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Thoughts on Charlottesville

When the “Charlottesville” tragedy occurred, I thought of my visits there, the pleasant pedestrian mall downtown with its fun restaurants, the civilized campus of the University of Virginia with its old buildings. And I also thought of my “Apocalypse” Post and how the breakdown of civility is to be expected as a culture winds down. It is sad but inevitable.

But I also thought how powerful Martin Luther King’s “nonviolent protest” would have been had he been in charge at Charlottesville. Antifa would not have been allowed, guns would not have been allowed even if legal. And while that white racist driver—inspired by ISIS—would have probably still killed Heather Heyer and hurt so many others, no one afterwards could say: “There was violence on both sides.” Because there would not have been. That is part of the “power” of nonviolent opposition. Only one side will look really bad. But one must have a feeling for that in advance of the event in order to hold one’s ground.

One night in Selma, when we were trying to sleep in the street in front of a long line of blue-helmeted Alabama policemen, the chief of police told the media to turn off their lights and cameras (they obeyed!). We knew something was about to happen, and it would not be on the nightly news. There were some SNCC people behind me, and one fellow started shouting something about “Whitey.” I hadn’t heard that insult before (and I guessed it also meant me). But Reverend Ralph Abernathy shut him up lest his violent language infect what we were doing. And when the police marched toward us with their heavy batons, we just stood there. And they just stopped . . . inches away. I was young but could feel the “power” of nonviolent protest as a way to bring about social change.

“'Vengeance is mine,' saith the Lord,” is a biblical saying. Apparently, it is also a psychological law. All one has to do is hold one’s ground. The “gods” will take care of the rest.

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