The people of Durham , N.C., have the right idea. Not only have they taken down a Confederate war statue themselves, but they’ve lined up en masse to turn themselves in for that crime, overwhelming the so-called justice system.
The people of Wunsiedel, Germany, have the right idea. They’ve responded to Nazi marches by funding anti-Nazi groups for every Nazi marcher, and cheering on and thanking the marchers.
The people of Richardson, Texas, have the right idea. Members of a mosque intervened between anti-Muslim demonstrators and violent would-be defenders, and left the rally with the anti-Muslims to discuss their differences at a restaurant.
Every situation is different, and the same approach won’t work everywhere, or even necessarily work more than once in the same place. The bigger and less accountable the target — for example state or federal government instead of local — the tougher the challenge. But local actions and global communications can create momentum.
Here in Charlottesville, Va., for example, we have giant statues that would be hard to move. And smashing them would offend more people than leaving them up. Or at least that’s the case with Lee and Jackson. Pulling down the generic Confederate soldier and turning ourselves in for it by the thousands might work.
But there’s no reason we can’t cover the statues with giant curtains reading: “DANGER: Enter at risk of racism, bellicosity, and erroneous history.” There’s nothing stopping us from erecting better statues ourselves, as people did in Baltimore before their city was moved to take the Confederates down. I’d like a statue of Olaudah Equiano. Giant helium balloons and projected lights are also tools available. Public officials could compete for getting their names on Lee’s horse’s ass.
Eons ago when we pushed UVA to raise wages to $8/hour, stores and houses in Charlottesville put up signs in their windows in support. “Lee does not speak for me” signs could be everywhere. Every City Council meeting and public-speaking period thereof could be packed with advocates for the cause. Judges hearing court cases, and state legislators interfering in local public space could be targeted with nonviolent, educational, and lobbying efforts, including protests, sit-ins, petitions, and public debates. We could ask them to emancipate Emancipation Park and bring them an emancipation proclamation to sign. The ghosts of people Lee enslaved could haunt them. We could begin addressing each of them as Trump Supremacists until they act against his racist agenda.
A people’s march from Charlottesville to Richmond could tell the state government to let our city decide on its own public monuments. It could also insist that Virginia take its Robert E. Lee statue out of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Perhaps Lee himself could lead the march on horseback with posters displaying statements he made in opposition to any Confederate monuments. Ghosts could emerge from Arlington Cemetery to protest that “We were supposed to be his memorial. A war maker’s land turned into a display of the dead is memorial enough.” UVA students could take a break from streaking the lawn and streak Emancipation Park with signs: “The only thing obscene here is a monument to racism and war!”
We could put up educational monuments in Emancipation Park: A monument displaying the racial wealth gap or the whites-only federal benefits of decades gone by, a monument to all the people enslaved in the U.S. South after emancipation, a monument to Charlottesville’s Sister Cities, a monument to peace. We could hold teach-ins. We could hold teach-ins and discussions that we invite those we disagree with to participate in. We could ask the world, including everyone who once boycotted North Carolina for gay rights, to boycott Virginia. We could all take a day off, have a party in every street, and ask “Why should we work? Robert E. Lee forced others to work for him and he’s our public hero!”
I could go on. Anyone could go on. The options are endless, and do not include the counterproductive tools of violence.