“So are you protecting us from squirrels, then?” I walked up to them, phone out, taking photos. After all, it’s not every day you see three raggedy looking men guarding a sidewalk beside the state Capitol with a veritable arsenal strapped to their bodies.
They thought I was joking, so they laughed and looked sheepish. “Well…”
“So what’s your story?”
I already knew. I knew that across the street, the Lansing City Council would be taking up a proposal tonight to declare itself a sanctuary city. I knew there was supposed to be a rally in support of that measure this evening. And I knew that instead of seeing pro-immigration activists, I was seeing the camouflage-adorned, semi-automatic toting goon squads of the right.
“We’re here in case things get out of hand at the meeting,”said the one with a well-worn leather vest.
“Huh. And what are you going to do if it does — shoot them?”
The one with the neckbeard and the military-style rifle slung over his shoulder still didn’t get it. He still thought I was being friendly. He laughed.
“Oh, I get it,” I said. “I know you’re trying to be intimidating, with your paramilitary camouflage and your guns all over the place. You want to be scary. I’m not afraid.”
“This is my right,” Neckbeard said.
“I know it is, because our country is fucked up like that,” I answered. “That doesn’t make it OK. That doesn’t make you normal.”
Leather vest guy, apparently the quicker thinking of the three, spoke up. “You don’t have to agree with us, we’re just here expressing ourselves.”
The one sitting in the chair with the Hurrycane beside him nodded in agreement.
“Don’t worry about that, I don’t agree with you,” I said. “But at least I’m on the right side of history.”
“This is my right!” Neckbeard said again, apparently at a loss for what else to say. I turned to him.
“You’re not normal,” I said again. “This …” I swept my hand to indicate everything from his rifle, his gun, his over-sized military costume and his neckbeard “… this isn’t normal.”
“Oh, I’m not normal?”
“No,” I said, snapping a last photo. “You’re not. And I’m glad I’m not you.”
Here’s the thing about making noise and getting attention: people start hearing you and paying attention. And not all of those people are going to agree with you, and some are going to be downright, well, despicable.
The resistance movement has done an amazing job so far with networking, organizing and scheduling events. The Michigan Democratic Convention this weekend was the most well-attended one ever, with 4,100 people, and many of them were newcomers energized by the election who had never done more in politics other than vote.
All of these things are good and powerful.
But that also makes us harder to ignore, even though fraidy-cat Congressmen like Mike Bishop (R-MI8) refuse to meet with us. They’re not the only ones taking notice — so are the mouth-breathing consumers of Fox News, right-wing talk radio and conspiracy websites.
Around the same time I was having my parley with the wanna-be Sturmabteilung in Lansing, protesters in Brighton were having their own run-ins with angry counter-protesters. Event organizer Derek Stephens described what happened in a closed Facebook group:
If you haven’t heard, we had two counter protesters. The first one pushed through everyone and started to shove everyone, at least six people were shoved. He was spewing vile. I’ve never had a protest have that happen, so it shook to the core. Thankfully I was able to get him away. I called the police and they were there shortly. Those involved spoke to the police and are filing police reports. Thanks to the lawyer who helped me out so much. I don’t remember your name. You were invaluable. Thankfully they found the guy. I don’t know if he was arrested. I’m really sorry that happened. It breaks my heart but we persisted.
Then shortly after we had a women who still had her name time on and began to do spew hate as well but thankfully she wasn’t violent other than getting in people’s face including mine when I told her to leave. At one point she tried to take over the person trying to speak. It was scary. Not only did people not leave the crowd grew. I’m so proud of you all. You faced hatred and abuse, you rose about and persisted.
In all, Derek estimates that more than 80 people participated in Monday’s protest, well above his goal of 50 people. And undaunted by the counterdemonstrators, he’s planning future actions.
In Lansing, the sanctuary city resolution was pulled so that its authors can work on more precise language. It’s likely that the measure will be introduced again, that pro-immigration activists will show up again, and that the goon squad that seeks to intimidate them will show up again, too.
I want to stress that what I say next is solely my opinion. It is a promise I made to myself and one I try to live to. And I don’t demand or expect everyone else to do the same, so understand that I am not judging, but:
I believe that I have a fundamental obligation to speak up each time I see an act of intimidation or violence like these. I decided years ago that I cannot allow myself to encounter blatant evil and say nothing. And if you want to know the truth, sometimes I have to work myself up to walk up to three strangers carrying deadly weapons and tell them they are wrong.
But I believe it has to be done. People like these must be told at every opportunity that what they stand for is not the answer. They need to know that the rest of us are not OK with them carrying semi-automatic rifles in order to intimidate their opponents. And they need to know that, like I told them, they are not normal. I will never accept this as normal. I can’t.
Like I said, I’m not telling anyone that they must do this, too. I know that some people are in a stronger position to speak out, and that others have very real reasons to fear doing so. I know that confrontation with strangers is asking too much for many people. And these are valid reasons.
But what I would say is this: Do not be afraid. Do what you can. If it’s not standing toe-to-toe with these thugs, then write letters. Or make phone calls. Or work behind the scenes to organize events that advance our own agenda. There are thousands of ways to make a difference. What I am saying is, don’t let fear hold you back.
These are times that call for courage, whether it’s moral courage or courageous actions. Be strong and be brave. You aren’t in this alone, and there are thousands alongside you doing what they can as well.