It is imperative that people of conscience stand together against the evil that marched in Charlottesville

Tammye NashI believe we have reached a turning point in this country.

I have been thinking a lot over the past week about that iconic video from April 2003 that shows U.S. troops stepping in to help Iraqi citizens topple a statue of despotic — and by that time, overthrown — leader Saddam Hussein in Firdos Square in Baghdad.

I was reminded, most vividly, of that moment as I watched a video of a crowd tearing down the Confederate Soldiers Monument at the Old Durham County Courthouse in Durham, N.C., on Monday, Aug. 14. I wondered what those Iraqis in that 2003 video would say if somebody came along and told them, “No, leave that statue up. It represents part of our history; it’s part of our heritage.”

I don’t think those Iraqis would be swayed by that argument. And I wonder why so many Americans are swayed by that same argument when it comes to the monuments to the Confederacy and those who fought for that still stand across the South.

I’m also wondering why it is so many people are having a hard time condemning the Nazis who marched last weekend in Charlottesville, Va. I mean, white people (mostly men) marching through the streets, chanting hateful things about Jews and people of color (and yes, LGBT people, too) as they waved around Confederate battle flags and Nazi banners bearing swastikas and snapped off a “sieg, heil” salute here and there … . One of them even killed a woman and injured several others when he drove his car into a peaceful crowd of counter-protesters.

Seriously, what’s not to condemn?

And yet, so many feel compelled to defend these fine, upstanding sons (and some daughters) of the South. “They’ve got the right to free speech.” “They’re just defending their heritage.”

Sure … except, no.

Yes, we here in America do have the First Amendment, which guarantees that we are entitled to free speech. But it does not say that we are free to say what-the-hell-ever we want, when-the-hell-ever we want. The First Amendment does not protect obscenity, fighting words, defamation, child pornography, perjury, blackmail, incitement to lawless action, true threats or solicitations to commit crime.

I can guarantee you that many — if not the waaaay vast majority — of the Nazis (white supremacists, fascists, alt-right-ers, whatever you wanna call them) were spouting speech that falls into at least one of those categories. I know, because I heard them.

See, there’s another video making the rounds this week. It’s a 22-minute documentary-style piece by Elle Reeve and her crew from Vice News Tonight. Reeve and her crew embedded themselves with the Nazis last weekend, interviewing them on camera and letting them tell their side of the story all by themselves. There’s nothing made-up or fake news about it.

I watched it. It literally made me sick to my stomach. I listened to the vile, evil things they said. I watched while they showed off the weaponry — firearms and knives and clubs — with which they had armed themselves for their “peaceful” march. I heard them threaten to kill people who dared stand up to them and I heard them applaud the murderer who attacked people with his car.

I watched them. I listened to them. I felt my disgust — and my blood pressure — rise.

And to hear Donald Trump — the president of the United States, for Christ’s sake! — defend those people and claim there were some fine folks in that crowd, that made me even sicker. I wonder if Trump watched the Vice News video — or any actual coverage of Nazi rallies and marches in Charlottesville last weekend — before he took his belligerent bully self before the TV cameras for his temper-tantrum of a press conference and defended about those fine folks waving swastikas and giving Nazi salutes.

This is what our country has come to. Appalled is way too mild a word to describe my state of mind.

The time has come, it is absolutely imperative, that the people of conscience in this country come together and stand up, stand firm and speak out against this hatred — no, this evil — that has risen up and shown its ugly face so plainly in the last week.

This is not an issue of political partisanship. We can’t just point at one party and blame everything on them. Not all Republicans are evil racists just because the Republican president is an evil racist.

That is simplistic and, ultimately, unhelpful, and it gives each of us who aren’t Republicans too much of a pass. We all have to take a long, hard, honest look at ourselves, root out those seeds of prejudice and bigotry that we all have hidden inside ourselves, whether we want to admit it or not.

Until we confront our personal truth, we cannot effectively fight for the greater “truth.”

And this isn’t about skin color or ethnicity or country of origin. We cannot let ourselves be divided along those artificial lines. Are we all different people, with different beliefs and different cultures and different backgrounds? Yes, we are. But are we all part of the human race, equals in humanity? Yes. And that is where we must focus right now.

We can’t play word games about “heritage” and “history” and “tolerance” and such. And we can’t pretend that the Confederate monuments the Nazis claimed they were marching to protect are anything more than an homage to and a celebration of a time in our history and a system of business and government that were based on the oppression of a whole race of people.

Are these monuments a representation of a piece of history that should be preserved? Yes, but it wasn’t a part of our history to be celebrated and these monuments should only be preserved in context. And “in context” does not mean on display in our public parks and at government buildings.

The time has come.

I believe our country has reached a turning point. I hope we turn the right way.  

Tammye Nash is managing editor of Dallas Voice. She is a Texan, born and reared, and can trace her ancestry back to Civil War veterans on both sides of the war, and beyond.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 18, 2017.