The Gloves Are Off: It’s Time to Pick a Side in the Wake of Charlottesville

Photo Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

I turned on my regular news podcast Up First this morning only to hear NPR’s Rachel Martin say, “After a combative news conference, many are asking ‘which side is the President on?’”. Are we really still asking this? For many of us, there was never a question of what side Mr. Trump is on. But yesterday, Mr. Trump all in question pretty apparent. He upended any reasonable doubt of who he is, what side he stands on, and who his people are.

There comes a time in every generation where we must, indeed, pick sides. No movement has ever succeeded without clearly discerning the moral quandary forcing people to choose a stance. You may not liken yourself an activist, but you may recognize these defining questions: Are you a racist segregationist or are you for civil rights? Are you for or against the war in Vietnam? Are you going to let thousands of your friends and neighbors die of HIV/AIDS or are you going to embrace them and help them find a cure? Are you homophobic or are you going to let gay people get married?

Today’s question is no different. So here it is: 
Do you believe that all people deserve equal rights, treatment and opportunity or do you embrace a world where money, race and power dictate your lot in life?

Put another way: 
Do you believe in the fundamental tenets of democracy — inclusion, justice, equal protection under the law, voice, community, the power of everyday people—or are you on the side of the tyrants who will do everything in their power to mold the system to their advantage for the benefit of only a few?

To be clear, the current question at hand transcends political persuasion, economics, ideology, religion, race.

This is a fundamentally moral question about the person you choose to be and how you choose to be in this world. Your peers may not judge you, but history will.

We have, at best, a Nazi sympathizer, and, at worst, an actual white nationalist in the White House. This is no longer about everyday Democrat versus Republican politics. This is not even just about black versus white. White nationalists hate all of us… gays, Jews, Muslims, immigrants, women, people of color, people who have different beliefs than them… The majority of us. It is time to decide: are you with this majority or against us?

Some of my Facebook friends insist there is no “us” and “them” there is only “we”. I firmly disagree. There are some people in this country whose humanity we can accept but whose fellowship we cannot. They will never be a part of “us” because they explicitly choose not to be. I do not distinguish between an “us” and “them” to exclude. They do. It’s time we made this self-evident by explicitly picking our own side, together and inclusively.

Here’s who I think “us” is:

  • The “us” of this country has a moral compass. We put universal justice, peace, nonviolence, human rights above our own individual religious beliefs or financial benefit.
  • We are the “us” that understands that we are a stronger country because of our history of immigration, that our earliest forefathers were, themselves, religious refugees.
  • “Us” recognizes that there are others who are a part of the “us” who may say or do things that we do not understand or agree with but are grounded by common values.
  • “We” believe that unity and struggle are a critical part of our country’s history and must continue to put our most marginalized at the center of this fight or we’ll all continue to be attacked.
  • ‘“Us” that believes that democracy is the best, worst form of government and, while we have a lot of rebuilding to do, our democracy cannot survive when the majority of people’s voices are excluded, silenced, ignored or disappeared.
  • “Us” understands the true value of difference. “We” must stand on the side of radical embrace of those who are different from us not because it is easy but because it is necessary for our survival as a human race.

None of this simply means tolerance. Tolerance breeds segregation. Tolerance breeds excuses as to why some of us may be better than others, why we do not have to stand in each other’s shoes to realize that there is much more that can bring us together than can divide us. Tolerance keeps bigotry at bay, as a distant myth rather than expelling it for the poison that it is.

The choice really is that simple. I have worked with nonviolent grassroots movements in close to thirty countries, many of which are operating in far more repressive, authoritarian environments than ours. I can say in full confidence that our democracy cannot, will not survive into the next decade if we do not unite against the common, toxic enemy that is swiftly dismantling every democratic check and balance we hold dear with a greed, coated with a racism and bigotry of Nazi proportions.

Charlottesville, a liberal bastion in the middle of conservative, rural Virginia, could be any of our towns or cities. We have a President who emboldens the white nationalism that has brewed throughout our country since its founding. It is everywhere.

This country has never fully embraced or included “the tired, the poor, the huddled masses.” We have aligned ourselves along increasingly false dichotomies — Democrats/Republicans, capitalists/socialists/communists, black/white, left/right, Christian/Muslim/Jew/Buddhist, immigrant/”American”, property owner/renter, educated/uneducated… But that has to stop. Now.

Social movements have played a pivotal role in all transformative change throughout history, and they succeed because a majority of good people choose to actively be a part of them. It is not enough to continue to disagree and then add a “but” at the end of your sentence to subdue the overt vulgarities of the other side. It is not enough to be “good” silently. The “good people” of our time will be the people who said something repeatedly, did something repeatedly and pushed ourselves outside of our comfort zones.

The “good people” of our time will be the people who said something, did something and pushed ourselves outside of our comfort zones.

Most importantly, “good people” will be the people who are willing to realign and supersede the lines that have been drawn for us (and by us) for centuries. This means reaching out to people who they may not agree with on everything but can agree that what is happening right now and the vigilantes that hijacked the White House are in the wrong and must be stopped.

There are a lot of ways to choose your side today: Post on social media (if this is not your norm), call a family member not fully aligned with your beliefs, hug a neighbor, join a protest, donate to different causes actively working to support affected communities, start a neighborhood group, go to dinner with strangers, write a letter directly to the President, call your member of Congress or local representative… This list is as long as this struggle, but whatever you do, choose. And then do something.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images