The planning for the #ElPasoFirme rally in Greensboro came out of a conference call with the Rev. William Barber II and the Rev. Liz Theoharis of the Poor People’s Campaign last night. The Rev. Nelson Johnson, executive director of the Beloved Community Center, said that after hearing a plea from a native El Pasoan on the call, he and other organizers immediately started putting the word out.
About 50 people gathered at Governmental Plaza in downtown Greensboro on Wednesday evening for what was billed as “a call to action against white supremacy.”
Some speakers called for gun control, while others denounced racism. Still others, argued that white supremacy is a tool of capitalism to divide people against one another.
The Rev. Sekinah Hamlin, like others, spoke without prepared remarks.
“Perhaps even when we think about having sit-ins in our senators’ office asking them to come to a vote those measures that were taken in the US House of Representatives to have common-sense gun laws,” said Hamlin, who is the pastor at St. James Presbyterian Church, “perhaps maybe we need to kick this thing up a level, and hold them accountable for being mealy-mouthed and not wanting to stand up for a so-called supposed to be a leader of their party. Perhaps we’re needing to take this thing up a level for the sake of our children.”
Kiera Hereford also spoke from the perspective of a parent, mentioning her 2-year-old daughter.
“Just to let you all know, I’m not a big advocate for guns, but I understand they’re in our communities, and saying, ‘Hand them over to the police’ is not really a great solution,” she said. “I also know that gun control is a huge debate, especially when you have the [National Rifle Association] who’s bringing in millions of dollars by the minute just because of how people believe in protecting their whiteness.
“In order for us to heal from the trauma that has occurred and is still occurring and that will occur, we have to be uncomfortable,” Hereford continued. “And so, healing does not need to be pretty. And we can show up and look at each other all day long. But that healing takes work. So, the work that you decide to do — whatever you’re called to do — I really hope you bring other people with you, and to let them know that white supremacy is wrong.”
The Rev. Randall Keeney, the pastor at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church, said that as a white boy growing up in rural Georgia, he “was in the academy of white supremacy.”
“I think tonight in this small, but very dedicated group of people we need to start trying to set off another light,” Keeney said. “One that brings hope to people, but one that may, more importantly, shine light on the darkness, that will describe evil for what evil is, that will refuse to support government leaders who do not stand for all of us, who do not support us as human beings and who value one over another. So, leave here tonight and point out the evil. Name it for what it is. It’s blasphemy.”
Tim Hopkins, part of the RefuseFascism coalition, noted that the two-year anniversary of the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville is approaching on Aug. 12. Hopkins recalled attending the rally to counter-protest with a friend.
“We had to walk across — I wouldn’t call it a gauntlet because they didn’t know who we were — we were white,” he said. “It looked like a redneck bar getting out about four different places. Groups with chains and guns, and then other people just dressed nicely were walking around just spoiling for a fight. And the cops were allegedly trying to keep some of the groups apart.
“We said, ‘Damn, this is something,’” Hopkins continued. “Sure enough, about an hour later the young woman [Heather Heyer] got killed, and it was horrible.”
Lewis Pitts connected the shooting in El Paso back to the Greensboro Massacre, when Klansmen and Nazis fatally shot five antiracist organizers at Morningside Homes in 1979.
“We have to not just blame the poor Klan-Nazi types or the mentally ill, but that same division and notion that when an economy is not working for everybody — and ours doesn’t; globally, we have the greatest gap between rich and poor — that creates scapegoating,” Pitts said.
In the manifesto posted to 8chan minutes before Patrick Crusius, a young, white man, began his killing spree at Walmart in El Paso, he decried “the takeover of the United States government by unchecked corporations,” automation and environmental despoliation. While characterizing the children of immigrants as competition for “high-paying, skilled positions,” the shooter said that he was providing an incentive for migrants “to return to their home countries.” He also said he hoped his act of terror would persuade corporations to abandon policies that promote immigration. “Corporate America doesn’t need to be destroyed,” he said, “but just shown that they are on the wrong side of history.”
The Rev. Nelson Johnson, one of the survivors of the Greensboro Massacre, focused his comments during the #ElPasoFirme rally on economics rather than race.
“If somebody says, ‘They’re taking all of our jobs,’ that has meaning,” Johnson said. “So, if someone is stumbling around 600 miles from El Paso, be against the people organizing the money.
“Beloved, there is no shortage in this world,” he added. “It doesn’t exist. There is sufficiency for everybody to have a house. There is sufficiency for everybody to have food. There is sufficiency for everybody to have adequate transportation. It begs the question then: Why don’t we have it? Because money has organized it in such a way that you are squeezed out of that process, and people are getting 300 times the money they used to earn just 50 years ago — the presidents of these corporations. This is a sin! This is wrong!”