If you haven’t heard already, the KKK descended upon Dayton, Ohio, last week. There was talk of the Proud Boys showing their evil faces. Local businesses set up inflammatory sidewalk A-frames declaring themselves inhospitable to the visiting KKK members. The entire city tensed, brought out 350 police officers and ran up a tab of $650K on extra security for the event.
Nine fascists showed up. They paraded around the city for two hours while 600 counter protestors encircled them, a message clearly emblazoned on their signs and lips. You are not welcome here. Get out.
I grew up in a suburb of Dayton. Its residents don’t have the same fervor as Cleveland natives, but maintain a quiet devotion to the city. Dayton boasts a thriving community-theater scene, great local restaurants and (apparently) a powerful zero-tolerance policy on bigots. Even as someone who is familiar with the environment, I was surprised by the turnout, by the 600 people who, in a post-Charlottesville country, understood the danger of counter protesting and went anyway.
It’s easy for a city, particularly a Midwestern one, to roll over. It’s easy to let bigotry and hatred fester in favor of keeping up appearances or maintaining politeness. When Ohio flipped red in the 2016 election, I wrote the whole state off in my grief. I had the means to leave and I left. I considered my hometown backward, illogical, unconcerned with the well-being of its minority population. But nothing is that black and white, of course. A single place cannot be responsible for the rise of intolerance, just as it cannot be responsible for its demise.
And yet, this event struck a chord with me. Perhaps it was due to the recent shootings, the constant fear of violence of which I have written about before. Perhaps because of the personal closeness or the streams of Facebook posts from friends in the area urging loved ones to avoid protest sites. But most likely, I am affected by the raw, physical evidence that people care about each other.
The march in Dayton ended with no arrests, no injuries and no altercations, but a message radiated through the city all the same. Hatred can be overwhelmed by compassion. The good guys outnumber the bad. We can build a better world for each other.
Education and community and love are not exclusive to pockets of America. Empathy is not exclusive to the coasts. This country, for its gruesome history, is full of intelligent people who care about each other and want what’s best for their loved ones. People who are willing to step into harm’s way to stand up for what they know to be just.
That said, we cannot underestimate the power of outnumbering fascists and humiliating them. Friends commented to me that the KKK turnout in Dayton appeared almost comical, and my mind flickered to a scene from “The Blues Brothers” when Elwood and Jake drive through the crowd of parading Nazis while counter protestors cheer behind them. The Nazis weren’t killed but declawed by their trip into the river. The majority decided that they don’t get to be scary and impossible to defeat. They don’t get to hide behind hoods or enormous banners. They can be exposed and de-platformed and their hatred can be stomped out. This realization is vital as we continue to combat bigotry in America.
Ultimately, Dayton’s response to the KKK march indicates that people are willing to stand up for their neighbors, even if they are not targeted by such hate groups. Their bravery reminds us that humanity is not hopeless or cruel but fueled by compassion. As a Jewish person who often felt alienated in her community, I’m heartened by this display of solidarity.