Peacemaker Friday: They Met Hate with Love in Charlottesville. Now It’s Our Turn.

We need more peacemakers. And that doesn’t mean someone else… that means you. It means me. It means us.

We need you to show up at the frontlines to wage peace where others wage war. And we need you to do it now.

Last weekend, at least one group foresaw the need for peacemakers in Charlottesville. They showed up to fill the need. They showed up to stand against violence while refusing to hate. They were led by their values, and by all accounts, they were a calming presence in the midst of chaos. They used love to push back hate.

They’re the clergy members of a group called Congregate Cville.

Eighty brave men and women from around the state, trained in nonviolence, stood their ground in the middle of violence. Arm-in-arm, they stood rooted in faith. They kneeled, singing hymns and chanting phrases like, “Love has, love has, love has already won” alongside peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters—even as groups of armed, white supremacists marched in front of them. (See a video of some of their protest here.)

Religious leaders kneel in prayer during their peaceful protest in Charlottesville. Photo by Rodney Dunning / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Even after a group of white supremacists broke through their line with shields, hurling insults and homophobic slurs, the clergy stayed committed to nonviolence and justice for all involved. As their line was broken and they were forced to disperse, many of them found other ways to wage peace on the frontlines.

Some began de-escalating tense situations and preventing fights. Several of them observed afterward that walking into a potential skirmish while wearing their clergy vestments was sometimes enough to get people to calm down. Others helped the injured and those hit with pepper spray, mace, and other chemical irritants. They were some of the first on the scene when a car rammed into a group of protesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others.

Because of their faith, several members of Congregate Cville also expressed the hope of redemption for white supremacists at the rally.

Armed militia members observe the peaceful demonstration by local religious leaders. Photo by Karla Cote / CC BY-ND 2.0

Lisa Sharon Harper, a writer and religious leader of color who was part of the Congregate Cville demonstration even worked toward that end on Saturday. She stood for hours facing a group of armed white supremacists who had been instructed not to speak to counter-protesters. Harper did her best to wear down one protester, trying to strike up a conversation with him several times.

Finally, as she was leaving, she turned to him one last time and said, “I just want you to know that we love you.” His face softened and after a moment’s hesitation he responded, “I love you, too.”

This is the power of love anyway. This is the power of nonviolence. This is the power of faith and relationship. This is the power of sticking to your values rather than your guns.

Lisa Sharon Harper (far left wearing a red and yellow sash) stands in protest with other religious leaders. Photo by Rodney Dunning / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

This coming weekend, there will be plenty of opportunities for you to show up on the frontlines, as there are at least nine more major demonstrations taking place around the United States.

If you are able, find a way to actively and physically take a stand against the violence of white supremacy. Because if hate is loud, our love must be louder.

If you are trained in the principles of nonviolence, this would be a great opportunity for you to follow in the footsteps of the brave women and men of Congregate Cville and show up on the frontlines to wage peace where others wage war.

Keep in mind that these protests can be extremely volatile and dangerous. If you go to one, take every precaution and understand the risk that you are taking.

If you aren’t familiar with the principles of nonviolence, you may want to stay away from the center of the fray and protest in safe places. There are often counter-protests set up several blocks from the primary protest location. These often become safe areas where people can retreat if they are injured or need rest. From these locations, you could offer support to those on the frontlines by setting up aid stations (with water and/or jugs of milk to rinse out the eyes of those who have been hit by chemical irritants), making signs, providing snacks, or organizing group prayer.

Other demonstrators join Congregate Cville in their peaceful demonstration. Photo by Anthony Crider / CC BY 2.0

If, like me, you don’t live in an area where you can access a protest this weekend, that doesn’t mean you can’t show up. Here are a few ways you can still choose to love anyway—to stand against hate, violence, and white supremacy this weekend, no matter where you are:

  • Organize (or join) a public solidarity rally in your town to support people of color, marginalized groups or counter-protesters in the city closest to you. This could be as simple as getting friends together to hold signs of peace in a public area of your city.
  • If you are religious, organize a prayer event during the rallies to pray for safety, peace, healing, reconciliation, and justice. You could hold this event could be at your home or at your place of worship. Be sure to make your event as inclusive as possible and invite people of all faith traditions to join.
  • Talk about what’s happening. Talk about it at your social events this weekend. Talk about it at the dinner table. Talk about it with your kids, parents, friends, and relatives. Don’t let this stuff slide. Don’t let it get buried. Don’t settle for surfacey conversations this weekend.
  • Follow the rallies on the news and social media. Post messages that make your stance clear—be vocal in rejecting white supremacy and supporting of people of color and other marginalized people, while refusing to engage in violent rhetoric. Don’t worry about saying the wrong thing. Just say something.
  • If, God forbid, things get violent and traumatic at this weekend’s rallies, reach out to your friends of color and tell them that you’re sorry this is happening. Ask if they’re ok. Tell them that you’re with them.

Now is the time. And the frontlines are where we are. Let’s show up and wage peace where others wage war.

Peacemaker Friday is published weekly to share stories of people unmaking violence around the world. Be inspired. Take Action.  Header photo: Photo credit: Karla Cote, Flickr Creative Commons.