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White Hot American Rage : Peacekeeping Somewhere In The Middle Of US Politics 2020

What wading directly into the middle of sectarian conflict in America taught me about peace...

The 2020 Republican National Convention was held in Charlotte, North Carolina at the tail end of a feverish, bitterly divided summer… It felt like the world was tearing apart at its tired seams and every day brought new challenges… When the pandemic struck in the late winter, I thought that I would be out of a job; I am an activist and protest artist… I thought that it would be a long while before people could take to the streets in any meaningful way. How could we..? Crowds meant the virus and the virus could be fatal... And then came spring, so beautiful on the surface yet so torn with grief, rage, pain and fear beneath… An American spring… People poured from the relative safety of their quarantined homes, even people who had stood silent outrage after outrage demanding that someone, anyone make this thing right… These crimes had stood for so long that what had once been merely unlivable had become entirely unendurable… So I wasn't out of a job and despite my fervent wish that someday my job might be rendered unnecessary that seems unlikely… And so that spring sweltered and raged into summer and summer led me to a park in Charlotte two blocks from the convention center where the RNC was taking place…

The city shimmered under a blanket of humidity, exhaustion and stress.  To be there felt like being part of a mirage… How could any of it be real..? I want you to feel it, the air is so thick with humidity and even thicker with fear… People have been dying on the streets for years and that is what brought us here… People have died in these streets this summer at the hands of people who are supposed to protect and serve us… If you are treating the situation with the gravity it deserves you are hyper aware of danger and of mortality… It leaves you feeling outside of your normal reality… You can't live on the edge of so much chaos for so long and come back unchanged… You might not have been there, in Charlotte, late August last year but if you lived in America last year you were there… You might not want to remember but your life shimmered too…

Maybe that sense that none of it was quite real fed into what happened… I know my hypervigilance is why I noticed it as soon as I did, why my small group of fools and madmen sprang towards the sound of the conflict so soon after it had begun… The Laughing Warriors had begun organically taking care of people attending protests and at this point we were not strangers to aggression and conflict… Across the park there was some kind of confrontation… Voices were raised and the unmistakable sound of humans in conflict rang out… We found a circle of "our" people, 20 or more, surrounding one lone protestor from the other side who had crossed the line… They were screaming, shoving, tearing at his clothes, pouring out their pain and frustration on this one guy, the closest effigy of their justified rage… I never stopped to think, I just pushed forward… I didn't know yet what had happened but I knew that 20-1 is never a fair fight no matter who is fighting whom…

He hadn't come for trouble but we met him with it anyway… He stepped bravely across the road, away from the mass of his own supporters, to our side of the conflict to ask questions and have a genuine discussion… I know that this is true because after I shouted down my own people who were venting their anger, he and I sat down on the ground a few feet away from the chaos and had a discussion… In a circle of cameras and the elsewise curious we sat on the bare earth face to face a few feet apart and tried to meet across a much more vast ideological chasm… And this is not a story about how much easier it was to do this than I thought it would be ; it was less than ideal circumstances and meeting from ideologically different places is just plain hard work… It's not a story about how I ended up with a new friend at the end of the conversation ; our differences were vast… This is a story about how we decided to listen to one another… When we did we found a few places where it turned out that we felt surprisingly similar... We were just using different language or approaching the issue from a slightly different direction… I felt like I gained some perspective on why he would support the things that he did, and I hope that he felt the same about me… Most importantly, I respected the bravery he showed in crossing that line alone, with peace and sincerity in his heart... As I told the people in the crowd that day, if we cannot even come together in the spirit of communication and curiosity, then what good is activism..? Why bother fighting an authoritarian system if only to impose your own hatred and intolerance onto your brave new world..? What kind of a better future is built upon a present where we cannot ever meet in the middle..?

My organization, The Laughing Warrior Brigade reexamined our priorities after this event. We realized that along with caring for those attending protests, providing food and children's activities and medic services, we have to also engage in non-violent conflict de-escalation… We have been dedicated since our inception to remaining non-partisan despite the fact that the times are so hyper partisan… I came to realize through this experience how vital it is to have non-partisan peacekeepers in times of great strife, people who won't allow fully justified anger to fall upon undeserving targets… It is a brutal, frightening, unequal, unfair, dangerous world at times and the anger people feel is real… The desire to act upon it is real… What that day also taught me was the value of the people willing to step into the breech when that anger has mixed with fear and paranoia and vented itself someplace undeserving…

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Thank you, Ash, for being brave enough to stop the violence, even when it was being commited by “your” people. Standing against the crowd is perhaps even more difficult when you agree with their principles because you risk being ostracized by the very people you identify with, and you did not hesitate but acted boldly.

You ask such an important question in today's world, what good is it to oppose authoritarianism if only to demand that everyone share your own viewsor face our hatred and bias? Where do we find the balance between demanding equality and social responsibility without engaging in cancel culture that eliminates everyone who disagrees with us? How do we find balance?

I appreciate both your thoughts and actions.

Kimberly Jenkins
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