Candlelight vigil against hate was a positive first step
By Kaitlyn Von Behren, Current Staff
As a child, my favorite game at sleepovers was always “Would You Rather.” I even had a go-to question: Would you rather go backward in time, or forward?
My companions would almost always say they’d rather go to the future. They already knew how the past went, after all, and they wanted to learn something new: who they’d marry, which country would first plant its flag on Mars, who the first female president of the United States would be.
I was, and still am, anxious when I think of the future. Because of this, I’d always counter my sleepover pals and explain to them why traveling to the past was a much better choice.
Now we have, and I know I was terribly wrong.
Emmett Till, killed by a white supremacist in 1955.
Nine members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, killed by a white supremacist in 2015.
Anne Frank, killed by Nazis in 1945.
Heather Heyer, killed by a Nazi sympathizer in 2017.
This comparison is not meant to blend together these people or their experiences, as they were all individuals who suffered through different things and brought something different to the world. My intention is not to erase that, but to highlight what binds them together, even in death.
In the wake of Heyer’s murder and the Charlottesville rally featuring neo-Nazis, white supremacists and the KKK that led to the terror attack, the Democratic Party of Washington County organized a Candlelight Vigil Promoting an End to Hate Aug. 19 at Old Settlers Park in West Bend, so I went.
I was nervous walking in, but I soon realized there was no need to be. The vigil was focused on loving one another, regardless of race, political party, religion, sex, gender, you name it.
A woman carried a large American flag with a peace sign in the patch of blue. I sat down on a bench next to someone I didn’t know, but who was kind nonetheless. I was quickly offered a candle, a sheet of yellow paper with songs and quotes on it, and a button, all of which I accepted.
While this event was started by the Democratic Party of Washington County, not everyone there was a Democrat. (Probably, at least. I didn’t go around asking people for their political affiliation.) Membership wasn’t a prerequisite to come. This event was nonpartisan, since violence isn’t a Democrat thing or a Republican thing, and non-violence isn’t either.
Violence isn’t a Democrat thing or a Republican thing, and non-violence isn’t either.
While we’re on this topic, I’d like to say that racism, violence, and hatred aren’t Democratic or Republican things, but they are Nazi, KKK, and white supremacist things. I find it both saddening and anger-inducing that I even feel the need to type that out, that someone feels there are “many sides” that display “hatred, bigotry, and violence” when one side holds neo-Nazis, Klansmen, and white supremacists while the other side holds people against racism. (I am not bashing President Trump. However, his reaction to Charlottesville needs to be addressed.)
Tanya Lohr, head of the Democratic Party of Washington County and social studies teacher at West Bend West High School, introduced three speakers: businessman and politician Khary Penebaker, UW-WC philosophy professor Mark Peterson and a local minister who discussed the need for love over hate, especially in a climate like today’s. Penebaker even got the crowd to repeat, “Love wins, love wins, love wins.”
Soon afterward, we lit our candles and sang a few verses of “This Little Light of Mine” and “What a Wonderful World,” then listened to children read quotations from peaceful people like Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Anne Frank and Martin Luther King, Jr.
We had a moment of silence, closed the vigil and mingled amongst ourselves.
This vigil was not meant to incite Facebook fights, but to bring people together for a common goal: the end of violence.
As much as I wish a vigil could end violence and racism, it is simply not possible. (It was a wonderful first step, however.) So, what’s next?
Many white people, like me, need to get better educated on these issues. When African-American people and other people of color are killed, we cannot ignore it. We need to donate time or money and make space for others. (Making space means being mindful of how much silence one is leaving for other people to talk. For example, it is very important for me, as a white person, to not try to dominate a conversation about racism as I have not experienced it, whereas people of color have and their testimony is more important than mine.) We need to challenge racist relatives and protest and come to terms with prejudices, especially our own.
People of color, I do not understand what you’re going through, and I am sorry for that. I am sorry for the prejudice and racism you are forced to endure daily, and I am sorry that I do not always speak up when I should. I am sorry for my implicit biases, and I am sorry it has taken me so long to realize the privileges I have because I am white.
I am sorry I sometimes forget that love wins, love wins, love wins.
(Confessions of a Teenage Mind is a regular column written by Kaitlyn Von Behren, Current Staff. Photo courtesy of Eric Carlson.)