Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Black Lives Matter And Trans Rights Are Human Rights Word Out To Augusta

Yesterday about two dozen people canvassed neighborhoods in Maine's capital city where KKK flyers were thrown onto lawns or stapled to telephone poles last January. Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) organized several rounds of deep listening in towns around Maine where KKK recruitment flyers were found, including Augusta. (Trigger warning: clicking on this link will take you to an article that includes a photo of the flyer.)

Some who received the KKK flyers felt they had been targeted because they are immigrants and or people of color. 

I teamed up with Jan to knock on doors using a prepared script to ask residents how they felt about the flyers, and if they would be willing to display a lawn sign (pictured above) or attend a community discussion to support the families who felt targeted.

A potentially scary activity but as good a way as I could imagine to spend my extra day off on Indigenous Peoples Day, formerly Genocidal Maniac Day.

The canvassing was well-organized and we had time to rehearse and put safety measures in place. Jan and I traveled with Lydia and Bridget who knocked on the doors across the street from us.

me, Jan, Bridget & Lydia

We were assigned a middle class neighborhood up the hill from where the flyers had been found. Everyone we talked to was white and said they had not seen or even heard about the flyers. Reactions to the news ranged from astonishment and "That's disgusting!" to disinterest. Two of the older people whose homes we visited just wanted to talk to someone and we listened to accounts of their daily struggles without making much headway with our script. That was ok with us.

We started with a resident I'll call Teflon man who was adamant that KKK flyers in his town were none of his concern. His accent suggested he was from NY originally, and he took us patiently through the common talking points of white privilege without ever uttering the phrase. For example, he argued that if police are killing Black people, might it be because the Black people are criminals, and cops get killed every day in the line of duty? He claimed he was not racist, but he had no interest in learning more about how to stand with targeted people in his community. He told us he didn't consider the KKK much of a force and that even if it were, it certainly wasn't his problem.

He also said Antifa was just as bad as facists because, well, they were fascists too. He was unable to explain why he believed this to be so, or to make a distinction between free speech and hate speech. I asked if he would be willing to share where he got information about current events and he responded, "From a wide variety of sources: newspapers, tv and radio." Jan and I thanked him for his time and moved on.

Two of our contacts were new in town and had moved there for work after the flyering incident last January. Both of the newcomers said they were concerned about the news and they signed up to receive more information. One was working at a restaurant and didn't appear to speak much English or to understand what we were saying; she took a flyer and said she would share it with the owner later.

One man who was too busy to talk took our information and said he hadn't heard about the KKK flyers but added, "I'm not surprised." I was disappointed that he didn't have time to explain more about that.

Another man took our information and said that, as a Jehovah's Witness, he often canvassed too. He also said that, although he was against racism personally, he and his faith group did not take a stand on political issues because it might alienate people.

Our final contact was a woman who expressed disgust and was very concerned. She was eager to display the lawn sign we offered (pictured above) and said when she saw it that she had a trans family member and really appreciated that part of the message.

When the larger group reconvened to debrief we heard that one pair had encountered a man with a swastika tattoo they noticed only after giving him info on the community meeting and SURJ. His response to their saying they were concerned about the KKK flyers was a vaguely threatening, "You should be." This led some in our group to note the need to organize security for the community meeting.

Most interesting in the debrief was news that some elderly contacts had an historical awareness of the KKK in the area during the early 20th century.

One woman told the canvassers she knew where their old headquarters was nearby. The KKK's history in Maine is well-documented and at one time they had membership in the tens of thousands. They targeted immigrants, Catholics, Jews and people of color.

Image: Maine Memory Network with caption, This is an Associated Press photo with accompanying text that reads in part, "Deputy Carl Churchill displays a Ku Klux Klan cape and hood he cut down from its perch 20 feet up a power pole." 

Another woman told the SURJ volunteers that her grandfather had been a KKK leader, organizing secretive harrassment by night and then serving as a respectable government official by day. She said that it was difficult to talk about racism with her family and they had strained relations as a result.

SURJ is a group for white people who want to do the work with other white people to address systemic racism and white supremacy. There are currently three chapters in Maine and I suspect Augusta will soon be getting its own chapter. Yesterday's canvas was one in a series of visits to towns targeted by the KKK including Boothbay, Freeport, and Appleton.

I wish I had more capacity to organize a chapter for Skowhegan, which has the last racist high school mascot in Maine and which also saw KKK flyers appear last year. Ditto my own school district where the Civil Rights Team organized a response when flyers turned up in classrooms there and administrators buried the news.

For now, I'll continue to work on anti-racist education and help out when I can. Sharing this video, for example. Depending on how you feel about organized religion, you may be surprised by the ending. For myself, it was good to see what I consider real Christian ethics in action. You know, like Love one another.

For subscribers who read this blog post via email, you can see the video here: https://youtu.be/bc7aUSZ-gTU

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