In one twenty-one day period, we witnessed the worst and the best this country can demonstrate.
August 11, 2017 began as a quiet day in the suburban town of Charlottesville, Virginia, and ended as a violent clash between several hundred Neo-Nazis, White Nationalists, Ku Klux Klan and counter-protestors. During the violence, self-proclaimed white-nationalist James Alex Fields, Jr., drove his car into a group of protestors, injuring 19 and killing Heather Hyer, a young resident of Charlottesville.
According to The Southern Poverty Law Center “The event demonstrated an unprecedented level of planning and coordination among organized hate groups from across the far-right ideological spectrum. Representatives from groups often at odds with one another such as Vanguard America, Identity Evropa, Leavue of the South, Traditionalist Worker Party, National Socialist Movement, and more gathered at Emancipation Park (formerly Lee Park) to protest the planned removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee.”
Carrying Tiki torches, that looked as if they came from a local home improvement center, white nationalists under the banner, “Unite the Right” marched through Virginia State University. Klan members wore no hoods and openly boasted in full view of cameras, “White lives matter!” and “Jews will not replace us!”
Some counter-protestors – Antifa (Anti-Fascist) – were chanting, “Punch a Nazi in the mouth.”
CNN reported (Aug. 14), that “Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe… renewed his calls for white supremacists to leave the city in the wake of violence that saw one person killed and troopers assigned to the governor’s travel detail killed in a helicopter crash.
“McAuliffe denounced the people who had come to this college town for a ‘Unite the Right’ rally, saying they weren’t the patriots they make themselves out to be. ‘They get out of bed every day to hate people and divide our country,’ McAuliffe said.
“On Saturday, McAuliffe told the demonstrators to go home. On Sunday he went further. ‘Let’s be honest, they need to leave America, because they are not Americans,’ he said.”
Contrast that with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey which struck the Southeastern parts of Texas and Louisiana on August 25. Described by some experts as a thousand-year flood, hardest hit were Houston and Rockport.
The New York Times writes (Sept. 1), that according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), “At least 150,000 properties in Texas have been affected by Hurricane Harvey.
“When it was over, more than 300,000 people were left without electricity and billions of dollars in property damage. Thousands still remain in shelters.”
However, despite the devastation, it was the hundreds, thousands of personal hero stories that demonstrate the best in America.
As reported by ABC-13 News, Houston, “A photo of Houston Police SWAT officer Daryl Hudeck rescuing a mother and her son has become a symbol of the hurricane. The harrowing photo shows 13-month-old Aiden Pham in his mother’s arms while being carried by Hudeck.
“Dr. Stephen Kimmel canoed to the hospital through floodwaters to perform surgery on a teen who needed immediate surgery.
“Neighbors banded together, literally, to help a woman in labor receive assistance from Houston Fire Department emergency workers. Residents in a Houston complex made a human chain to help the woman and her husband get into a rescue truck.
“William Beasley, his wife, and his friends have traveled around Houston rescuing animals. So far, they have rescued over 20 dogs.”
USA Today reported (Aug. 30), that “Two Beaumont Police officers and fire rescue divers spotted a woman and her infant daughter floating in a canal in Beaumont, Texas on Tuesday. The crew pulled the woman and her daughter from the water.
“The 41-year-old mother ‘absolutely saved the child’s life,’ Officer Carol Riley [said]…“They were in the water for quite some time,” Riley says. “When the baby was found the baby was clinging to her. The mother did the best she could to keep her child up over the water.”
Despite the crises caused by both Charlottesville and Hurricane Harvey, what’s important to remember is this:
While hundreds of angry individuals united around hate, literally thousands, from all races, colors, ages, and political ideologies, united around helping neighbors and total strangers find safety.
CBS News reported (Sept. 4), that one Houston police officer, Bert Ramon, helped save more than 1,000 people, even though he was battling stage 4 colon cancer that has spread to his liver and lungs.
“Asked if he ever thought it might be a bad idea, Ramon said, ‘No, it never crossed my mind at all – never.’ ”
But this is not unusual for Americans.
Most of us not only understand the meaning of sacrifice, but continue to prove that, in the long run, we are stronger when we unite around the shared principles of citizenship, duty, compassion and the courage to do what’s right. No matter what storm we face, something within urges us forward. We may stumble, but always there is that inner voice — those better angels — whispering in our ear that we are all in this together and together we will overcome our worst impulses.