There has been much written and said about the March 30th planned rally of the KKK. This rally is inspired by recent Memphis City Council action changing the names of three Confederate parks, Nathan Bedford Forrest Park, Jefferson Davis Park and Confederate Park. The parks were given temporary placeholder names and their permanent names will be decided later with a great deal of promised public input.
These facts have been presented and these stories covered in the media and discussed in our workplaces, classrooms, places of worship and homes. Yet, it falls to the public, to the people of Memphis and Shelby County to answer one pivotal question. What is to be our response to this?
Some very sincere and passionate people believe in being at the scene of the Klan rally to show publicly and assertively that hate mongers such as the Klan and their ilk are neither welcome or wanted within our community. I personally don't propose that people go to the KKK event and counter protest. I think for many the spectre of violence at the 1998 Klan rally gives many in our community, especially those with children, pause.
I also fear that it only plays into the Klan's strategy and goals. And in dealing with those who profit off of division and hatred it is important to understand their tactics and agendas. What does the Klan want?
They announce their plans of a massive rally far enough in advance so that the media coverage runs like wildfire. They do this to try and use this event to provoke our City and our people to rash action and to attempt to instigate violence and feed off the continued news coverage that they will receive on the day of said event.
So, in my view the best thing to do would be to have a bigger and positive mass gathering away from their little show. An event that was creative and so large that it would draw as much media as possible away from covering the Klan in the first place. Make their event the lesser of the two and dominate the coverage.
I also strongly feel that... this event cannot simply be some feel good love-fest that speaks to false progress on race relations. That would be false and disingenuous. The fact is our city has a long way to go before the wounds of the past can be fully healed. This event should be centered on building a multiracial nonviolent movement to oppose bigotry and discrimination in our city for the long haul.
That is why I am glad to know that there is an effort to create and promote such an event here in our community. On March 30th at the Memphis Fairgrounds from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. is the date and time of an unprecedented communitywide partnership under the banner of HEART OF THE CITY.
HEART OF THE CITY will provide an event that is open freely to the public, safe and family friendly. This event will not only have great music, dance, food and culture, but most of all have focus on building a long-term movement that opposes racism and discrimination of any kind in our city on March 30 and everyday thereafter. This pivotal section of the event is the first annual MEMPHIS UNITED: People's Conference on Race and Equality.
This will be a space where the greater community can hold substantial conversations and dialog about racism – both interpersonal and systemic – in our community. There would also be a rich selection of workshops and trainings available around grassroots organizing, nonviolent direct action, mindful communication, anti-racism and anti-oppression organizing and understanding privilege.
What we cannot have is a lot of energy and passion being expended in the name of fighting racism that all goes away the next day, Easter Sunday; or worse, a repeat of the violence of 1998.
Let's make this Resurrection Sunday a resurrection of our community's commitment to building the beloved community. The event is free and I do so hope that Memphians of all races will attend and bring your children and most of all join the work of ending our city's legacy of hate.
I urge all of us to be mindful and do nothing that would play into the hands of racists and for all of us to act responsibly in the coming days.
Peace, Salaam, Shalom.
(Brad Watkins is Organizing Director at the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center. Contact him at 901-725-4990, office; 901-495-0818, cell.)