By Nancy B. Greer
President & CEO
One year ago today in Charlottesville, our country witnessed the horrific consequences of unbridled hate – the murder of Heather Heyer and the wanton beating of DeAndre Harris at the hands of rampaging neo-Nazis and white supremacists. One year later, we see the ugly spectacle of white nationalists again spreading their poison, this time at a rally today in the heart of our nation’s capital.
These aren’t isolated outbreaks. They can’t be dismissed as the loud ravings of a handful of extremists. They’re a disturbing sign of the times. Incidents of hate are more prevalent now than in years. Anti-semitic crimes are on the rise, with words of intolerance spewed on both the political right and left. Hateful, divisive rhetoric emboldens the bigoted to intimidate and incite.
What we saw in Charlottesville a year ago didn’t arise out of the blue. It was a predictable culmination of “otherizing,” acts that single out and target Jews, Muslims, African Americans, Latinos, LGBTQ – anyone painted with a stereotype, anyone who doesn’t fit with intolerant notions about American society that are built on dividing and excluding. “Otherizing” is the starting point down a dangerous path of hate.
Schools in our state report an alarming increase in acts of bias targeting students, creating a climate of fear for all minorities. Words and behaviors that violate our standards of morality and decency are more commonplace and are in danger of being accepted as a “new normal.”
We must speak, organize, advocate, and act. We must build bridges and assemble coalitions to amplify the sound of our voices and expand the reach of our actions. Martin Luther King Jr. said in his Letter from a Birmingham jail, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
The Federation’s advocacy in the Washington State Legislature earlier this year is one, small example of how we can band together to make positive, effective change for the broader community. We secured appropriations of $200,000 in the state’s 2018 supplemental budget to help turn back the tide of hatred – supporting the Holocaust Center for Humanity’s creation of a comprehensive online encyclopedia of Holocaust education resources, and expanding by 50 percent the availability of ADL’s No Place for Hate anti-bias education program in our state’s schools. These initiatives have proven value in reducing bias and increasing acceptance and appreciation of diversity.
Today, the one-year anniversary of the Charlottesville horror focuses our minds on the need to stand against the hatreds that remain a stain on our country. May the memory of Heather Heyer serve as a stark reminder of our responsibility to act. And once this anniversary has passed, we must maintain our focus to work for justice and repair our world. As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “Every little deed counts.”