Charlottesville, over six years ago, was in the news around the world because a bunch of Nazis came here. Some of them were from here, a place with more than its share of homegrown problems. But the Nazi problem, the widespread racism, the militarized society, the president instigating violence, Hollywood’s glorification of violence, CNN’s glorification of violence, the ownership of governments by the NRA and Lockheed Martin, people’s disgusting love for guns and revenge and hunting and violence was and is much larger than Charlottesville.
Now there are fights in Charlottesville High School to the extent that they’ve shut the school down for days, and it’s not global news. Why should it be? If you search the internet for the infamous videos of the fights in Charlottesville High School, you have to hunt for them through mountains of videos of fights in numerous U.S. high schools across the country. And people living on the receiving end of U.S. weapons in places like Gaza, Ukraine, Syria, Somalia, etc., would be thrilled to have no bigger problem than fights in schools.
The fights in the high school do not seem to be principally or directly related to racism or politics. I claim absolutely no expertise on how to solve the problems and end the fighting. I don’t disagree with the idea that parents and community members should volunteer and come help, even at risk to personal safety, and even though most people are extremely busy trying to make a living. It’s worth being aware that Charlottesville High School is packed with wonderful teachers and coaches and students and band directors doing a fantastic job. There are clearly many things, large and small, that the school could do better. Rules could be applied consistently. Education could be dramatically improved, including for those young people who are in high school while lacking an elementary school education.
But this school, like all of them, has had to deal with a disease pandemic that the U.S. government handled with world-leading incompetence and to this day has no interest in determining the origins of. And it’s the larger society that makes filming and cheering for fights praiseworthy rather than shameful. A U.S. Senator last week tried to start a fist fight in Congress, and a national talk show host regretted that he’d been unable to get that fight started. (Please send the emails telling me that this joke was a joke to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Dramatically improving education costs money. People in Charlottesville pay enough money in taxes, national and state and local, to provide top-quality education by trained professionals, not just random volunteers off the street. According to one wild underestimation, people in Charlottesville alone pay in national taxes just for wars and war preparations $196.23 million a year. That’s enough to hire 1,893 new teachers for a year at $103,661 each. That’s hardly the only place money is worse-than-wasted. The United States is rolling in billionaires — as useful to a society as a ruptured appendix is to a body. The people of Charlottesville shell out a fortune every year to send their kids who make it out of high school to college.
Senator Bernie Sanders campaigned for president twice on making college free, as in normal countries, but was denied a fair primary process (and the revelation of election shenanigans was blamed on Russia, which helped boost that military spending). Now the guy who ran against Bernie in 2020 is the incumbent and controls the primary process, but part of the pitch for how giving Bernie the boot was good for us last time was that Biden had pretended to halfway adopt progressive policies. In fact, Biden promised to create free college for families paid less than $125,000 a year. (Party platform.) (Campaign website.) Biden could do this alone, but he doesn’t, and almost nobody asks him to, while weapons-funded Congress Members ask him not to even forgive student debt because of what that might do to military recruitment. For related reasons, the United States remains the only nation on Earth that has not joined the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is grossly violated by not only U.S. military recruitment, but also U.S. criminal punishment, and U.S. schools.
Charlottesville has done much more as a city to try to impact national politics and priorities for the better than almost any other locality, mostly because it has had active residents, courageous city council members, better than average media, and because frequently the U.S. president has been a Republican (and virtually every city council member has always been a Democrat). Since passing a resolution against war on Iraq, Charlottesville’s government has passed more and better resolutions on the big issues than virtually anywhere else — at least when the President is not a Democrat.
Charlottesville was the first locality to pass a resolution against drone use, including the foreign drone murder program. But efforts to prevent wars on Syria and Libya did not result in any city council resolutions when the throne in Washington did not have a Republican on it.
Charlottesville did pass a resolution against the Citizens United ruling.
It took years, and overcoming state bans on taking down war monuments, but Charlottesville has finally taken down a number of its worst monuments. It has not replaced them with anything we might be proud of, such as monuments to successful nonviolent movements for good causes. It’s also finally banned guns from public rallies. It’s also banned some forms of militarization of local police.
Charlottesville has divested its operating budget from weapons and fossil fuels, but not its retirement fund. As with many of these efforts, Charlottesville has influenced other localities to do the same.
But we recently held an event in Charlottesville for peace in Ukraine, and had a city council member promising to show up, speak, and introduce a resolution. After he learned that Charlottesville would again be the first to take such a step on yet another war and that Democratic politicians were running from peace in Ukraine like it was the new COVID, he vanished. A vicious genocide is underway in Gaza, where children sing songs in support of killing the entire population with U.S. weapons, and there’s not a peep out of Charlottesville’s City Council. We do have an event planned to bury the Monroe Doctrine on its 200th birthday at Monroe’s house at the University of Virginia.
No, I do not think that if anyone knew what the Monroe Doctrine was and what was wrong with that there would be no fights in high schools. But I do think that the kind of society in which everyone would know that sort of thing — and in which opposing wars was the norm rather than the odd exception requiring huge efforts to create — would be the kind of society that was investing in life more than in death. I do not think any two parts of our culture have to be directly tied to each other to be related. We know that children who grow up in societies that shun violence do not become violent. We know that good lives and good educations produce good students. We know that addressing bad lives and bad educations later with criminal punishment costs vastly more. But then it can be fun to yell and scream about getting “tough on crime” so there is that to look forward to.