We’re All Making Choices

March in Support of Charlottesville, Knoxville, August 2017

This past Sunday, in what has become an almost regular event, another rally was held on Market Square. The rally, organized literally overnight, was held in response to the white supremacist and white nationalist marches in Charlottesville, which culminated in the death of a young female counter-protester. The young man, a white nationalist from Nevada, responsible for driving his car through the crowd, killing one and injuring many, was arrested and charged with homicide.

Interestingly, a number of bills have been proposed by Republicans in various states to protect drivers who run over protesters, “accidentally.” In Tennessee the bill was proposed by Republican representative Matthew Hill of Jonesborough.

March in Support of Charlottesville, Knoxville, August 2017

March in Support of Charlottesville, Knoxville, August 2017

Further, it has become a common refrain among certain groups when talking particularly about Black Lives Matter protesters: “Run Them Over.” Memes, saying things like, “All lives splatter, no one cares about your protest,” have been produced showing just that and, of course, car attacks are increasingly common among other terrorists, such as ISIS.

The alleged trigger for white nationalists to descend on Charlottesville was the impending removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. Similar to debates over the display of the most known flag of the Confederacy, lines have been drawn regarding the removal of monuments between those “defending heritage,” and those denouncing the monuments as glamorizing our racist past.

March in Support of Charlottesville, Knoxville, August 2017

March in Support of Charlottesville, Knoxville, August 2017

March in Support of Charlottesville, Knoxville, August 2017

Since many of the participants are not southern, it’s not likely they simply are paying homage to the south. Former KKK leader David Duke was there and said, “We are determined to take our country back,” Duke said from the rally, calling it a “turning point.” “We are going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump. That’s what we believed in. That’s why we voted for Donald Trump, because he said he’s going to take our country back.”

As the white nationalists arrived in Charlottesville and their numbers grew, the sight was a chilling one for many Americans. We aren’t used to seeing heavily armed soldiers in our streets and we certainly haven’t been accustomed to seeing heavily armed civilian groups in our streets. Add torches to the angry gun-carrying group and the sight was alarming to most of us. They also displayed the Confederate flag and Nazi imagery, including swastikas.

March in Support of Charlottesville, Knoxville, August 2017

March in Support of Charlottesville, Knoxville, August 2017

March in Support of Charlottesville, Knoxville, August 2017

In the aftermath of the white nationalist event in Charlottesville and the subsequent death, President Trump seemed to make a case for shared blame, saying there is fault on, “many sides.” After being criticized strongly for two days, he singled out white nationalists and others, but for many people, the damage was done. He had missed the moment and had, in the views of the hate groups, given them support by not calling them out initially. David Duke was furious when Trump toughened the statements a couple of days later.

And it appears this is only a beginning. White nationalist groups feel emboldened by the publicity and have begun planning additional events across the country. On the other side, the event may have hastened the demise of the various memorials as the murders of black church members by white supremacist and neo-Nazi sympathizer Dylann Roof hastened the end of South Carolina’s display of the Confederate flag.

March in Support of Charlottesville, Knoxville, August 2017

March in Support of Charlottesville, Knoxville, August 2017

March in Support of Charlottesville, Knoxville, August 2017

In Tennessee, Governor Haslam has stated that the time has come to remove the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest, one of the founders of the Ku Klux Klan, from the capitol where it is displayed. Interestingly, then presidential candidate Donald Trump supported removing the flag, “I think they should put it in the museum and let it go . . . Respect whatever it is you have to respect, because it was a point in time, and put it in a museum. But I would take it down. Yes.” This even though throughout the campaign the flag, sometimes embellished with his face at the center, was displayed often at his rallies.

So both sides are digging in. It’s really more of the same we’ve seen in the last decade and with white-hot intensity in the last year or two. We’ve become increasingly divided into angry camps, each attempting to shout more loudly than the other. It’s hard to spot anyone listening. It’s rare to find groups of people with differing opinions who are willing to even attempt civil conversation.

March in Support of Charlottesville, Knoxville, August 2017

March in Support of Charlottesville, Knoxville, August 2017

March in Support of Charlottesville, Knoxville, August 2017

I can hardly watch television with the screaming and the attempts to catch the other “side” in a misstatement or blunder. Headlines are often misleading in order to alarm us more than the facts – which may indeed be bad – warrant. Memes simply make our side feel better. They don’t change minds, nor do they offer any context which might illuminate a more complete rendering of the situation.

What happens next? Is this who we are going to remain as a people? Are we happy with the current state of affairs? Do we even have an interest in finding common ground? Or do we simply continue to disintegrate into armed bands of opposing gangs on the street?

What is the America we believe in? Who are we? If we believe we are better than this, we better take action to prove it or we’ll simply be proven wrong. Sharing memes designed to incite or ridicule doesn’t help. Sitting at home steaming in your own anger doesn’t help. Consuming only the information from your, “side,” doesn’t help. Staying home on election day not only doesn’t help, it’s devastating to our democracy.

March in Support of Charlottesville, Knoxville, August 2017

March in Support of Charlottesville, Knoxville, August 2017

Dig deeper for the truth. Be willing to read an opposing article or listen to someone whose views are different from your own. Stop drowning in the same news outlets that always support your world view. Look for nuance. Very rarely is something or someone completely evil or completely virtuous. Try to form alliances with people whose views differ from your own on some topics but agree in other ways.

