Do We Know What Time It Is?

I never imagined a time would come when I would suggest that it may be good news that Neo-Nazi’s and Klanspeople have been marching American streets, but that time is today.

The recent racial conflicts in America have a lot to do with time. We’ve heard people ask over-and-over again lately: Are we really watching full-fledged race riots in 2017? That is obviously a time-related question, and I’m suggesting to you that America’s white supremacists know how to read the times and the seasons. We should learn to do the same.

Many social movement scholars have agreed that people are more likely to rally together when a political opportunity seems to emerge from some kind of societal shift: an economic crisis, war, shifts in cultural values, a regime change of some sort. Those kinds of changes create space for those who would challenge the established social arrangement.

For example: before the 60s, challengers to the structure of American society were often dismissed as crazy people or prosecuted as communists, but a cultural shift happened where people discovered they can’t just accuse people of insanity or treason without solid evidence. That change in general attitude toward dissenters created space for white college students to join the Civil Rights Movement and to start their own campaigns: for free speech on college campuses, for women’s rights, and against the Vietnam War.

In the Viceland documentary on Charlottesville, neo-Confederate leader Matthew Heimbach tells the reporter that the white supremacists that we saw studied social movements of the past. They’ve been gleaning whatever lessons they can from those movements so that they can strategically organize their own. They chose this time to move. Why?

Could it be that those hateful men--as students of social movements--chose this historic time to make their move because they saw an opportunity? When we review the recent years, there has definitely been some cultural shifting: a wave of resentment toward “political correctness” culture, a swelling discontent with business-as-usual-politics, and the rise to power of an incendiary agitator--speaking in an old familiar tongue of privilege and exclusion, promising to lead America back to some former time of glory. Maybe those shifts put the message on the wind that now is a decisive time to fight “to slow the dispossession of whites [1].”

We who believe in freedom and solidarity would do well to learn to read society’s cracks and fissures as well. The president’s approval rating is at its lowest. People are outraged at the events of Charlottesville and now asking how they can take action. Thousands of counter-protesters peacefully overwhelmed a white nationalist rally in Boston this past weekend. These things are telling us what time it is. The question is, “are we paying attention?”

There is plenty to be exhausted and outraged by in these times. At the same time, to whatever degree possible, let us try not to be so overcome with grief that our tears block our vision. I want you to see that those who rally for oppression are actually terrified. I want you to see that--however imperfect, slow, and incomplete it may be--there is an awakening happening in our society. I want you see that the love of neighbor can overwhelm the fear of “the other.” If we fail to see these weaknesses in the pervasive shift toward indignity and oppression, we may miss this moment.

Now is the time to leverage these opportunities: to get strategic, get creative, and to educate and organize. Things do not have to be this way.


References and Further Exploration:

1. Quote "...slow the dispossession of whites..." Dinner with a White Nationalist

2. Viceland Documentary: "Charlottesville: Race and Terror"

3. Boston Counter-protesters Overwhelm White Nationalist Rally