The Confusion of Charlottesville
We live in confusing times. I keep turning thoughts over as I peruse headlines and spot pictures of men carrying sticks, pipes and guns while supposedly enjoying their First Amendment right to peacefully assemble. I get stuck in weird places. Like I’ll be mid-sentence saying, “White supremacists in Charlottesville weren’t looking to peacefully assemble. You aren’t looking for peace when you don shields and firearms,” and then I read or hear someone say, “Yeah, so you think it’s right for Black Lives Matter protestors to wield sticks and pipes, to shoot cops in Dallas, to break windows in DC?” And I stop what I’m doing and loudly reply or think to myself, “No, no, it’s never right to bring weapons to peaceful protests,” and then someone else says, “But what about at Second Amendment rallies? Is it wrong for these folks to lawfully carry firearms while demonstrating their ability to bear arms responsibly and peacefully?”
Right there—I’m stuck. Stuck. So I think about it some more. I dig through the text of the Second Amendment; whoa, I get whirled around by the exact language I see. I turn over words and phrases:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Note that it says Congress shall make no law abridging the right of the people peacefully to assemble. That means the federal government can’t make a law that prevents us from gathering peacefully in a public place. It doesn’t say a state can’t make such a law; nor does it say Congress can’t make a law that prohibits your ability to gather as a violent mob; indeed, when you march in D.C. or elsewhere, you must obtain the proper permits and follow limits the police and the authorities set on time, place and weapons. So when the Women’s March happened in D.C., we headed into town knowing we couldn’t bring sticks with our signs or weapons or much of anything other than our pretty pink hats and our walking shoes.
The Second Amendment talks about our right to bear arms. The text says:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
When I read this, I wonder if the First Amendment trumps the Second because it comes first. Yeah, that’s not the most analytical of thoughts, but what happens if you want to exercise your right to bear arms, but you also want to do so while exercising your right to peacefully assemble? Do we think we can gather as a crowd to protest a statue peacefully while also being armed to the teeth?
See, I get lost in the minutiae sometimes. It’s the curse of the time I spent in Professor Belz’s Constitutional History classes at University of Maryland; it’s the side effect of surviving Professor Devin’s Socratic lectures at William and Mary. I turn it over in my mind until I get turned upside down; and then I search for an open door that will guide me out of the chaos that is public discourse in Twenty-First Century America.
Then I eat a tuna sandwich and receive a text from my daughter: Mom, practice is over at 5, you can pick me up outside the band room . . . and I come back to reality. I’m a mother, and Charlottesville harbors the university I want and hope this daughter of mine can attend in four years. UVA, after all, is a good university—and it’s seventy miles away from me. I look up to education. I view the hallowed halls of its campuses as sacred places, and sacred places should be safe ones.
But it’s not just my child that should be safe. And it’s not just universities that should be safe. All our children should be able to walk up and down a town square in safety—just as all our young adults should be able to walk to class without being threatened by weapons-wielding men and women.
Which brings me back to the headlines I keep perusing, and the questions that keep interrupting thoughts. And I realize, as I finish feeding the cat leftovers from the tuna can, that all of this is a distraction from the larger issue. Don’t get me wrong. Let me be crystal clear: no one should ever bring a weapon to a peaceful protest. And all protests should be peaceful. There’s no ifs ands or buts here. I condemn all violent protest. Period. I particularly condemn those who march under the aegis of rhetoric that is in and of itself violent: white supremacy. But those who march for Black Lives Matter should not carry weapons on their marches either.
But this is all a distraction.
From the bigger things that bedevil all of us.
Some of these things seem small, but they’re not. Like today, I asked my son how his lunch was, and he said he forgot it.
“What did you do?” I asked.
“Well, I bought it.”
“You bought it?”
“Yeah, she said to bring in money tomorrow.” My son looked at me. He knew I was upset.
“That’s gonna cost me ten dollars,” I said. And I sighed and walked away. Because you can’t explain budgets in any manner that takes hold with an eleven year old. But any adult reading this, anyone who’s trying to raise a family in America knows what I speak of. What little we have doesn’t go far, does it?
A lot of us don’t have a lot. The top one percent of Americans now own more wealth than the bottom ninety percent. Which is to say: America is riven by inequality.
Desperation and separation act as the fuel for our violent civic dialogue. Families are saddled with debt, but during the 2008 Recession, and other times throughout our history, corporations, not individuals, were bailed out of financial ruin. Corporations poison the water we drink, the air we breathe; yet wealthy shareholders, rather than workers, reap the unholy profits sowed by these sometimes legal corporate endeavors.
Jobs are “outsourced” to laborers working in other countries under slave-like conditions; robots, not Americans, fill newly-created American jobs; and corporations are hired to run enemies down in countries near and far—all in the name of waging an endless war against terror. A war that has few boundaries and no stated parameters for ending is also a war that exhibits little sympathy for the lives of innocent bystanders.
Meanwhile, the oceans grow more acidic; the trees in our forests, more scarce. Our scientists warn that our use of natural resources is killing the very earth we live in and is threatening the future of our children and our children’s children. Our very way of living is a violent one that leaves destruction in its wake, and still we carry on and march for or against statues erected to honor men who died eight score and many more years ago.
And yet our elected leaders understand very little of this. After all, they serve with no term limits, nor do they observe any form of meaningful limitation on who can influence them. Corporations are not citizens, and yet they sprawl out across the political landscape like teenagers in a frat common area, grabbing what they can from those who represent us in Congress. Both parties are, in short, corrupt. Each of the two major parties serves the corporate lobby. Each keeps the War on Terror going; each feeds from the same vat that feeds the rich and powerful.
We, as individual humans, are better, more important, more precious, more beautiful, more meaningful—than any of our ruling institutions. We each have the light of God within us, and this light can and does shine no matter how dark our institutions turn. We must remember what unites us.
We are unified by love. We are unified by the blood that runs in our veins and by the light that flows like living waters through our souls. We must seek the light that each one of us, as sons and daughters of the One, possesses. And we must demand that our institutions serve us, as individual beings with light, rather than the non-human, inanimate monster that is the modern corporation. We cannot allow ourselves to be distracted by old statues, or by ignorant men touting Swastikas, or by angry but misguided minorities who bring weapons to the public meeting place.
We must wake up. And join together in love and in light. And once we do this, we must demand that our institutions follow us into the light and take a route that will lead us to live in peace and in harmony with ourselves and with the Mother that is our Earth.
We—and Earth—deserve no less.