There were no guns present at this rally, except for the hundred or so police officers from different law enforcement agencies. State troopers, Tallahassee and Capitol Police, and the Sheriff's Department put their bodies between the two groups and made sure everyone knew that they could hold whatever demonstration they wanted, if everyone kept to their quarters and didn't attempt to attack each other. Luckily, unlike what happened at Charlottesville, everyone complied.
There is a spirit that is deep within me that says that these ideologies that promote racial superiority for whites and extermination of Jews, Muslims, and LGBT people cannot be ignored or pretend that they aren't out there. This is especially true since the election of our current president who has defended people who are bigots as "good people," has advocated divisive policies that ban Muslims from entering the country, has attacked the military service of transgender people, and is threatening to deport the children of illegal immigrants back to countries they've never known. To remain silent, or turn a blind eye to this is simply not possible for me.
At the same time, I can't meet the hatred of the fearful bigoted Nazis with anger and rage. Yet there I was, amidst people screaming, "Nazi Scum: Fuck you!" I needed to be there, but there were certain things I couldn't shout. Singing? Yes. I could even join in chants of "Shame!" and "Read a Book!" (which I actually thought was a funny answer to some of the whackadoodle things being said back at us from the other side). But as I was holding my handmade protest sign made from the brown cardboard flat of LaCroix club sodas with it's simple message of "One Love," I couldn't bring myself to yell obscenities or descend into anger.
Next to me was a very tall black man. He was wearing the traditional colors of African nations...with black, green, red, and gold. He never said a word. He just stood and stared at the smirking and taunting white men and women on the other side of the line of state troopers. I decided that he was going to serve as my guide. If I felt myself slipping into mean-spirited snarkiness, I would glance up at his face, take a breath, and then join him in staring back at the bigots. Another young man was on the other side of me with a bouquet of flowers. He wanted to offer them to the Nazis, but the police wouldn't let him pass. So instead, he shouting to them, "I love you!"
I had been live streaming the demonstration on Facebook. At one point, I looked at one of the comments left on the stream from a stranger, informing me that one of the main screamers on the Nazi front was named Ken Parker. He had been banned from the University of North Florida's campus. I shared this information with the young man with the flowers.
"Ken Parker! Hey Ken!"
Ken looked in our direction, and seemed a bit surprised that someone knew his name.
"Ken," the man continued. "Why are you so angry?"
I watched Ken's face. For a few seconds, it changed. He probably had never contemplated that question before for himself but having it posed to him in this moment by a stranger holding flowers made his face soften. For this brief moment, Ken's face revealed that he, indeed, is one of the many wounded people of the world. Whatever has happened to him, whatever has influenced him from the time he was in utero to now, has shaped him into a screaming, Dixie-playing angry young man. And much as Jesus had compassion for the people who were executing him, I found myself looking at Ken with a sense of sadness and remorse for him. What in the world took place in his life to make him adopt such hate-filled and nasty disposition? What fears have forced him to think other people inferior so that he can feel better about himself? I looked at all of the LOS people. Some appeared to have faces that were deformed from carrying so much anger. Others looked like they could be the white guy in line behind me at Publix. Every one of them needs love.
And the same applied to the compatriots I was standing alongside at the Capitol. They are young and they are refusing to let an older fear-filled philosophy hold them down. For some of them, that heads in the direction of anger because that's a powerful emotion that shows they won't stand for any more racist, misogynistic, homophobic, xenophobic crap. But while anger rages like a wildfire, it doesn't have enough fuel to sustain the fire needed for this long haul struggle for the soul of our country.
My spouse and I have talked about this some. The answer for me...and for her...is the need to get spiritually grounded before we head out to the next one of these demonstrations. Because, sadly, there will be a next one. Less shouting. More quiet. More singing, less screaming. Remain in Love because it is the love that drives out hate.