Opinion: Counterprotesting on behalf of justice is important

Posted on Feb 18 2019 - 5:00am by Jaz Brisack

Re: “Let’s wait for this storm to pass” (Feb. 18)

Have you ever wondered what you would have done during the great conflicts of history? Whether you would have gone to Harpers Ferry with John Brown or urged “law and order?” Whether you would have marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge or read about it later in the papers? Whether you would have walked a picket line with the United Farm Workers or eaten lettuce and grapes despite the boycott?

This weekend, Neo-Confederates will march in Oxford. What you do or don’t do this weekend is as defining as what others did or didn’t do at other critical moments.

The idea of “waiting out the storm” is reassuring and relaxing. However, it is based on an inaccurate premise. Counterprotesting on behalf of justice, equality and solidarity does not endanger our community’s safety; that safety will be violated the second the groups come, whether counterprotesters are present or not. They will certainly not “pass quietly and quickly.”

Rev. William Barber, architect of the modern Poor People’s Campaign, has said that we are in the midst of a “Third Reconstruction.” The first two periods of the Reconstruction — the period following the end of the Civil War and the civil rights movement of the 1960s — were met with eruptions of backlash and violence from white people afraid that African-Americans demanding rights would result in the loss of white power and privilege.

Similarly, the white supremacists who will march on Saturday are protesting increased rights and representation. They are invested in their own incorrect perception of history, a history in which, they believe, they rightfully come out on top. They are willing to use violence to protect their self-image as well as their privilege. They are afraid of being exposed as impotent and incorrect.

Therefore, it is especially important that they be exposed. Allowing them to march unchallenged means forfeiting the opportunity to directly confront their hatred. In Washington, D.C., Atlanta and elsewhere, anti-fascist resistance to fascist rallies has resulted in low or even no turnout among the latter groups. Thus, protesting is not “giving them what they want;” rather, it has been proven to deter them.

I urge those debating whether or not to counterprotest to consider the words of Lerone Bennett Jr., a Mississippian and editor of Ebony Magazine, written in 1964. He was urging white people to take radical action rather than hemming and hawing, which he called the “liberal” course of action.

“The white liberal is the man who was not there in Montgomery and Little Rock and Birmingham; the white liberal is the man who was never there,” he said. “The liberal, as Saul Alinsky, the brilliant white radical said, is the man who leaves the meeting when the fight begins. … Empathy: it is this that divides radicals and liberals. Radicals suffer with the oppressed. They feel the blows, they weep, they hunger, they thirst. … They try in words that are ‘half-battles,’ to quote Wendell Phillips, to force good people to recognize their complicity in systems of evil.”

We are complicit in the evil of the Hiwaymen and Confederate 901 if we do not confront them. It is not enough to hide. It is absolutely necessary to take a stand.

Because if this is neither the time nor place to fight, what is? You can’t hide from Nazis and KKK terrorists today and then somehow emerge tomorrow to “fight against white supremacy” once the white supremacists have gone home. In this context, the words of Hillel (aptly used in the 1960s by John Lewis) seem particularly appropriate: “If not us, who? If not now, when?”

Jaz Brisack is a general studies major from Oxford.