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WEISS: Grinding slowly toward a better America

We must not allow terrorism to discourage us from continuing to purge the nation of hateful vestiges of a dark past

<p>Counter-protesters demonstrated that hate would not go unanswered at the July 14 KKK rally.</p>

Counter-protesters demonstrated that hate would not go unanswered at the July 14 KKK rally.

The University is beautiful. The Lawn, Pavilions, pathways and statues emanate a sense of permanence, figures of orderliness amidst the chaos, sloping delicately toward the Rotunda. But the classical facade of the Academical Village was built by brutality and oppression, white marble stained by the blood, sweat and tears of the slaves who built these Grounds.

We should often be reminded of this bitter legacy, and minority communities here in Charlottesville bear the brunt of its reach into the present. Last week’s gathering of violent, torch-bearing white supremacists, however, was a particularly stark and vicious manifestation of this country’s historical baggage and its horrific capacity to claim the lives of the best among us.

We had seen this before. A month ago, on July 14, 100 members of the Ku Klux Klan descended on Justice Park, and Charlottesville righteously refused to allow their hate to go unanswered. That same spirit, of guts and goodness, guided many more to meet the Unite the Right rally head-on, to demonstrate to those legions of bigots, fascists and thugs that this small city would not be so easily intimidated.

They came, after all, because Charlottesville took an act of moral courage. Charlottesville City Council voted in February to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee standing in an otherwise scenic public park, choosing to stop commemorating the Confederacy and the evil that it stood and fought for, the evil that now rears its ugly head, its features illuminated by tiki torchlight. To the alt-right and whatever other moniker the forces of white supremacy go by to sanitize their public image, the Lee statue’s demise would represent that fundamentally American virtue they cannot stand: its capacity to change, ever grindingly and painfully, into a better, more compassionate version of itself.

Their goal was nothing less than to intimidate and brutalize our community into inaction. They are waging a battle to maintain the structures and symbols of white domination, to keep in place every remaining fragment of a dying social order in which African-Americans and other minorities are subjugated and silenced. They are waging a war for the soul of this nation and against those universal ideals for which the Union fought and the terms on which it won, fighting in the streets of Charlottesville to preserve a monument to a political union whose cruel, withered heart never stopped beating.

And in this skirmish, they might succeed. I have heard too many friends suggest that Charlottesville should not have picked this fight, that removing the statue is not worth all of this trouble, that we should expect hornets when kicking a hornet’s nest. In circumstances such as these, when once peaceful streets are filled with the sounds of abuse and the stomp of police and the shouts of friends fearing for each other’s safety, I can understand why many feel that way.

But, to act on that fear and doubt, to press City Council to backtrack and forget this ever happened, would be worse than wrong. It would represent the height of cowardice. History teaches us that to appease an aggressor with unbounded ends and a will to see them realized only delays the inevitable and more destructive reckoning. We cannot afford to make a permanent mistake for temporary peace, not least because of how important it is to make all of our public spaces welcoming and inclusive.

This rally, this violence visited upon Charlottesville should instead serve as a clarion call for all of those who see what is happening in America. The roots of this white terror are strong and old and sprawling, and it will take every ounce of our moral fiber to rip them out. But that is the purpose to which we must rededicate ourselves, in an effort that should span across those same, tired lines of politics and ideology that keep us weak and divided.

From the top-down, the Republican party must stop enabling and serving the presidency of a white supremacist sympathizer who believes that fascists and peaceful counter-protesters are equally in the wrong. He should be as isolated from decent society as an American president possibly can be. We should pressure corporate America, faith leaders, unions and other civic organizations to sever all ties to this administration. And we should eventually oust him, so that our democracy can begin to heal.

From the bottom-up, we should continue to remove these monuments to the Confederacy and enact the kind of local and state policies that will attenuate the longstanding injustices minority communities continue to face, with a renewed sense of urgency. Another tragic outcome of this rally would be if we let this moment of national revulsion lapse into inertia, as America has many times in the past. The work ahead of us is daunting, and we should get started immediately.

Olivier Weiss is an Opinion columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at