Tuesday, August 15, 2017

One Witness for Justice Out of Hundreds—A Vigil For Charlottesville in McHenry

Gathering at the Tree of Life UU Congregation.  Photo by Lori Palmer Kane.

Note:  In a whirlwind of emotions the past few days have flashed by as I stayed glued to news accounts and processed what happened in Charlottesville and to our nation. It was also taken up by leaping into action with the great folks from the Tree of Life UU Congregation Social Justice Team to pull together a rapid response vigil in McHenry last night.  This is a report on that action.  My deeper ruminations will be shared on posts over the next day or two.
I lost count as the gloaming settled in around the grounds of the Tree of Life Unitarian Church, 5603 Bull Valley Road in McHenry on Monday night at just over 100 and more arrived later.  It was a lovely, warm, but mosquito infested evening that brought folks from the comforts of their homes from Wisconsin to the several points in the northern and western Chicago suburbs in addition to McHenry County.  About 80% were not members of the Congregation and most of them had never visited before.  They came in response the widening ripples of a stone thrown in the pond of social media—from posts shared by the McHenry County Progressives, Indivisible, church notifications, and individual to individual.
We were not alone.  In addition to A Vigil for Charlottesville—All Creeds, All Colors, All Caring sponsored by Tree of Life’s Social Justice Team—there were literally hundreds of vigils, marches, and rallies across the United States and around the world all standing up to White supremacy, bigotry, and the spreading threat of fascism.
Our flickering candles out shine their torches.  Our voices lifted in prayer and song drowns out their hate filled chants.  Our resistance and defiance stymies their strutting braggadocio.  Our uncowed defiance thwarts their school yard bullying.

TOL Social Justice Team Co-Chair Judy Stettner, center led the vigil.  My own lamentably blurry cell phone snap.
Judy Stettner, co-chair of the TOL Social Justice Team, presided as the circle on the lawn by the Church widened and grew.  After welcoming remarks, she shared the account of Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) President Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray who was in Charlottesville with a large contingent of faith leaders from many traditions to bear witness against hate and offer their bodies to block the Neo-Nazi, White Nationalist, Ku Klux Klan, and armed Militia marchers.
Then it was this Old Man’s turn.  After remembering the blood sacrifice of 32 year old anti-fascist hero Heather Heyer and the needless deaths of Virginia State Police Lt. H. Jay Cullon and Trooper Pilot Berk M.M. Bates in a helicopter crash responding to the violent chaos unleashed by the organized forces of bigotry, I said that it fell to me to be the voice of anger and outrage.  I was not there to lead a chorus of Kumbaya.  I recalled that earlier in the day I had read remarks by Black scholar and activist Cornel West who was with the religious leaders on both Friday night when the marching Nazis threatened the church where they gathered and on Saturday when they placed themselves around the scheduled park rallying point to block access to the Unite the Right marchers.  The ministers were confronted and menaced with imminent attack unprotected by police who had withdrawn. "The antifascists, and then, crucial, the anarchists, because they saved our lives, actually. We would have been completely crushed, and I’ll never forget that."  West said.  These are the same anti-fascists that the Cheeto-in-Charge and far too much of the media holds to be equally guilty for the violence.

The Old Man in the gloaming.  Photo by Gregory Shaver from the Northwest Herald.
On that note, I shared this new poem.

Munich and Charlottesville
August 13, 2017

So is this how it felt on the streets of Munich
            when the strutting Brown Shirts
            in their polished jackboots,
            Sam Browne, and scarlet arm bands
            faced the scruffy Commies
            in their cloth caps
            and shirtsleeves rolled up
            and battled in the beerhalls,
            parks and streets.

All of the good people, the nice people
            cowered behind closed doors
            and wished it would go away—
                        all of the liberals, the Catholics,
                        the new-bred pacifists of the Great War,
                        the professors and doctors,
                        editors and intellectuals,
                        the Social Democrats,
                        even—my God!—the Jews
                        who had not gone Red—
            a pox on both your houses they solemnly intoned.

Hey, buddy, in retrospect those damn Bolshies
            look pretty good,
            like heroes even.
Things look a little different in Charlottesville,
            in brilliant color not grainy black and white
            and the Fascists can’t agree on a
            Boy Scout uniform and array themselves
            golf shirts and khakis, rainbow Klan hoods,
            biker black and studs and strutting camo.

But the smell, you know, that stench,
            is just the same.

The question is—do you dare be a Red today
            or will you close your doors
            and go back to your game consoles
            and cat videos.

Which will it be, buddy?

—Patrick Murfin
I will expand upon this thought in an upcoming post.

Rev. Eric Fistler of the First Congregational Church in Crystal Lake. Photo by Gregory Shaver from the Northwest Herald
Next we heard from The Rev. Eric Fistler of the First Congregational Church in Crystal Lake who cleared his schedule on short note to join the vigil.  He offered moving and thought provoking testimony.
Led by some of the good, strong voices of the Tree of Life Choir scattered through the assemblage we all sang the hymn Love Will Guide Us.  The words seemed especially appropriate.
Love Will Guide Us
Love will guide us,
Peace has tried us,
Hope inside us will lead the way
On the road from greed to giving,
Love will guide us through the hard night.

If you cannot sing like angels,
If you cannot speak before thousands,
You can give from deep within you,
You can change the world with your love.

Love will guide us,
Peace has tried us,
Hope inside us will lead the way
On the road to greed to giving,
Love will guide us through the hard nights.

—Sally Rogers lyrics, Betty A. Wylder music    

By the roadside in candle lit silence.  Photo by Lori Palmer Kane
As other from the gathering offered their own prayers and thoughts, candles were passed out and lit hand to hand around the circle.  Darkness was descending as we progressed in silence down the curving driveway under the towering trees to the street.   We spread out along Bull Valley road with our candles and our signs.  Judy Stettner and I held Tree of Life’s new Standing on the Side of Love banner.  The electronic message board on our sign glowed with the announcement of the Vigil for Charlottesville.  There was a solemn, purposeful silence with a background song of crickets.  Cars moved passed, their headlights shining.  Many slowed down.  The passengers in one white SUV rolled down their windows to shout out a cheer for President Trump.  The thoughts and feelings of the others passing by were an enigma to us.    
We did not linger long along the road.  The growing darkness made it dangerous.  After several minutes Judy rang some chimes to announce the end of the vigil.   We walked back up the dire way with our candles still lit, feeling the reverence of the moment.    Then beside the parking lot we clustered and chatted excitedly. 
It had been a good evening we agreed.  A very good evening. 

No comments:

Post a Comment