Both Sides of the Fence

A Tosa resident since 1991, Christine walks the dog, cooks but avoids housework, writes and reads, and enjoys the company of friends and strangers. Her job takes her around the state, learning about people's health. A Quaker (no, they don't wear blue hats or sell oatmeal or motor oil), she has been known to stand on both sides of the political and philosophic fence at the same time, which is very uncomfortable when you think about it. She writes about pretty much whatever stops in to visit her busy mind at the moment. One reader described her as "incredibly opinionated but not judgmental." That sounds like a good thing to strive for!

The Governor, jobs, and the Neo-Nazis

Scott Walker, Neo-nazis, West Allis, Kumbaya, Labor Day

It was hard to tell some of the good guys from some of the bad guys in West Allis, Wisconsin, Saturday.

So many young men, both white and black, costume themselves to look dangerous, put on fierce faces, and swagger to make themselves appear larger than life. And I’m not talking about the SWAT teams, though they also fit the description.

 (A few young women do it, too, but they aren’t today’s story.)

On one side were the 20 or 30 neo-Nazis, holding a white power rally in response, their leaders said, to the racial wilding at the Wisconsin State Fair last month. On the other side were more than 1,000 counter-demonstrators, individuals and groups from some 30 peace and faith organizations connected with Milwaukee Inner-city Congregations Allied for Hope (MICAH) and Peace Action Wisconsin (correction added 9/5/11), standing together “to block the tyranny and divisive rhetoric that seeks to poison the thought of our population.”

The problem of black kids beating up white people, or any people beating up any other people, is our problem to deal with, said the MICAH speakers. We need to deal with it together. We don’t need agitators coming in to create hate, not solutions, they said.

Amen, we responded.

For the most part, the rally was inspirational. We stood in the rain listening to local heroes like the Reverend Ellwanger speaking about peace in the beloved community.

And jobs. There was a lot of talk about jobs.

In the end, all those scary young men with black or white shaved heads, with dreadlocks or ZZ Top beards, need to channel their energy and prove to themselves they can be strong in supporting their families. They need to test themselves against hard work and great dreams. They need to challenge each other to be excellent in contests on playing fields or classrooms, assembly lines or cubicles or board rooms.

I’d like to say everyone on “my side” was a saint, as friend Sky kept calling some of the old Milwaukee activists who were there, inspiring by their example and their words.

 But the truth isn’t always what we’d like it to be.

While I stood there, singing the often mocked Kumbaya and sharing my umbrella with a young roofer, four or five police in riot gear moved swiftly and quietly into a small group of tall young black men, also dressed in black, just behind us. There was very little commotion, but I saw an officer lift one man’s shirt and confiscate an 8-inch hunting knife from a sheath concealed there.  The whole incident took about 10 seconds. The police were masterful and did not use excessive force (I’ve seen that done, but not here). I thanked the officer for protecting the peace. He said “you’re welcome.” And that was that.

I don’t know whether the man with the knife was looking to start trouble or preparing to defend himself in the event trouble came his way. But I’m glad the Fox News reporter and cameraman nearby didn’t see it.  No better way to give proof to the poison pudding the neo-Nazis were stirring than to show that man and his weapon.

I also don’t hold much truck with shouting people down, one of the hopes of some of the counter-protesters. The idea shouldn’t be to scream louder than the other guy. It should be to say smarter, more sensible, compassionate, beautiful, and true things. That, or listen deeper to hear what's at the bottom of people's fears and hatred.

The final bad move on “my side” was an attempt by one speaker to link Governor Scott Walker to the neo-Nazis. Now, I don’t like Walker. He lost my respect in his attack on ordinary working people. However, he most certainly is not a neo-Nazi or affiliated with those groups. He’s just a man with too much power on his side.

The only reason to mention Walker in Saturday’s rally is the reminder to keep his job creation promise. He has assumed responsibility for creating a state in which all those scared and scary young men—and the many more who are not at all scary—have hope for the future, work to do, a reason to live, a source of pride.

In other words, education and family-supporting jobs.

In other words, a chance.

A Reuters reporter standing beside me stopped a muscular young white man with a full sleeve tattoo.  “I’ve had it a couple months. I’ve wanted it since high school,” the man said.

I looked closer: elegantly etched, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was delivering his “I have a dream” speech to a rapt crowd.

“Learning about that changed my life,” the young man said.

I’m not sure what he learned. Maybe that we can’t satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. Or enter the palace of justice doing wrongful deeds.Or that to get there, we have to walk together.

Lay down the swords. Put your hand in your brother's hand, not around his neck. Or pick up the plowshares if you're afraid people will think you're gay what with that hand-holding and all. Many more people praying than not, Lord: Kum bay ya.

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