If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention

As a mother, I want my children to be in a safe place.

As a preservationist, I honor a sense of place.

As an American, I am having trouble finding my place.

 

IMG_6513An early summer visit with my son and future daughter-in-love was a lovefest, consisting mostly of sips and savors of sunshine, local spirits and spending a little West Coast money in an East Coast city. Though the temperatures soared, I saw my first fireflies, watched a lightning storm flash and roll through the distant sky and experienced many cultures at the City Market, the popular farmer’s market held downtown.

 

This city has been my son’s home for about 13 years and my husband and I are content that he and his beloved are in a good place that offers them stability, growth, entertainment and security.

 

One of the places I always like to visit is the downtown mall. It’s rich in history (the East Coast has really embraced adaptive reuse) and small businesses thrive. There’s an amazing artist collective that I always patronize and I marvel at the variety of interests that coexist in the space.

 

The kids and I were walking off a delicious lunch from Rapture on the mall when we turned down a brick street covered in chalk, tributes scrawled to a young woman who died during one of the blackest days in recent history. My heart stopped, frozen in grief. The sense of place struck me. This was where, a year ago, things went horribly wrong.

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My son lives in Charlottesville.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning shot of the moment of impact by Ryan M. Kelly for the Daily Progress (via Reuters). From the Pulitzer Foundation Site
Photographer Ryan Kelly was watching the crowd that was peacefully singing, chanting and slowly marching, when he felt a car approaching at high speed and instinctively raised his camera and started taking pictures, capturing this horrific moment. When driver James Alex Fields Jr. threw the Dodge Challenger in reverse and sped away, he left Heather Heyer dead and several others seriously injured.

That short block is where 32-year-old Heather Heyer was struck and killed by a Dodge Challenger driven into the crowd by neo-Nazi James Alex Field, Jr. during a day of terror brought by white supremacists who – exercising their First Amendment right of assembly – marched into Charlottesville and spewed hateful messages of racism and intolerance. Heather was there to try and stop the vicious message of hate. Her last Facebook post is the title of this blog – “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”

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Also killed that day were Virginia State Troopers Lt. H. Jay Cullen and Berke M.M. Bates, whose helicopter crashed as they were surveilling the conflict growing downtown. All three deaths were directly caused by invaders from out of town, bent on attacking Charlottesville’s heart of kindness and compassion. This disturbing trend of outsiders fomenting unrest is something spreading nefariously across the country, seeping into city council meetings and otherwise peaceful settings.

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The news media has descended upon Charlottesville for the anniversary and I’m sure some of the images I am sharing will be the backdrop for many standups you’ll see this weekend. The brick walls are filled with messages of hope and love, sentiments felt by the overwhelming majority of the area’s residents. Visitors to the walls are invited to continue to contribute their own comments, invited by a box of chalk placed near the point of impact.

IMG_6516Those of you who have not been to the downtown mall may not know that it is also the site of what Charlottesville officials dedicated as a First Amendment Wall – a 50-foot long two-sided wall with a chalkboard surface and a steady supply of chalk for people to use to express themselves. The walls are cleaned weekly, so the messages are ever-changing. Some artists have created images, writers have posted inspirational prose, lovers emblazon the wall with hearts and flowers and others simply write their favorite quotes or salutations. Near the wall is a small platform where speakers can share their messages verbally. This area is very near Charlottesville’s City Hall complex, embracing the city’s dedication to freedom of expression.

 

Heather’s walls are a few hundred feet from that symbolic area.

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I was too overwhelmed with feelings to walk those hundred feet to see the First Amendment wall during my visit. The tears filled my eyes at not just Heather’s loss of life, but also the loss of innocence and safety I hold dear for my children. How could anyone have so much hate to come into another’s neighborhood and be so cruel, hateful and un-American?

 

So much hate vs. so much love. So much hurt, breaking the collective nation’s heart.

 

What holds true is that, on that day, the streets of Charlottesville were filled with passion – some misguided, some true. The racist marchers were met by peaceful counter-protestors, filling the streets to tell the interlopers that they were not welcome in their community, that there was no place for their hate. Without criticizing any response from authorities, the situation exploded out of control quickly and innocence suffered the most severe injuries. All the hindsight in the world cannot change what happened, but we do have control over how it plays out in the future.

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Charlottesville city, Albemarle County and Virginia State officials have banded together, closing many of the popular gathering spots (including that delightful City Market) for the weekend. Merchants at the downtown mall are banding together, many of them vowing to stay open as long as it remains safe. A ridiculously long list of prohibited items has been established to keep “implements of riot” away from the downtown area. Conspicuously absent from that list are two deadly weapons: guns and cars. The governor has declared a State of Emergency, allowing federal authorities to assist should the situation get out of hand. The National Guard is on standby.

 

As an American, and as a journalist, I am committed to defending the First Amendment; to preserve and protect the people’s right to free speech, assembly, religion, press and petitioning the government. Whether the cause falls into my beliefs or not, the rights are critical to our country, but I will not defend violence or hate of any kind at any time.

 

The peaceful, friendly, safe place where my children live is on lockdown for the weekend because the passion of hate threatens to burn brighter than the flame of hope. We must make sure that Heather and Troopers Cullen and Bates did not die in vain.

