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Don Rogers: Set aside the sticks

Demonstrators stretched across the Nevada City bridge over the freeway the morning after Charlottesville, a Sunday.

Eight held up a banner declaring “No to intolerance — yes to diversity!” Others showed signs you might expect: “We condemn hatred & violence.” “Love not hate.” “No hate, no bigotry.” “Speak up.” “Love is the answer.”

That Wednesday in Charlottesville, thousands and thousands of people with the same message lit candles and walked, singing songs like “This Land is Your Land.”



The mayor there changed his mind that night about his support for Confederate statues. They largely were erected in the Jim Crow era, after all. The supremacists celebrate them — and a far darker time, if you are struggling with the concepts of history vs. what these monuments symbolize.

Removing statues hardly is erasing history. History is learned in classrooms, books (remember those?), documentaries, museums and especially scholarship — avenues of study with room for nuance, explanation, knowledge.




Statues are built to commemorate heroes, promote values, express pride. The lack of Adolfs in bronze across Germany might serve as a clue here. As might a simple count of Confederate statues in the South of black people. History? You sure about that?

The mayor’s epiphany came at the height of the memorial and march for Heather Heyer, the counterprotester killed by the car driven by the young man who idolizes Hitler and allegedly beat his mom.

Question: Did the mayor really need a martyr?

This is a question for history. Martyrs might make change happen sooner, serving as they do as catalysts. But the nonviolent movements of such as Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela have proven more transformative and enduring. I imagine adherents of Malcolm X, the old IRA or ISIS might disagree.

Of course, these protests and counterprotests are not so much against the state as each other. More to the point for the rest of us, they test the Constitution. Ah, that.

Some of the most vile expressions of thought, slurs, heresies against what America stands for and fought wars against, culminating in pro-Nazi rants, all of this is protected by our First Amendment and supported over and over again by our courts. Not because judges sympathize with the content, but because freedom of expression is a cornerstone tenet of our country. By the way, Charlottesville was sanctioned by the city and supported by the ACLU for the same reason.

So yes, Kathy Griffin gets to make gory images of a decapitated head and the tiki torch boys get to yell out their nonsense. All protected by our most hallowed secular document, the Constitution.

There are caveats, however. To paraphrase the relevant part of the First Amendment of what is not to be abridged: “the right of the people peaceably to assemble.”

We have a constitutional right to demonstrate nonviolently. The authorities have a right, and I’d say responsibility, to ensure our assemblies indeed are peaceable.

They legally can set the time and manner of our First Amendment rights to express ourselves. We don’t get to shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater, celebrate a Super Bowl victory by overturning cars or incite violence while airing our grievances.

I’d say coming to a protest armed with helmets, sticks and shields — not to mention guns (talk about your clash of amendments) — is something less than a great start. Where on the scale to incitement does that stand, constitutionally? Boston’s authorities did better than Charlottesville’s by confiscating weaponry at the gate.

But citizens doing no more than linking arms to block marchers from progressing violates the First Amendment, too. This is a physical provocation, however hallowed these protesters believe their cause to be.

The weight of blame for Charlottesville falls almost entirely on the supremacists who geared up for what they plainly wanted. But the “antifa” element of the left bears its share, too. Let’s not make angels of these fools. To denounce them is far from tantamount to siding with the supremacists. They’re the flip of the same evil coin, far more in Stalin’s camp than ours.

Violence is no answer, neither in Berkeley nor Charlottesville nor wherever this ugly and ridiculous confrontation moves next. It’s not protected by the First Amendment, either.

We do have a right to share our views, to hold up signs and a banner across a bridge, to come by the thousands with candles and songs of freedom to consecrate, if you will, public ground despoiled.

And maybe some responsibility, too.

Publisher Don Rogers can be reached at drogers@theunion.com or 477-4299.


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