For some, standing up to bullies is worth risking getting run over
The Rev. Kent Doss, Jessica Riegert and Mark Richardson are far apart in their jobs, their focus, their political philosophies.
But when it comes to standing up to people they regard as intolerant bullies, the three stand together and are willing to lay their lives on the line.
On Sunday, Aug. 20, the pastor, the Democratic Socialist and the marketing consultant plan to march into the lion’s den and counter protest an America First! rally in Laguna Beach aimed at illegal immigration.
That may sound like hyperbole. But the clashing demonstrations come barely a week after Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal, was mowed down by a man believed to be a white supremacist in Charlottesville, Va.
Doss, Riegert and Richardson say they hope both demonstrations remain peaceful. But regardless of the outcome — and let’s pray no one is hurt — I wonder if counter protests merely magnify the other side’s point of view, strengthen otherwise weak organizations, build paranoia making the few appear to be many.
Consider that a handful of KKK members staged a rally in Anaheim last year. More than 100 counter protesters showed up. Fights broke out, three people were stabbed, 13 arrested. The media exposure went global.
Call me a Pollyanna, but to update an old anti-war poster: “Suppose they gave a protest and nobody came?”
Doss, a former Unitarian Universalist pastor in Laguna Beach and now the reverend at Tapestry church in Mission Viejo, wrestled with similar questions before he committed to the counter protest.
“I had mixed feelings because I don’t want the town vandalized,” Doss told me. “I don’t want anyone to get hurt.”
In the end, Doss concluded he had to make a stand. He also realized he needed to take a leadership role in nurturing non-violence.
“I don’t know that ignoring a bully is the not most effective way to deal with them,” Doss says in a pastoral way. “It certainly hasn’t worked in America with racism. Real profound racism is still a part of American culture. It just festers.”
The reverend’s conviction goes beyond his religious views. He also walks in the shoes of discriminated minorities.
“As a gay man who grew up in a very conservative part of the country, I know what it’s like to feel very unsafe on the street. As a white adult, I stand with marginalized communities who feel unsafe.”
Doss will lead a 5 p.m. Sunday church service at Neighborhood Congregational Church, 340 St. Ann’s Drive, Laguna Beach. A march to Main Beach will follow with a 6:30 p.m. counter demonstration near the America First! rally.
Police plan to keep the two demonstrations separate and peaceful. But if name-calling matters, that may prove difficult.
The Democratic Socialists of America call their counter demonstration an anti-fascist protest and Riegert says they plan to chant, “No KKK, no fascist USA!
Several protesters I interviewed said if being called fascists bothers America First! demonstrators then so be it.
“We’re past the point of letting them do what they’re going to do,” explains Riegert, a history teacher. “Silence is complacency. Silence is violence.
“If you are silent on matters of oppression, by being silent you are basically making it OK.”
The teacher points to the White House, Twitter and the media for heating up the current national stew of hate. “White supremacy is getting bolder and bolder.”
She says it’s important to make clear: “We don’t want you in Orange County. There’s not a home for you here.”
Riegert points to a Sunday 2 p.m. seminar on non-violence at the Laguna Beach church. “We don’t want this to be violent,” she assures. “We don’t want to make this another Charlottesville.”
The Rev. Ben McBride of PICO California, a multiracial faith-based community-organizing network made up of 19 nonprofits, is flying in from Oakland to lead the seminar. He offers several points critical to successful non-violence. He also dismisses concern about chants that attack fascism, saying they shouldn’t bother someone who doesn’t match the brand.
“We will challenge them with our rhetoric,” McBride promises. “We will challenge them with a critique that may be upsetting to them.”
The PICO reverend calls it “exorcising the demon of white supremacy.”
He adds, “If you’re not a fascist, then join us. We don’t have an option to turn a blind eye to expressions of racism. Our history and traditions have taught us it’s imperative to challenge the manifestations of that. It’s our duty.”
McBride also is quick to emphasize that compassion is key. “We don’t come from a place of violence, but from a place of love — for ourselves, for those who oppose us, for those who have lost their way.
“My great uncle was hit over the head with a hammer and killed in North Carolina,” McBride says quietly. His point about the weapon is significant. While investigating white supremacy in Orange County several years ago, I learned claw hammers are a favorite weapon for white supremacists.
This expert in non-violence teaches demonstrators to stay calm during conflict, to avoid engaging in threatening behavior, to never dehumanize anyone.
“We will take a public space. We will express our views loudly,” he says. “But we will do it with discipline and love.”
Richardson grew up in Staunton, a town of 24,000 less than an hour from Charlottesville, Va. With a 52 percent African American student body, he attended Robert E. Lee High School, a name that still sticks in his craw.
He also grew up in what he calls a staunchly conservative family. But he explains his parents’ values are similar to Ronald Reagan’s style of compassion rather than President Donald Trump’s.
The marketing consultant went on to graduate from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and often walked the street where Heather Heyer was killed.
On Sunday morning, he plans to drive from his home in Mar Vista to south Orange County. “It’s important to make a statement because of the dangerous rhetoric from the far right.”
Richardson explains, “My goal is to go down to Laguna Beach and be a de-escalating presence.”
Let’s hope he’s successful in helping keep the peace.
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