Last week was the anniversary of the deadly Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville and the neighborhoods of Washington, D.C. were tense. I was tense.
The group of white supremacists who had taken their hate speech and tiki torches to protest the removal of a confederate monument in Charlottesville were planning to host a rally in Washington, D.C.
And in response, we were on alert.
From afar, D.C. is stereotyped as the city that elected officials complain about, as the handful of square miles that house the federal government, and as the swamp that needs to be drained—but we are also a home. We are neighborhoods, we are families, we are communities—and we don’t want any part of the vile hate that white supremacists brandish as weapons.
In the days leading up to the Unite the Right rally, I found myself glancing a little more at people I saw in the street. I paused a little bit longer when I heard an unexpectedly loud sound. I was worried of potential violence, and I was frightened by the hate I knew existed.
I was also reminded that this is the hate that many Americans face every single day.
On the Thursday before the rally, I fidgeted during conversations with my peers as we discussed whether or not to go to counterprotest: we did not want to encourage violent clashes and we did not want to put ourselves in harm’s way. But we didn’t want to do nothing.
We had to decide whether standing up for racial justice was worth the risk.
Last year, violence erupted in Charlottesville because a group of white supremacists were angry that the city chose to take down the statue of a confederate general who represents the oppression of an entire race. They were angry because a group of Americans dared to confront our historical trauma and acknowledge our country’s painful history. And they were angry because Charlottesville had the strength to confront its past mistakes and the courage to right them.
We are continuing to face hate and cruelty like the kind on display in brought down into Charlottesville last year. We see police brutality and hate crimes on the rise and the increasingly cruel immigration policy of the Trump administration—it is clear that we still have a far way to go in overcoming our racist past. Despite this, or maybe because of it, I am learning, that we cannot afford to be afraid. We cannot be silent. We cannot do nothing.
We all do not need to march (for many of us, marching is not an option), we all do not need to hold signs at a ally, but we all have a stake in speaking out against hate and standing up for unity.
So as we mark and mourn the violence and hate that erupted in Charlottesville one year ago, let’s continue to stand up for and build our best vision of America: one that is free and welcoming for all, no matter gender, race or creed. Let’s continue to raise our voices because doing nothing is not an option anymore.