Stop Hate 2000 Newsletter June 5, 2000

Dear Friends,

June (at least in the northern hemisphere) brings us from spring into summer. The hope of relaxation and holidays, combined with worry about whether the air conditioning will work thus begins to dawn. But we're not quite there yet. The month seems to be spent clearing up old business, such as getting the last planting in, writing (or marking) final exams, getting married, and so forth. In any case, it's not usually a good time for political activism.

That was less true of May. There was, of course, the Million Mom March, featuring a cast of 750,000, and doubtless a good few elsewhere. The organizers were certainly pleased: about three times as many people came as were expected.

Watching this event, as well as the Millennium March in April, we were reminded that this group began as a resource for a march against hate and violence. It came off, but not before everybody involved became aware of the enormous amount of work which these things involve.

We also were reminded how easily apparently mild differences of opinion and aims seem to grow into large ones. Both marches suffered from these problems, and we can only think that it reflects great credit on the people who carried them through. At least as artistic statements, they seemed to work well.

May, unfortunately, also reminded us of two such events which were much less happy. May 4 was the thirtieth anniversary of the Kent State University shootings. The protests which led up to the shootings were thought of as a kind of artistry. The organizers thought of these protests as a kind of street theatre, in which dramas of confrontation would be played out. Confrontation there certainly was, but the script did not turn out as planned. Most sadly of all, the four students killed were among the least involved in the whole business. In these dramas, there is no audience.

 Even after thirty years have passed, it is hard to work out the rights and wrongs of Kent State. James Michener tried to do it in a book, and it's unlikely we could do it in this newsletter. Perhaps the only uncontroversial lesson we can draw from that experience is to observe the surprising degree to which individuals on both sides of the firing line have been able to forgive each other. Of course, there's a lot still unforgiving. But to see it happening at all is a heartening surprise.

As well, two men were arrested and charged with firebombing a Birmingham church, thereby killing four young girls in Sunday school. This happened during the Selma integration march. Some of the older codgers in our group can still feel the frustration we felt at being a little too young to join Dr. King's marchers. The dangers were very great, and they were not underestimated. Dr. King's marchers used a different script, however. They were better rehearsed, knowing they would have to be very disciplined and retrained. In the end, they succeeded because their opponents became ashamed of themselves. The turn of heart is still working its way through the southern United States: these arrests could only happen because people's attitudes are still changing there.

Lest we be seen to be casting reflections on the South, we hasten to add that Dr. King always thought he would have an easier time in the South than in the North. The people of the South were well aware that they were prejudiced on the subject of race, and were more willing to speak up about them. It made it easier to discuss them, and to change them. At least some have said something similar about the prairie and mountain West since October, 1998. That may be why "The Laramie Project", which is now in the New York area, may be well worth seeing.

But Selma was nearly the last of these marches, and it came about nine years after the nation's conscience had been stirred by a particularly terrible killing of an inoffensive young black man. It's still not clear why Emmett Till's death caused such a stir: many such killings had happened earlier, and, alas, several since. For some reason, however, people were no longer willing to simply stop with a standard statement that this was a bad thing. They came to stop and look hard at themselves, and decided that this had to be actively opposed. And so Dr. King's work became possible.

The comparison with Matthew Shepard is a little obvious. What may be less obvious is that all that has followed since can not be left alone. In a sense, it always will be needed: we do have our darker angels, and they can dominate us. But even in a narrower sense, time and persistence are still demanded of us. There will be more occasions when our efforts will be asked for, and we hope we'll be able to tell you about them as they happen.

Apart from all these reflections, good for more serious moments of summer reflection, we have one item of news, and one reminder.

The Matthew Shepard Memorial Quilt is nearing completion of its first stage. Perhaps, like the AIDS quilt, it will continue to grow and expand in the years to come...not, we hope, because there will be more victims, but because it will bring to mind the stories of others who might otherwise be forgotten. But in its first stage, it is done. Our highly talented webmaster will be putting a picture up on our website soon, and we understand that the quilt will be presented to Mrs. Shepard in August. We'd particularly like to thank Monie Gebhart for conceiving of this idea, and doing tremendous work in making it happen.

And a reminder that the case of Mike Batey continues. Have a look at:

if you think you'd like to help. Also, have a look some of the memorial links attached to our site.

And, despite all our efforts to make you serious and earnest this summer, enjoy it, especially if you are going on holidays. We may (or may not) take a little vacation as far as newsletters go this July...but we'll see.

The Stop Hate 2000 e-Team

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