IMG_7166Friends in my neighborhood may have noticed the turquoise sticker on my car and wondered “What’s C’ville?”  It’s a place we love. We will continue to visit and embrace Charlottesville as our own, because so many people we love live there. We refuse to accept that hate is stronger than love.

 

 

For an unbiased, thorough, excellent accounting of the events of August 2017 in Charlottesville, I highly recommend “Summer of Hate” by Hawes Spencer, a journalist who has reported for the New York Times, the Daily Beast and NPR who has also taught journalism at Virginia Commonwealth University and James Madison University.

 

Carol Rock is a writer based in the Los Angeles area. She is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years’ experience covering all areas of news and features. She works as a freelance public relations and media consultant, with writing remaining her strong suit. Her tattoo, if it were real, would read “Don’t Die Wondering.”

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We’ve got to be carefully teaching…

IMG_0065I have a granddaughter. She has two parents, four grandparents, two great-grandmothers, two uncles, one aunt, seven great-aunts, four great uncles, many cousins and a whole village of friends. She’s pretty well-protected. Lots of support, lots of playmates, lots of role models.

She will want for nothing.

I look forward to the days that she and I will talk about art and music and books and why that pesky little kid on the playground pulls her hair or is always there to push her on the swing. I’ll listen to her highs and lows of school life, take her out for ice cream and mani-pedis, be her confidante when her parents just don’t understand. And when she’s old enough, hopefully we’ll pick up each other’s bar tabs.

I can draw on my own experience from raising her mother and aunt and uncle and helping a whole slew of theater and choir kids who depended on me one way or another, whether it was to get a ride home, sew a costume, run lines, figure out a homework assignment or simply sit down at our table for a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios. Most of that experience helped me hone my compassion, patience, tolerance and of course, my wicked sense of humor.

Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 9.44.34 PMAround our house, freak flags flew freely. Language could be appropriately salty, as long as it was in moderation, but there were no fears of reprisal. Above all, there was respect for every person’s opinion, question, feelings and values. There wasn’t always agreement, but everyone got to have their say as long as they were respectful of that right across the board. We made it a point to surround our kids – all of them – with like-minded grownups who set good examples.

I’m worried, though, about the world in which Sadie is growing up. Respect, hard work and tolerance all seem to be going by the wayside, replaced by bigotry, intolerance, racism, hatred and disrespect.

How do we teach the little ones that it’s not nice to call someone names when our presumptive “leaders” are slinging insults around the airwaves to thunderous applause? How do we teach them to share and compromise when the people we elect stomp their feet and refuse to do their jobs because they don’t like someone or their beliefs? How can we imbue them with tolerance and patience when so many people openly embrace discrimination? People cheer the concept of building a wall to keep out immigrants instead of taking that energy and reforming our immigration system – why? How do we teach them to look at the bigger picture, to make the world a better place for everyone when so many focus on one or two insignificant issues that hurt others, while ignoring the critical problems around them?

Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 9.59.53 PMWhen did the sense of entitlement take over, pushing aside the needs or acknowledgement of others to favor one person’s mean spirit? When did we pick the “right” side of town? How did we develop a “give it to me, even when I haven’t earned it” attitude, eschewing hard work or service?

What do we tell these precious little ones? How do we tell them all that their lives matter, that there is a level playing field somewhere, that they are entitled to be treated with respect and dignity and that they are responsible to reflect that in their treatment of others?

What happened to punishing bad behavior instead of rewarding it?

And how are our leaders continually getting away with hate?

One of the things I plan on doing with Sadie is taking her to the theater. I am going to make sure one of the shows we see is “South Pacific,” a classic piece by Rodgers and Hammerstein that features a slice of life during World War II. I will tell her about her great-grandfathers who served in the Pacific and we will listen to one of the “controversial” songs from that show that we should probably put on the Billboard charts again. It’s called “You Have To Be Carefully Taught” and the lyrics go like this:

You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear,

You’ve got to be taught from year to year.

It’s got to be drummed in your dear little ear

You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid of people whose eyes are oddly made,

And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade

You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late, before you are six or seven or eight

To hate all the people your relatives hate

You’ve got to be carefully taught.

 

Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 9.55.08 PMRespect. It’s being kind when being rude or mean is easier. It’s caring for the feelings of everyone affected by a situation. Sometimes it means biting your tongue until it bleeds. It’s loving someone when they least deserve it. It’s being competitive without being hateful or violent; there is no excuse for hurting someone who roots for the opposing team.

I refuse to teach Sadie hate. I refuse to accept it from people wanting my vote or worse, those who are already in office. I will teach her to take action and defend herself when someone wants to take away her rights or the rights of others. I will teach her to listen, to consider, to weigh the pros and cons and be tolerant and patient. I will help her believe that she deserves dignity, but above all, to treat others as she would like to be treated and to be true to herself. Despite the crazy world she lives in, I will teach her that love is much stronger than hate.

Of those things, I will make sure she is carefully taught.

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Carol Rock is a writer based in the Los Angeles area. She is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years experience covering all areas of news and features. She works as a freelance public relations and media consultant, with writing remaining her strong suit. Her tattoo, if it were real, would read “Don’t Die Wondering.”