EDITORIAL: We are not a ‘side’

THE CALL CAME into the office at 6:45 p.m. last Sunday, August 13. The woman said there would be a demonstration on the Chatham Village Green that evening at 7 p.m. Could we have somebody there, she asked.

Once in a while we get kooky calls or reasonable requests that we can’t handle because there’s simply not enough time. But sometimes you just have to make the time. I don’t remember now whether she referred to “Charlottesville” but she didn’t have to.

By 7:30 there were about 40 people on the green. Most were white and middle-aged or older. A few carried small, handmade signs with messages like “There Is Only One Side… End Racism.” As the sun set people lit candles. One man carried a candle stuck through a clear plastic cup to protect the flame from the breeze.

Sunday evenings in the summer can be a busy on Main Street. Several dozen cars went by and, estimated unscientifically, three-quarters of them beeped or occupants waved and smiled in support of the demonstration. Undoubtedly it was coincidence that none of the small number of young men in this part of the county who fly the Confederate battle flag from their vehicles passed by. There was no evidence of hostility.

The demonstration was held after the violence by white supremacists and neo-Nazis and the murder of Heather Heyer Saturday. It was after the first statement by President Trump faulting “all sides” for the criminal actions of a gang of racist bullies. It was before Mr. Trump repeated that distorted view of who was responsible for the disturbing actions in Charlottesville.

It felt at first like a national issue, one that should concern all citizens of this country but without clear connections to life in Columbia County. What can we tell you that wouldn’t be better said by people with more knowledge and experience? Our job is covering local news.

The people on the green were all local. Word of this demonstration had spread to us not by national new organizations but by social media, a telephone call, word of mouth among members of the Hillsdale/Copake and Chatham chapters of the Indivisible organization and by neighbors talking to neighbors. It was a peaceful, even upbeat and clearly in sympathy with the efforts of the counterdemonstrators in Virginia.

And yet now the president had defined my neighbors and me as a “side,” implying that we are as culpable as the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis for acts we did not commit and would never condone.

It’s true, Mr. President, that I believe those who perpetrate hateful actions are enemies of democracy. My beliefs are not a crime. It is the duty of citizens to speak out when we see the law violated. It is the right of citizens to gather and protest. We are not a side, we are people who know right from wrong. It’s newsworthy to me that your words remind the nation that you don’t seem to know the difference.

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