The Alt-Right, Systemic Inequality in Charlottesville, and What to Do on Saturday

This Saturday, the alt-right is holding a rally in Charlottesville, on the heels of a KKK event in our city earlier this summer. The KKK members were not from Cville. They were from North Carolina. They came to protest our city’s decision to remove statues of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson and to rename two parks previoulsy named in honor of the men. The alt-right event this weekend is a further protest in the same vein.

There are expected to be many more people showing up at counterprotests, in support of equality and justice and love. Businesses on our downtown mall – a hub of Cville community life within walking distance from the planned alt-right rally – are hanging signs in their windows that read:
“If equality and diversity aren’t for you, then neither are we
We are OPEN in protest of recent demonstrations of hate
Minority rights are human rights”

Others are declaring their business a safe space. One restaurant’s sign reads:
“We are a safe space.
If you are victimized, please come inside!
We will call the authorities for you!”

The message ends with a hand-drawn heart.

The alt-right presence in our city is disgusting. The response of defiance from many in our community, of anger over injustice, is heartening.

And.

And many have argued (importantly, people of color have argued) that the alt-right and KKK rallies are not the scariest expression of racism in Charlottesville. It’s the “quiet” racism, the kind that doesn’t wear a white hat but makes decisions. It’s the racism in courts and places where policies are made.

UVA alum Martese Johnson and Aryn Frazier laid out this case in a succinct, thoughtful essay: “Why the upcoming alt-right rally in Charlottesville may be less important than we think.”

They wrote:
“But the media should also cover [in addition to alt-right and KKK protests] the outcomes of the myriad town halls called to garner solutions to issues of racial injustice that either followed or preceded this most recent display of bigotry. Inform viewers of whether their elected and appointed officials are simply paying lip service to these causes and using time and money to seem as though they are addressing the problems everyday citizens and citizen-activists have brought to their attention, or if they are actually moving policy and practices to be more in line with equality and justice.”

The racism in policy and practice must be what we fight against every day. White people like me can support people of color who are working for change in Charlottesville, through organizations like our local NAACP, Black Lives Matter, Showing Up for Racial Justice, Legal Aid Justice Center, and the Women’s Initiative – which offers, among other things, support groups and services to women of color – to name a few.

That’s not to say that we don’t show up on Saturday, too. I read on the Facebook page of one community leader, addressing the questions of white people on how we can support the fight for equality, that there has to be many different approaches to combating racism. Likewise, there are many different ways of showing up on Saturday.

The JMRL Central Library is going to be closed on Saturday due to safety concerns stemming from the rallies, but the other branches will be open. I’m going to take my girls tomorrow afternoon to check out books about black lives and black leaders. Together Cville has compiled a list of community events being held this weekend.

After this weekend, after Charlottesville drops out of national headlines for the racist rallies being held here, we will still be a town sitting in the long shadow of a plantation. Racism is our history, and it is our present. Making a different future will require us showing up every day.

Update: Wellness Policy to Be Presented to the Charlottesville School Board on August 3

This evening, a wellness policy that prohibits taking away recess as punishment will be presented to the Charlottesville City School Board. The board will vote on the policy at their next meeting on September 7.

The wellness policy is a revision of a previous policy and was drafted by the School Health Advisory Board under the guidance of Patrick Johnson, the CCS Coordinator of Health and Physical Education.

While I was not able to attend the SHAB meeting last month when the final draft of the policy was discussed, I spoke with Patrick by email and phone after the meeting. I am very pleased with the wellness policy that is going to be presented tonight. I think it best to wait until it is presented to the board to discuss the details, but I can say now that it states explicitly that recess will not be withheld as punishment. The policy also addresses the issue of weighing students. I believe it does so in a way that is clear and empowering for students and their families.

I look forward to writing more about the policy after tonight’s board meeting. As long as it seems appropriate at the time, which I think it will, I am going to live tweet the presentation of the policy to the board and the board’s response. You can follow along on Twitter: https://twitter.com/c_v_bennett.

What this campaign needs from its numerous supporters: can you mark September 5 on your calendars and show up to the school board meeting that evening? There is a time at the beginning of meetings for community members to speak for three minutes. It would be wonderful if the board could hear from other parents who want them to pass the wellness policy. If you can’t show up in person, please consider writing to the board members and our superintendent, Dr. Rosa Atkins. I am pasting below their email addresses.

CCS Board Webpage

Email our CCS board members:

School Board           SchoolBoard@charlottesvilleschools.org

Dr. Adam Hastings hastina1@charlottesvilleschools.org

Dr. Sherry Kraft        krafts1@charlottesvilleschools.org

Amy Laufer   laufea1@charlottesvilleschools.org

Jennifer McKeever mckeevj1@charlottesvilleschools.org

Ned Michie   michien1@charlottesvilleschools.org

Leah Puryear           puryeal1@charlottesvilleschools.org

Juandiego Wade wadej1@charlottesvilleschools.org

Superintendent Dr. Rosa Atkins Rosa.Atkins@charlottesvilleschools.org

*****

Read evidence supporting our request to end weigh-ins and taking away recess here and here.
Sign the petition to end weigh-ins and taking away recess here.
Read my May 4 statement to the CCS School Board here.
Read my June 1 statement to the CCS School Board here.
Read all posts related to this issue here.
Read about media coverage of our campaign here.

