Nicholas Boke is chairman of the history department at the Landon School for Boys in Bethesda. For the past three years, he has been teaching a course on Nazi Germany, during which, he says, he has "watched the revolutionary Right take power in Germany, growing from a band of 10 men to an organization that the established parties gave power to in 1933. I hate teaching this course. I always wish it were a novel. But it's not. It happened and things like that can happen. I therefore feel strongly about groups that build their political philosophy around violence and hatred."
He feels strongly, in other words, about the Ku Klux Klan. Earlier this month, he took part in an anti-Klan protest when the Klan rallied in Montgomery County. He signed up to help organize a counter-demonstration to the Klan's rally in Washington this Saturday. Last Wednesday, he attended a meeting sponsored by the All People's Congress to organize the counter protest. He says he found "there were many members of that organization that wanted to have an anti-Reagan rally and not an anti-Klan rally.
"I'll talk about Reagan the next day. Saturday, I want to address the moral issue of hatred and violence. I spoke to that effect, as did several others at the meeting. I was heard, but I was disagreed with."
On the way home, he began thinking about how the two demonstrations would appear on the evening news. "It starts covering those people marching down Pennsylvania Avenue in their robes and then it shifts to the anti-Klan rally and lo and behold the anti-Klan rally is not an anti-Klan rally but an anti-Reagan rally. What does that say about the anti-Klan sentiment?
"I did not want to join that rally because I thought it was misdirected in its focus. I also knew there were others out there like me who either couldn't or shouldn't join that rally but who would feel strongly about the Klan."
He got home and got on the telephone, trying to find a protest other than those sponsored by the All People's Congress, which has permits for demonstrations at five downtown locations. Boke continued calling ethnic, religious and racial leaders in the area the next day, a man in search of a protest, and while he found food distributions and small assemblies, he found nothing that he felt would show sharp public disapproval of the Klan on the evening news.
By noon the next day, Boke's mission was carved out. He asked the school librarian to find out how one gets a permit. "She did. I called and found there was space at the Lincoln Memorial and decided to apply for it."
What Boke has organized is a vigil that will be mercifully free of speeches, loudspeakers and political rhetoric. There will be a banner that says "Citizens against Bigotry, Violence and Hatred." It will be, he says, "just a place for people who want to make an apolitical, moral stand for an hour, with their dogs, their frisbees, their children."
He has contacted such groups as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the churches, asking them to tell their members about his protest. Boke is being assisted by his wife, who is studying for the Unitarian ministry. He says the Unitarian churches mentioned it on Sunday, as did a number of other churches. "We have students calling students in every high school in the area. I've called all the federations I could find, all the coalitions I could find. We have some leaflets being made up primarily for the high schools. We don't have a long list of supporting organizations at the bottom. That's not what we are about. We're about people who care and want to take a stand against hatred and violence.
"I've never done anything like this before," says Boke, and he isn't sure what motivated him. "Probably teaching that course has an impact. Probably also working in an institution that emphasizes the values of trust and growth and openness had an impact."
And he is motivated by his belief that while the Klansmen have the right to speak and rally, "the values they stand for are destructive of every value I and most citizens of the country hold dear."
The vigil, which will begin at noon, will be held on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial looking down toward the Reflecting Pool. As the Klan rallies in Lafayette Park, Boke and those who join him will bear witness against them. It is a commendable moral stand, pure and uncompromised by politics, that will be taken at a most appropriate place.