, and you marched. You were willing to be beaten and injured, and some of you were beaten and injured.
  • Some of you simply prayed for justice, or safety, or both.

We did so much to be ready for this.

And in the end, people died. Three people lost their lives in spite of the energy and wisdom and love that this community and this country brought to Charlottesville: Heather Heyer, Lt. Jay Cullen, Trooper Berke Bates. The fact that they were willing to risk harm doesn’t dull the pain we feel at their loss.

We all mourn for them. Yet even as we mourn their loss we must remember that the work we did, the work they did, had meaning, and made a difference. What we do always matters. What we say matters. It matters every day.

Many of us are also thinking about next time. When will “next time” happen? How do we prepare ourselves? How can we prevent it, or can we prevent it?

Depending on your beliefs, you know that God, or fate, has some say. But we, also, have a say, and I call on us to respond in every way we can:

  • First, speak up. Name white supremacy and anti-Semitism when you see them. Don’t allow them to get a foothold without your witness.
  • Second, continue to work for justice and equity. Re-double your efforts. Make it clear that no matter how many rallies come to our cities to denigrate the people we love, they will get nowhere in terms of slowing our progress.
  • Third, get out there in the world and learn about your neighbor. Research shows that most of us don’t have meaningful relationships with people of races other than our own. If there’s a sure way to break down feelings of prejudice between groups, it’s to get them to spend time getting to know each other.
  • And finally, we must undo the economic systems and laws that create inequity in our poor communities and rural communities and minority communities; systems that make people feel like they’re competing for scarce resources in the richest country in the world; that make us feel like we have to compete with others for the American Dream. That’s a false narrative; this country produces enough for all of us. We need to end policies that help route America’s great abundance to the wealthiest among us and start making policies that allow people to fairly earn it through hard work and perseverance.

These are not easy tasks. Each one of them poses a significant challenge. Together they plunge us into the unknown, where our charge is no less than answering the question: Who owns America? Not just who owns its statues and its monuments, but who owns its history, and its future.

The answer, of course, is “all of us.” Americans have answered this question for centuries with our sweat and our tears and our lives. We’ve answered it as farmers, activists, factory workers, immigrants, abolitionists, protectors of public safety and national security, as fathers and mothers. And this past weekend we answered it again--again with our sweat and our tears and our lives. America belongs, and will always belong, to all of us.

May God bless us as we move forward, and show us where to stand firm, when to fight, and how to heal.