 

Don’t Boo, Vote

Just voted in our VA state primary.

The last time I left this polling place, my heart was full of hope and love. And I spent the next day crying.

I still love you, America. I love our ideals, and I love that I have the freedom to call out the many ways that we fail to live up to our ideals. You – we – are far from perfect, but I can hold my little girl’s hand as I walk into a local school to vote. And for that I am grateful.

Update: June 1 Visit to the Charlottesville City School Board

On June 1, I made the below statement to the Charlottesville City School Board as a follow-up to my May 4 statement and the petition to stop weigh-ins and taking away recess at Charlottesville City Schools.

I requested that written communication be sent to ALL CCS parents, teachers, and administrators, stating that recess is not to be taken away from students in our schools, so that everyone is of the same understanding. The only school board member to address my request was Jennifer McKeever, who expressed support for the idea. CCS Superintendent Dr. Rosa Atkins also responded, saying that she had already communicated to administrators and teachers her commitment to not withholding recess. She did not agree to communicate to all stakeholders one message at the same time.

I will continue asking for communication to all parents, teachers, and administrators in a way that will ensure everyone is aware of the policy.

June 1 Statement to the Board
Hello, I’m Christa Bennett. I wanted to check back in with you all after I spoke last month about my concerns about the policies of weighing students during gym class and taking away recess as punishment.

In the past month, I’ve been impressed to learn more about people like Patrick Johnson and the other members of the School Health Advisory Board, who have already been thinking about these issues and working on promoting the health of our students. Like I said last month, I’m glad to be part of Charlottesville City Schools.

On May 9, Dr. Atkins gave a wonderfully definitive statement at the SHAB meeting, that recess will not and should not be taken away from students. I appreciate her leadership.

However, in the weeks since then, I have heard of several instances of recess being taken away from students, in three different city schools. As you can imagine, since I started the petition last month, numerous parents have reached out to me with their stories. They’re hesitant to tell them publicly because they don’t want their children singled out or treated differently, but their stories let me know that I am doing the right thing in pushing for clarity on this issue.

To that end, I ask Dr. Atkins and the school board to send written communication to every CCS parent, teacher, and administrator affirming that recess is not to be taken away from students. This commitment is only meaningful if every stakeholder is aware of it.

In addition to asking you for this written commitment to be distributed as soon as possible, I am applying to join SHAB, and I look forward to revisiting the issues of weigh-ins and recess as we finalize the wellness policy.

Over 100 local people have signed an online petition asking YOU, the school board, to end weigh-ins and taking away recess. A number of the signors are graduates and faculty at the Curry School of Education and in the UVA Health System. In my remaining time, I want to read you some of the comments left by those who signed, all of which are available publicly on the petition.

– I have been a classroom teacher, and I know how difficult classroom management can be. However, my own child was help in from recess in a CCS classroom for not completing written work in first grade. It turns out he had a learning disability, and staying in compounded his stress and anxiety tremendously. There are better alternatives than taking away important exercise, play, and social time.

– I am a Ph.D. student at the university of Virginia. At the collegiate level, I still deal with the effects of unhealthy self images and health practices my students learned in childhood. Please stop weighing children in front of their peers and taking away their recess. You are sacrificing long term health for short term problems.

– I am 56 and I still vividly remember being weighed in elementary school. I was a chubby one and was mortified; another girl was so skinny and she was mortified, too.

– As a child health professional, these are archaic practices that have little evidence or benefit to learning or child wellness.

And finally, one of my favorites:

– The number of studies showing that exercise improves learning is astounding. Let’s show our students that we “do our homework,” and remove the practice of taking away recess time.

Thank you again to the school board for considering these matters, and addressing them until they are fully resolved.

*****

Read evidence supporting our request to end weigh-ins and taking away recess here and here.
Sign the petition to end weigh-ins and taking away recess here.
Read my May 4 statement to the CCS School Board here.
Read all posts related to this issue here.
Read about media coverage of our campaign here.

Memorial Day 2017

Vietnam veteran & Senator Jim Webb’s book Fields of Fire starts with the dedication: “For the 100,000 Marines who became casualties in Vietnam. And for the others who became casualties upon their return.”

In one passage, a staff sergeant in Vietnam says, “It ain’t what happens here that’s important. it’s what’s happening back there. Shit, Lieutenant, you’d hardly know there was a war on. It’s in the papers, and college kids run around screaming about it instead of doing panty raids or whatever they were running around doing before, but that’s it. Airplane drivers still drive their airplanes. Businessman still run their businesses. College kids still go to college. It’s like nothing really happened, except to other people. It isn’t touching anybody except us. It makes me sick, Lieutenant.”

