By Beth Chandler, YWCA Boston Chief Operating Officer
Saturday, August 12, 2017, the unspeakable happened as white supremacists and Neo-Nazis organized around hate and perpetrated violence in Charlottesville, VA. At least 19 counter-protestors were injured, and one, Heather Heyer, was killed.
Shortly after we learned about the violence in Charlottesville, news spread of a “Free Speech” rally planned in Boston on August 19th. Boston quickly demonstrated that it will not tolerate such overt and threatening displays of white supremacy. By midday Monday, a number of counter-protests had been organized, including the Black Lives Matter organized protest “Fight Supremacy!”
YWCA Boston faced a difficult question: Do we participate in the counter demonstration to the “Free Speech” rally or do we stay home? As YWCA Boston’s Chief Operating Officer, I had to help my team decide whether to march with the Fight Supremacy rally, and risk violence similar to that in Charlottesville. Despite the outpouring of support throughout the city, the Mayor of Boston and even Tina Fey said stay home. Their reasoning was that Bostonians must deny white supremacists the opportunity to generate increased visibility and to perpetuate violence. We know what happens when people stay home. For hundreds of years, people not in the direct line of racist fire have chosen to keep quiet, contributing to the white supremacist-based state we live in today. If we choose to ignore hate, it will continue to build and organize, and become increasingly normalized.
Ultimately, we decided to march and invited others to join us. To do otherwise would be antithetical to our mission. We believe it is important to march in support of all marginalized communities – including people of color, women, and LGBTQIA+ – who are terrorized by hate speech and violence. It is important to march in support of dismantling white supremacy and the insidious ways that it hurts all of us. It is important to march to break the grip of fear that has held many of us.
I am so glad that YWCA Boston marched. Walking in a sea of thousands of people of all hues, genders, and ages renewed my commitment to the work. It was encouraging to see so many white faces in the crowd. The fight to eliminate racism was being shouldered by all. It was invigorating. It felt like we were bending Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s “arc of the moral universe” a little closer towards justice.
YWCA Boston understands that many fear the vulnerability it requires to speak out against hate. Whether you are able to march in the streets or not, we encourage our audience to never retreat from denouncing white supremacy. It is important to disrupt spaces that allow for Neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups to connect and multiply. We are not providing them an audience – we are demonstrating that we will continue to spread love even as others capitalize on hate.
Thank you to all who marched with us, or encouraged us in marching. We hope you will take this opportunity to continue to learn, to follow POC-led activism, and to speak with those around you about the white supremacist structures present in our everyday lives.
Watch Beth speak about why YWCA Boston marches, in this clip from NBC News (Beth @ 1:18)