Unbelievable.  On an otherwise beautiful, glorious, summer weekend, we bear witness to atrocities and death happening only 750 miles away in Charlottesville, Virginia.  White supremacists igniting violence in the name of intolerance and hate.

Unbelievable, perhaps, to people like me maintaining good intentions but only dabbling in activism when my family’s schedule permits.  Which, I suppose, begins to define white privilege, possibly even elitism, and why those actually fighting the fight and living the life get so frustrated with us.  Not so unbelievable to them.  Racism is alive and well, amidst an escalating battle between change and resistance.

This time last year, our own community dealt with reports of racially-charged interactions between servers and patrons at a local business.  Those incidents resulted in significant social media outrage, a sizable citizens march and the formation of a new nonprofit, which continues today.

At the time, some people wondered what it was all about and why the fuss.  Others found it “unbelievable” that their inequitable experiences heretofore had no visibility in a progressive town.  The march that followed was peaceful and positive.  Thankfully, there was no outside interference from groups bringing their own divisive or violent agendas to disrupt our peace.

The hateful rallies and resulting violence brought to Virginia by outsiders had me reaching for David Sokol’s terrific history book, “Oak Park, The Evolution of a Village.”  He writes about the American Nazi Party’s parade through Oak Park in 1980.  Counter-protesters were outsiders as well.  Local residents responded by ignoring the parade, instead attending a vigil at Unity Temple.

How should we respond if they came back today?  Counter-protests? Alternative events? Should businesses agree in advance to shut down rather than have to decide whom to serve or just to be safe?  Or should businesses remain open as “safe spaces” for potential targets of whatever hate group arrives?  Are our police ready? 

While not perfect, Charlottesville is a diverse town of about 50,000 people who overwhelmingly voted for Hillary and are tackling difficult issues of history and race. Sounds familiar.

Oak Park lawn signs say “Hate Has No Home Here.”  But what if Hate gets a rally permit? 

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Cathy Yen

Cathy Yen is the Executive Director of the Oak Park River Forest Chamber of Commerce.  She has lived in Oak Park for 21 years and done business locally, first as a retailer and then as a small business...

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