Editorial: Which side are you on?

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Vermont in general and Manchester in particular pride themselves on being tolerant and welcoming places. But we know there is racism in our state, because this is the United States and it's part of our history, as uncomfortable as that legacy might be, and because we still struggle to overcome our inherent tribalism.

Our founders spoke in stirring rhetoric about freedom, and yet did not understand why owning slaves was an act of hypocrisy that undercut their words. We've been grappling with that legacy ever since.

We also know that the current occupant of the White House cannot tell the difference between right and wrong. He required two whole days of shaming, some of it from within his own party, to condemn the hatred, intimidation and violence of white supremacists that took place last weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Yet it only took him one more day to backtrack on that statement and strongly infer the counter-protesters were somehow equally to blame for the day's violence and loss of life.

When the leader of the Ku Klux Klan hails your words of support, your credibility as a national leader is permanently shot. But until and unless the so-called leaders of Congress find their missing spines and put country ahead of party, it is time to stand and be counted, here in Vermont, and everywhere else in this nation.

The question we must ask ourselves now transcends mere political identity. It's got nothing to do with Republican or Democrat and everything to do with decency, and it's this simple: Do you stand for our founding principle that all are created equal, and bestowed by their creator with the inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? Or do you stand for the vitriol of insecure little boys in matching polo shirts, toting symbols of hatred and committing acts of violence?

This absolutely is our problem. And if we don't stand up to hate, right here and right now, the racist rhetoric and violence will continue and escalate. As it did in the Jim Crow South. As it did in Tulsa, Oklahoma on May 31, 1921. As it did across this country after Jack Johnson won the heavyweight championship of the world on July 4, 1910. As it did in Germany after Krystallnacht.

Freedom of speech is important, and we do not stand against the rights of any person to say ludicrous things in public, nor against the rights of men with low self-esteem, no guiding principles and no understanding of history to dress in matching outfits and find comfort gathering in the relative anonymity of large groups.

But what happened in Charlottesville was not about free speech; that was the flimsy pretext. It was about intimidation. It was a mob of insecure little boys throwing a race hate-fueled temper tantrum, hoping that you'd be sickened and angered by their anti-American vulgarity.

And then one of their number allegedly committed a terrorist act by driving a car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal.

No reasonable person should expect that flying the swastika or the stars and bars — symbols of inhuman cruelty, violent oppression and the very worst behavior humans can inflict upon each other — will result in anything less than an angry, emotional response. Those symbols stand for genocide and slavery, and the American flags fluttering in cemeteries from Bennington to Beecher Falls remind us how many Vermonters died fighting what those hateful symbols represent.

So please, don't waste your breath on the "both sides" argument. It's pathetic and hollow.

But now what shall we do?

We will do what Vermont has always done: Lead by example.

We will welcome the newcomer and the outsider. We will speak up when we see injustice and racist behavior and make it clear that acceptance is our state standard. We will not resort to violent rhetoric or violence, because those things only beget more violence. And we will work together.

When a runaway federal government led by a vain fool demands our voting records, we will say no.

When customs agents harass and intimidate the migrant workers who sustain our farms, we will say no.

When we hear hateful language that violates community standards of decency and respect, we will say no.

And when refugees come to us looking for a safe place to start over their shattered lives, we will say yes, you are welcome here.

We must not look at the torch-carrying goons and say "that's not our problem," even if they were hundreds of miles away.

If we do, we surely are part of the problem.


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