It was about a different war and a different time, but I think it still has a message for us on Memorial Day about how we treat our military and allow them to bear what should be a collective burden. Our soldiers and their families should always be well cared for and should not bear the burden of war alone.

Consider supporting an organization like Wounded Warrior Project and, importantly, others that lobby Congress for better policies that take care of our soldiers, like Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA).

You can also take a pledge on the IAVA website to hold a moment of silence today at 3 pm, in honor of fallen soldiers.

Update: Campaign to end weigh-ins, taking away recess – what we’re asking for now, May 24

Cville Weekly has published a story about our campaign to end weigh-ins and taking away recess in Charlottesville city schools. (Click here to read it.) I am hopeful this will direct more CCS parents to sign our petition to the school board.

There has been progress since the petition was first created. Here is what we are asking for now:

1) Our superintendent, Dr. Atkins, send written communication to ALL CCS parents, teachers, and admin, stating that recess is not to be taken away from students in our schools, so that everyone is of the same understanding. On May 11, I emailed Dr. Atkins asking if such communication could be made. I have not had a reply from her yet. (See a copy of that email in the previous update.)

On May 9, Dr. Atkins stated to School Health Advisory Board (SHAB) that recess will not and should not be taken away from students. However, I have heard three separate reports from three separate CCS elementary schools of students having their recess taken away last week, the week after Dr. Atkins said that would no longer happen.

2) Dr. Atkins and the school board identify what tools teachers will be given immediately to use in place of so-called “Recess Academy.”

While programs such as VVTS and PBIS are valuable initiatives to institute positive behavioral management, teachers need tools *now* that they can use instead of Recess Academy (this is what some teachers call the practice of taking away recess as punishment).

3) A more transparent and methodical approach to weigh-ins be established. That might mean banning it altogether or better communicating with parents that it is being done and why.

4) An enforceable prohibition against taking away recess be included in the school policy manual or other binding policy.

Thank you to everyone who is supporting this campaign! Charlottesville city schools are strong schools, to be proud of. Together, we can make them even better and help ensure the health and success of all of our children.

*****

Read evidence supporting my request to end weigh-ins and taking away recess here and here.
Sign the petition to end weigh-ins and taking away recess here.
Read my May 4 statement to the CCS School Board here.
Read all posts related to this issue here.
Read about media coverage of our campaign here.

They came with torches & hate; we come with candles & love

This past weekend, Charlottesville made national news when dozens of people with torches – yes, torches – converged on Lee Park in downtown Cville. They were goaded on by Richard Spencer, a white nationalist. It was an apparent protest against the city’s decision to rename Lee (as in Robert E. Lee) and Jackson (as in Stonewall Jackson) Parks and sell the enormous statues of Lee and Jackson that sit in the parks.

I moved to Charlottesville a few years ago, and never have I lived in a town with such simmering racial tension. Of course, racism is everywhere, but it feels especially poignant and always below the surface here. Maybe it’s the memory that Charlottesville decided to close its schools rather than integrate its students in the 1950s. Maybe it’s the fact that in 1963, even the Unitarians – the liberal Unitarians! – told their pastor that he could not drape the church in black as a sign of grief over the deaths of the four black girls killed in the Birmingham church that was bombed by the KKK.

Or maybe, just maybe, it is because we sit in the long shadow of a plantation on a hill that robbed children and women and men of their freedom and autonomy. We call the owner of that plantation, the enslaver of people, Mr. Jefferson.

Racism is Charlottesville’s past, and it is our present. On Saturday, racism showed up as a torch, a menacing reminder of white hoods and of torches lighting crosses on fire. Every day, the subtler-but-devastating racism of housing discrimination and a disproportionate number of black youths getting caught in the juvenile justice system shows up.

We can make Charlottesville’s future different. White people like me can support people of color who are working for change in Charlottesville, through organizations like our local NAACP, Black Lives Matter, Showing Up for Racial Justice, Legal Aid Justice Center, and the Women’s Initiative – which offers, among other things, support groups and services to women of color – to name a few.

May 14: Hundreds lift candles in Lee Park in support of equality. Photo: Ethan Tate

And when they come with their torches, we will lift our candles and speak with a fierce love, as did hundreds of people in Lee Park on Sunday night.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who fought apartheid in his home country of South Africa, wrote this beautiful prayer:
Goodness is stronger than evil;
Love is stronger than hate;
Light is stronger than darkness;
Life is stronger than death;
Victory is ours through Him who loves us.

May it be so. May we make it so.

* * * * *

Further reading from local sources:

May 17
The NAACP is scheduled to hold a press conference today, Wednesday, May 17, at 11 am
City Councilors respond to Lee statue protest (Cavalier Daily)

May 16
At Lee Park, Perriello says state should end Lee-Jackson holiday (Daily Progress)

May 14
Candlelit counter-protest follows ‘alt-right’ torch bearers at Lee Park  (Daily Progress)

May 13
Torch-wielding protesters gather at Lee Park (Daily Progress)