The United States of America continues to fight its Civil War. One skirmish currently underway in Sylva could erupt into a battle between two opposing sides. Or, it could turn into an opportunity among several groups to do something more difficult – to create rather than destroy.
So far, local people have protested, marched, signed, posted and e-mailed their perspectives and concerns. As a result, it has become abundantly clear that we do not share each other’s version of history, heritage, and perhaps humanity. On July 11, we amplified hate-filled speech and raised the ante on our gamble with physical violence.
Tom, my husband, and I went to downtown Sylva to bear witness to our hometown’s skirmish. It was our cautious first venture into a large public space since early May, yet increasingly important to move beyond online communication to bear witness firsthand. We began at Bridge Park because Reconcile Sylva had announced it would begin with several speakers.
We witnessed event organizers become increasingly frustrated when its crowd did not grow to the larger numbers anticipated. They raised questions about the need and intent for increased rerouting of traffic and blocking access to Bridge Park. The slate of speakers began abruptly, the tone sometimes hostile and crude. When Commissioner Gayle Woody was invited to speak, many in the crowd shouted so loudly that some of us could not hear her. Reconcile Sylva was losing sight of its strategies for nonviolent direct action, counter to their commitment in a July 6 Facebook post:
“We know that this time of upheaval and change is hard for many. It brings out fear that can take the shape of anger and frustration. Reconcile Sylva has been made aware of the counter-protest on the day of our march, and we are committed to having an open peaceful dialogue with other community members about these difficult topics. There are centuries of pain that we’re all grappling with, but we hope to grapple with it together through education and conversation.”
Violence begets violence, as nonviolence begets nonviolence. We need nonviolent words and deeds to help us find our way, particularly at a time when we are fragile with anger and pain. What next? Create or destroy?
Residents and elected leaders of Sylva and the whole of Jackson County can and should choose to sit alongside each other, find words to speak and ways to listen, so as to learn each other’s lived experiences. Uncomfortable at first, yes, though not deadly so. We can and should talk about our mutual future. Historical developments can be imagined, composed, created.
It is inevitable that the statue in front of the public library in downtown Sylva will not remain there for long, much less forever. The answers we now need to create are to the questions of when, where and how it will be relocated.
Have we come no further in our country’s war between the North and the South, the Union and the Confederacy, than to perpetuate more violence against each other? How may we live together civilly? Let’s mix courage with compassion. Onward together.
Marsha Lee Baker lives in Sylva.