Attend local events designed to educate us all about issues in our city and beyond. Tomorrow at noon, Bob Booker will speak at the East Tennessee History Center about the experiences of black people in Knoxville from 1844 – 1974. Attend that or other events and learn about other people’s lives. Seek out people who differ from you racially, politically, ethnically and socio-economically. We are better when we connect.

Protests can serve useful purposes. They can bring together people of like mind who need the support they can offer each other. They can make a point to the larger community that significant numbers of people support or oppose actions or events. Elected officials are put on notice that constituents feel strongly about an issue. But they can only go so far. If we don’t stand up in our daily lives, if we don’t work to support candidates with our perspective and if we don’t vote, they become meaningless feel-good moments.

March in Support of Charlottesville, Knoxville, August 2017

One thing did stand out to me as a glaring inaccuracy at the march. In between all the fine statements about supporting each other and standing up for the oppressed, a speaker said we must make it clear that “this,” meaning the neo-Nazi/white nationalist march will not and cannot happen in Knoxville. That is simply not true.

I know this because it has already happened. I’m often amazed when I bring it up and people have no memory of it. I’d only been writing this blog for two months in August 2010 when we had a large rally and march in Knoxville. Many of the participants were from out of town, wore Nazi attire, waved Confederate and Nazi flags and shouted slogans filled with anti-immigrant and anti-Jewish rhetoric. You can see the images and read the articles here and here. It happened seven years ago, yesterday.

So, we may see it in the streets of Knoxville. With all the arming of America and the fact that we are an open carry street, they will have guns next time. And we will have to decide how to respond, just as we have to decide how to respond every day to small injustices around us. Just as we have to decide to vote or to stay home on election day. We have a lot of choices to make.


  1. Well played my friend. As always kind and respectful but unafraid to speak.

  2. Don Williams says:

    Thanks Alan, never been prouder to know you. What are our leaders waiting for? The Nazi clown driving our bus has got to go before his madness blows up our deeply flawed republic if not the world.

  3. Leticia Flores says:

    Thanks, Alan, for writing on this in such a thoughtful manner. I just spent several days with my very politically conservative brother. It was hard, but useful- we actually agreed on a few goals, but disagreed on the the methods to reach those goals. That realization in itself was beneficial. I also felt some trepidation when I drove his car a few mornings to get coffee, painfully aware of the bumper stickers he had on his car- stickers that I usually sneered at whenever I would see them on the road. It was a little bit of walking in his shoes, and it was useful. Many of the people who hold views we detest are family members- we need to keep trying to find common ground and trying to change their views. They’ll be doing the same- but at least we’re talking, and that brings hope for some change.

  4. Pamela Schoenewaldt says:

    Thank you, Alan. Not only a cogent and compassionate, informed view, but also witness that all news is local in a global community. Charlottesville is Knoxville. Their pains are ours.

  5. Well reasoned and articulated position Alan. Thanks for saying this. I agreed with almost every word. My only concern is with the notion that we might have something in common with the other “side.” When that side is neo-Nazi and/or KKK and/or white supremacist, I see no common ground whatsoever. There were basically two sides in Charlottesville, not “many sides” as POTUS claimed: the neo-Nazis and their allies vs. every good person. I don’t think that’s too extreme an assertion to make.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says:

      I agree that there is no common ground to be found with a person who holds those abhorrent views on race. My point there was a larger one about conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats, etc. But good distinction to make.

      • Yes, I believe that wholeheartedly, Alan, and I did not mean to imply anything less insightful than that about your thoughts in this post.

    • I believe, in no uncertain terms, there were more than “Neo nazis vs good people”. Antifa are not good people. They are not well-intentioned. They were there to cause violence (see the numerous videos of that day prior to the murderous automobile attack wherein they attacked people with bats, bags with locks in them, and random projectiles; see also: every other event where Antifa is involved). They are every bit as dangerous as the excrement making up the ranks of the Nazis.

      • Last time I checked we did a lot worse to the Nazis in WWII. What the Antifa and others did to them doesn’t compare and frankly, I don’t see why we can’t do it again. That has no place in our country, and it needs to be dealt with swiftly and efficiently. Our ancestors fought with everything they had to keep that out of our country.

      • I assume you know some of them personally, Dave? I don’t, but anyone who is anti-fascist (hence, Antifa) cannot be all bad in my book. I think most veterans of WWII would agree, don’t you?

  6. Remember 2 rallies. Made my body ACHE. Alas, send in the clowns. They helped diffuse the toxicity. Thanks Alan.

  7. Candace Armstrong says:

    Thank you for this calm and rational assessment of the situation in America. We must listen and learn no matter what side we’re on, else we’ll never find the via media that we need in order to heal.

  8. Well said, I remember that rally. I was worried at the time that we would see similar events to Charlottesville.

  9. Wise words, Alan. For a remarkable behind-the-scenes look at the white nationalist organizers during and after the rally in Charlottesville, watch this 22-minute report from Elle Reeve and VICE News Tonight. It’s moving and gut wrenching and horrifying.


Speak Your Mind