August 19, 2017

Kaine In Sunday's RTD: Virginians Must Respond To This Pain By Accelerating Progress

In an op-ed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine reflects on the violent white supremacist demonstrations in Charlottesville last weekend and calls for Virginians to respond to those displays of hatred by accelerating progress toward equality. 

Virginians must respond to this pain by accelerating progress

By Tim Kaine

Last Saturday, America and the world were confronted with scenes of neo-Nazis, Klansmen, and other white supremacists terrorizing the citizens of Charlottesville. Ostensibly protesting the locally elected government’s democratic decision to remove a monument of Robert E. Lee, the ralliers chanted racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic messages having nothing to do with statues or heritage. They came to spew hate.

And it was more than just words. Heavily armed “militia” members intimidated local citizens. A mob beat Deandre Harris unconscious. A white supremacist intentionally drove his car into a crowd of people, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring dozens of others who came to stand up for love and tolerance. And the ensuing chaos resulted in the deaths of Virginia State Police officers Berke Bates and Jay Cullen as they worked to restore peace.

As I attended the memorial services for these brave Virginians, each killed standing up for Virginia values of equality and order, I sought to understand this grievous attack on our commonwealth. And more importantly, I sought to determine how we must respond to it.

The events in Charlottesville did not occur in a vacuum. Our commonwealth knows well the pain of racism and division. The arrival of shackled Africans in Virginia in 1619 began the monstrous institution of slavery in our country. Richmond became the capital of an insurgent breakaway nation dedicated to the maintenance of slavery and the principle of white supremacy. And when slavery collapsed, succeeding generations embraced Jim Crow and Massive Resistance rather than living in accord with the principles we hollowly proclaimed to be self-evident.

Thank God recent decades have shown a Virginia willing to confront the evils of the past and put them behind us. We were the first state in the South to pass a fair housing law. We became the first state to popularly elect an African-American, the grandson of a slave, to lead our commonwealth. When Governor Wilder declared that he was a “son of Virginia,” he spoke volumes about our pain and our progress. Our strong support in two elections for our first African-American president showed our determination to move ahead. And what an irony that our determination to face forward and find progress is what finally connected us in an authentic way with our Founders’ professed values of the equality of each person.

Today, we are more truly a commonwealth than we have ever been. We don’t just mouth the word “equality” — we strive to extend its promise to all regardless of race, religion, national origin, gender or sexual orientation. Virginia is for lovers — not haters. We are not yet where we need to be, and painful inequities persist. But we no longer accept, rationalize or relish those divisions. Instead, we endeavor to close them.

This determination to put away the bigotry of the past draws white supremacists to raise their voices and fists against us. I saw this in Richmond as a City Council member and mayor when we were building statues of Arthur Ashe and Abraham Lincoln, or renaming bridges originally named for Civil War generals in honor of civil rights heroes. So often, these moves to more fully account for our city’s history were most opposed by outsiders like David Duke. They nurture bitter fantasies about the past, and they cannot accept that we are moving ahead.

That was the attitude that animated so many who descended on Charlottesville last weekend. They see Virginia as a museum piece and are unwilling to accept our progress. It demonstrates the falsity and futility of their twisted ideology.

This explanation of why hatred chose to reveal its ugly face here also tells us what we must do. Keep moving forward. Celebrate that we have finally grasped the deep meaning of the equality promise and endeavor to be the nation’s best exemplar of it. Show that we can overcome hatred with love, division with community, and bigotry with brotherhood.

We have to grapple with the painful message sent by any celebration of the Confederacy in our wonderfully diverse 21st century America. I am glad that Mayor Stoney has opened that dialogue in our city. And the dialogue should not only be about subtraction — what should be removed — but also about addition. Whose stories have we ignored? Why do the four years of the Civil War rate so much more attention in this history-obsessed commonwealth than the 250 years of blood sacrifice experienced by the hundreds of thousands of slaves who lived in, built up, and were sold through our state?

And since history, in Faulkner’s words, is the effort to create “a usable past,” how can a more accurate accounting of the past be made useful in addressing current inequities in income, education, incarceration, and health?

Our best response to the hatred we saw on display in Charlottesville is for us to accelerate our passion and progress. We should commit — as civil rights marchers did:

Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me round

Turn me round, turn me round

Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me round

I’m gonna keep on walkin’

Keep on talkin’

Marchin’ into freedom land.