How to move forward

Lee Park

If you were following the news in the US this weekend, you know that Charlottesville, our little town, became an epicenter for a terrifying rally of white supremacists, Nazis, alt-right instigators, and domestic terrorists from across the country. One woman was killed in an act of terrorism straight out of the ISIS playbook, and 19 more were seriously injured.

We live less than a mile from Emancipation Park, shown above, which was the center of the violence and rage. Our church is right across the street from this park. Since Saturday, we’ve been decompressing for hours on end, like many of our neighbors and friends.

In the aftermath, the most unsettling quote I have read came from University of Virginia alum and Nazi agitator Richard Spencer, who said: “Your head’s gonna spin, how many times we’re going to be back here . . . We’re going to make Charlottesville the center of the universe.”

My stomach fills up with dread when I read those words. I pray that it won’t be true, that days like Saturday don’t become commonplace in our town.

And yet it jars us all out of our complacency. We realize we’re not inoculated from hatred; it breathes and grows right under our feet, right next door. Charlottesville has a dark history of racism that it covers in a veneer of prestigious history and genteel Southern charm. In my bubble, on my street in a hippie neighborhood, it is easy to believe that we don’t have a problem with racism. Clearly, we do.

“If we are to be blindsided by history, it will probably be the consequence not of unresolved disputes but of unexamined consensus.” — Marilynne Robinson, “Value,” in The Givenness of Things

So, what’s to be done?

If ending white supremacy is the goal, tweeting about it shouldn’t be my primary action. The older I get, the more I am convinced that tweeting about racism and white supremacy doesn’t do much, if any, good. Hearts and minds aren’t changed by social media posts. The internet just serves up our own opinions, whatever they are, and calcifies them. Facebook doesn’t soften our hearts—or change the minds shrouded with hate that need to be changed.

If the echo chamber of the internet doesn’t have concrete solutions, where else should we look? Here are a few actions that I’ve been thinking about lately.

What we can do

Support the good work of local nonprofits and humanitarian organizations. We love The Haven, Computers4Kids, New City Arts, the Women’s Initiative, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and the International Rescue Committee, among others. Sara Benincasa also has compiled a list of Charlottesville nonprofits that could use help.

Stay in your church or whatever community you belong to. Stay and do the hard work there of talking about white supremacy. Don’t leave because discussions aren’t happening at the pace you want; start the discussions yourself. Don’t wait for someone else to.

Talk to people. Talk to your relatives who voted for Trump. Withholding judgment, listen to them. (I find this particularly hard to do, but I’m learning that it’s vitally important if we are ever going to be able to get through to someone.) Ask them questions. Lots and lots of questions.

Form relationships with people whose opinions you find repulsive. This, especially, is the primary way to create significant change in our communities. It has to start at the very small, very local, very intimate level. One person at a time.

Starting with myself. I hope I can become less horrible, in the wake of all of this, and be more gentle and gracious. It is difficult and seemingly endless work, but I hope and pray Charlottesville is in it for the long haul.

Questions and answers

Wednesday afternoon | Abby Farson Pratt

What is your favorite website?

Goodreads, by far. By far! Life would be a bleak, formless void without Goodreads. It is the only acceptable form of social media (besides Instagram).

What makes you happy these days?

Not being on Facebook. Not ever reading any online comments, ever. Ever, ever, ever. That might be my only life rule: Never Read the Comments. Also: Guion, clean floors, dogs when they are sweet, iris seedlings from a mystery friend, books, our church.

How can we stop the terrorists?

Stop talking about them on Facebook would be a start. That’s what they want you to do…

Why does your hair often look ratty?

This is the Lord’s business, apparently, as the Lord has not yet given me a solution. As my mother, from whom I received my hair type, likes to remind me, “This is just the way it’s going to be for us. Because of our hair, we have to dress like hippies. We will always look like hippies.”

What is your favorite food currently?

It’s a tie between avocadoes and watermelons, straight from the fridge. May summer never end!

Which dog do you love more?

It depends on the day and which one is barking like an idiot at the moment.

How do you decide what to read next?

I have a system that waxes and wanes between order and impulse. The order is that I stockpile all of the books I own but haven’t read in my nightstand cubbies, and then I judiciously select a new title once I’ve finished a book (I try not to read more than five books at a time). The impulse is that I comb over my Goodreads list and then pick a book that appeals to me at that moment and request it from the public library. I am also strongly affected by my constantly wavering obsessions. Right now, I’m reading a lot about zen and Christianity, but last month, it was French women novelists, and the month before that, Southerners. It’s hard to say what it will be next.

How’s that yoga thing working out for you?

I don’t know, decently? I didn’t practice in the morning much this past week, as sleep seemed so much more precious, but I sneaked in a few poses in the afternoons. The other night, Eden decided to turn my (expensive) yoga mat into rubber confetti and destroy my nice, leather-bound Book of Common Prayer, so I’m not sure whose side she’s on (Eastern meditation vs. Episcopalian meditation). Aside from that, I recently tried to do a sun salutation on the deck while the dogs were out there with me, and Eden pounced on my head (like, dog claws into skull). Eden and yoga do not mix. Pyrrha, however, adorably practices a very well-formed downward dog whenever I start to stretch. (Fine, I love Pyrrha more! I admit it!)