Over the weekend, white nationalists clashed with anti-racist counter-protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, during a "Unite the Right" rally. On Saturday, the violent protests came to a head when a car sped into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others. It was a day of terror and pain, but this one detail about the Charlottesville violence may help restore your faith in humanity. On Friday, hundreds of religious leaders came together with counter-protesters in an attempt to stop the "Unite the Right" rally before it could get started.
Charlottesville's local NBC station reported the Charlottesville Clergy Collective called for religious leaders to "show up to represent religious love." And that's exactly what they did. Leaders across multiple faiths and denominations came together to peacefully protest the hatred of white nationalists.
First, on Friday, political activist, philosopher, and Harvard University professor Cornel West was the featured speaker during a mass prayer service held Friday night at St. Paul's Memorial. Then on Saturday, Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, and other faith leaders marched to Emancipation Park to join arms in an attempt to block white nationalists from entering. Later in the day, they joined other counter-protesters as they once again linked arms, and this time lifted their voices in song to drown out the racist, sexist, and homophobic rallying cries of members of the far-right, who stood opposite them, many holding guns.
Religion can be a divisive subject, but to see people of faith standing alongside counter-protesters regardless of their beliefs or opinions on religion simply because it is the right thing to do is beautiful. To hear West, Frederick-Gray, and so many others fight hate with songs instead of violence is proof of how much good there is in the world. What happened in Charlottesville was a heartbreaking reminder of how strong hatred can be, and how much it can impact the lives of innocent people.
"I am here to show up on the side of love."
But don't let the images of violence be the only thing you take away from the clash. Focus just as much attention on those who are willing to stand up to hatred, violence, and bullying. These people are not only heroes, but they also illustrate the best part of humanity.
Frederick-Gray told The Daily Progress, "This is a pivotal moment in our nation. I am here to show up on the side of love. This is a time when violence, fear and radicalized hate have been given permission. It is important for people of conscience to say that love and equity is our future."
Much like the counter-protesters they stood beside, the religious leaders who showed up in Charlottesville do not agree on everything. They come from vastly different walks of life and faiths, but none of them were willing to stand aside and let hate prevail. Facing violence with nothing more than your conviction and signs declaring love wins is not easy, but so many people did just that in Charlottesville.
Hatred was strong as protesters clashed in Virginia, but so was the belief in the power of love, equality, and unity. As West said during his speech at the mass prayer service, he came "bearing witness to love and justice in the face of white supremacy."
His words are a reminder that as long as there are so many people fighting against injustice, it can never prevail.