On the day that white nationalists gather near the White House, about five miles away, a boy who is half-Hispanic and half-Caucasian will hug a boy who is half-Indonesian and half-Indian. Muslim, Christian and Jewish children will giggle at the same jokes. And girls will swing a stick with all their strength at a piñata, feeling just as strong as their male counterparts.
Then, we will all eat cake.
For weeks, I have felt conflicted about whether I should attend the “Unite the White” rally. I realize the official name is “Unite the Right,” but let’s be honest about what it really is: a gathering of white supremacists. Let’s also not insult the many people whose politics align to the right but who are not driven by racism and hate.
Of course, I should be there, one voice in my head has nagged. Numbers matter, and if they bring 200 people carrying signs with divisive messages, 2,000 people should stand in front of them waving words that tout unity and diversity. That should be the image memorialized in history books and newspaper clips.
Of course, I shouldn’t go, another voice scolds, usually with an eye roll to punctuate the obvious: I am an object of this group’s hate, and I learned long ago not to walk into waiting traps.
I am 5-foot-zero and a Latina who grew up in a neighborhood with enough violence that I don’t step into anything naively. It’s not that I avoid risky situations. I have hitchhiked through South America, gone scuba diving with sharks and interviewed murderers. I just don’t believe in allowing someone else’s recklessness to put me in danger unnecessarily. In high school, my best friend’s car was broken into and his speakers stripped from it. I received a call later that day from another boy, a friend from whom I had grown distant, who told me I could get the speakers back if I agreed to meet up with him. A different 16-year-old girl might have said yes. My response: “He’ll get new speakers.”
It would be naive to pretend that a group glued together by hate is not hoping for violence on Sunday. After all, it wasn’t the tiki torches that made their gathering in Charlottesville last year memorable. It was the clashes and the death of Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old counterprotester.
And then there is the opposition to consider. Rally organizer Jason Kessler, on the application he filed for the D.C. permit, acknowledged that the event would not go without facing resistance. “Members of Antifa Affiliated groups will try to disrupt,” he wrote.
Anti-fascist groups plan to have a massive showing of protesters to counter the white nationalists that day. They are organizing under the hashtags #DefendDC, #ShutItDownDC and #AllOutDC.
On the Facebook page for the group Smash Racism DC, the comments already hint at how some people plan to approach the day. Under a comment that mentions Heyer’s death, one person wrote, “Hopefully this will be a warning to everyone on the 12th. Cooperation, and being calm can get you killed.”
Elsewhere in the country, it might be easy to look away and ignore these politically and socially charged events. But in this area, politics, inequality and activism are constantly there, nudging, prodding, staring from signs on street corners when small protests suddenly pop up. When marches are held on the Mall, Washingtonians don’t just hear about it on the news. Their Facebook pages fill with pictures of their friends’ children carrying poster boards with hand-drawn political messages that range from insightful to at-least-he-can-draw.
That energy and activism is what makes this area so remarkable.
It is also what has left people here so torn about what to do on Sunday. In the conversations I’ve had with people as varied as longtime activists and overworked parents who occasionally muster enough energy to get involved, it’s clear there have been many competing voices lately.
Some people feel compelled to confront the hate, to stand in front of those white supremacists and send the message that this is not who we are as a country.
Others feel content to give it no attention, to let those tiny tiki flames burn without adding fuel to them. They acknowledge that the image of 2,000 people standing peacefully in front of 200 white nationalists is powerful but also recognize that so is the photo that shows hate standing alone, mostly ignored.
The truth is that both responses are rational in the face of this irrational moment: More than 400,000 people from this country died fighting in World War II, and now Americans who espouse Nazi beliefs and wave that flag will stand near the home of our president, with permission.
Which brings me to those children eating cake.
On Aug. 12, four years ago, a boy was born with the curly hair of his Mexican American mother and the adventurous spirit of his white father. He now loves dinosaurs and ladybugs and slipping into his parent’s bed each morning, where he begs for “one more minute” to cuddle before getting up.
And he, thankfully, knows nothing about why someone who has never met him might hate him.
So, on Sunday, I will hold a party for that boy and his older brother, whose birthday is also approaching, and for a few hours, my children will laugh and play with their friends, a mix of girls and boys from different backgrounds who will hopefully grow up appreciating that they are part of a mosaic that is more impressive for its differences than sameness. We will also celebrate a young woman from Mexico who turns 20 that day.
That type of diversity is also what makes this area so remarkable.
I hope that on Sunday, no one gets hurt in the District or Charlottesville and that the day passes as uneventfully as possible. Come Monday, if any white nationalists are still around, I’m happy to get coffee with one of you to discuss why you believe this march mattered and what you hoped would come of it. I genuinely want to understand.
I’ll even bring cake. Chocolate and vanilla.