Violence and Silence

This is a picture of Heather Heyer. She was a paralegal from Charlottesville with a strong sense of justice. Friends say they’d often find her crying in front of her computer after reading news of some new terrible thing happening in the world. But she didn’t just settle for being upset online — she did what she could to defeat injustice in the real world as well.

That’s why she went to a white supremacist march in Charlottesville on Saturday. She wanted to show them that not everyone in this country was ready to give in to hatred, that there were people who despised their message and who would take to the streets to oppose it.

And they killed her for it.

We can have reasonable disagreements about free expression and the degree to which it should be regulated by the state. But we can’t allow those disagreements to blind us to the consequences of certain kinds of speech.

Hate speech can only ever lead to blood. It is a pronouncement that other races are both a terrible threat and spiritually inferior, simultaneously encouraging violence and absolving its perpetrators. Even the proponents of supposedly “softer” forms of white nationalism long to live in a country where all but they are excluded. History tells us there is only one way this can happen.

If white supremacists are not violent, then it is only because we make them afraid to act. Make no mistake, these men are cowards. Normally they stew privately in bile and trade petty hatreds back and forth in their shadowy little corners of the Internet. They know full well what happens when they bring their ignorance into the light.

It’s only when they see these views normalized, when they think that there’s a silent majority at their back, when they feel like the police and the government and the forces of order will stand aside, only then do they slink from their hole.

It’s only then that they kill. Their greatest hope is that the terror such violence inspires will keep the rest of us silent. Their greatest fear is that it will not.

On the weekend of August 26th, alt-right and white nationalist groups will be coming to the Bay Area for a “Patriot Prayer” weekend. This is being organized by a lot of the same groups that were involved in the Unite The Right rally in Charlottesville, and will include some of the same speakers. DSA SF, along with a growing list of nearly 30 local organizations, will be holding a counter-rally, the Bay Area Rally Against Hate, on the Crescent Lawn at UC Berkeley. We’d love it if you could come out and show support.

This is being organized as an explicitly peaceful event, yet we have no illusions about the threat of violence we face — not anymore. There is strength in numbers. The more people show up and make their voices heard against hatred and violence, the less likely the forces of hatred will feel emboldened to act.

Finally, please consider donating to Heather’s family and to the others injured during Saturday’s actions. It might not seem like much, but in a country without comprehensive health care the costs of standing up to fascism are often born by those that are least able to pay.

We can’t bring back Heather Heyer, or undo the harm inflicted upon the countless others injured during the long fight against hatred in this country. But we can honor her memory by following her example. We can use our right to free expression to tell the white supremacists exactly what we think of them.