Instead of fighting them on my turf, I'll be going into the lions' den and fighting them there. Pretty dumb, don't you think?
I would think so, too, but I have no choice in the matter.
Details on the flip side.
On August 26, the National Socialist Movement -- though hereafter, I'll refer to them by their proper moniker: Nazis -- will be holding a rally on Capitol Square in downtown Madison, Wisconsin, where I currently live, to protest immigration, racial and ethnic minorities, non-Christians (of a certain variety), apple pie, pooties, and pretty much anything with any socially redeeming value whatsoever. This particularly offends me for several reasons.
First, all four of my grandparents were survivors of the Holocaust, three of them the sole survivors from their own very large families. My mother's parents met in Auschwitz shortly before liberation; my father's parents met in a displaced persons camp not long after the war ended. They all eventually made their way to safety and freedom in the Milwaukee area.
Second, I am a native of Wisconsin and I love my state. It disgusts me that Nazis will be celebrating their genocidal hatred in my state's Capitol. Worse, they're not even from Wisconsin -- these are furrener Nazis. Ironic, isn't it?
Third, we have an incredible farmers' market on the Capitol Square. It's a great place to get good, inexpensive fruits and vegetables. It's also just a very comfortable, relaxing atmosphere. The farmers are stereotypical Midwesterners -- unusually friendly, kind, quirky, and humorous. Sometimes I hang out with my girlfriend and some of our friends at the farmers' market just to relax. But on August 26, the farmers' market will be closing early because the police need the extra time to prepare for the Nazi rally. I hate that such wonderful people are being kicked out -- even though they agreed to it for the sake of security -- for the benefit of the Nazis, and I really hate that my tax dollars are being spent for the benefit of the Nazis.
Fourth, and this follows from #1, I am a Jew. More specifically, I am a Jew with a great deal of experience with anti-Semitism -- we'll get to that in a moment. People who know me well would tell you that I'm a very easy going guy for the most part. I don't hate very easily. But I make an exception for Nazis. I hate them deeply, passionately.
So it stands to reason that I would want to be a part of any possible counterdemonstration, right?
Well, two things are stopping me. First, there is a call by some local leaders to ignore the Nazis' rally. The Nazis, of course, just want attention, and they would love to cause a confrontation, or even a riot, in which they could injure or murder innocent people. Instead, these local leaders are having a rally of their own the following day, specifically "celebrating Madison Jewish life and the Madison Jewish community's long-standing support of equal opportunity and gay and immigrant rights." And who can argue with that? Consider also that this particular Nazi group often holds rallies that are about as well attended as this one:
Accordingly, attending a counterdemonstration may just serve the function of giving them the attention and publicity they're seeking so desperately.
Despite all of that, I'd probably still want to attend the counterdemonstration. I want the world to know that Madisonians stand united in opposition to everything the Nazis stand for, and if I'm going to protest anything, surely I must protest against Nazis. But I can't attend the counterdemonstration, and I won't be attending the rally the next day, either, because I'll be in Nazi central -- my hometown.
My parents raised my sisters and me in a small town in rural Wisconsin. Never mind exactly which one -- I have to maintain my anonymity here in order to keep my jobs for grad school. Suffice it to say it's a good distance away from Madison, and in terms of worldview, it might as well be on a different planet. You might recall the story of the Indian River School District in Delaware, which ran a Jewish family out of town with death threats and other harassment after the family complained about the district's official promotion of Christianity. Well, the Indian River School District has nothing on my hometown. Growing up, my mom, dad, three sisters, and I were the only Jews in town, and a lot of people were all too happy to remind us of that on a regular basis. Everyone else was Christian -- more specifically, a fundamentalist Protestant variety of the sort we all recognize from Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, James Dobson, and their ilk. Everyone was white, too, except for us -- "Jews can't be white, they're just lighter colored niggers," my sisters and I were often told by our classmates. After hearing that for all of my formative years, pardon me if I don't want to be "white." My sisters and I are all pretty close in age -- my oldest sister is two years older than me, my second sister is a year younger than me, and my youngest sister is two years younger than me. And my sisters are easily my favorite people in the world, largely, I would bet, because of what we endured together growing up.
My sisters, for the most part, were very lucky -- they suffered only from some of the most disgusting verbal harassment I've ever heard of, usually consisting of grotesque, sexually explicit comments mixed with vile accusations of the blood libel and "you murdered Jesus" variety. "Only?" you might be thinking. Yes, "only" -- they suffered verbal harassment, but were never physically attacked except for one time. My big sister was a senior in high school then, I was a sophomore, and our middle sister was a freshman. Whenever our schedules coincided, which was pretty frequently, big sister (I won't name my sisters either -- there's that anonymity thing again) would drive us all home. On the day in question, she had a yearbook meeting, I had football practice, and our sister the cheerleader had cheerleading practice. Little sister and I finished at about the same time, and we were supposed to meet big sister at her locker. When we got there, we saw three of the anti-Semites around her -- they had been among the many assholes who had physically assaulted me over the previous decade -- and one of them had her arm twisted behind her back. I sent little sister to get help and tried to stop them myself. The two assholes who didn't have their hands on my sister came after me, one with a switchblade. The guy with the blade slashed me across my lower left ribcage as I punched the other guy. Fortunately, it was just a flesh wound and I broke his arm when I took the blade away. Then I broke the jaw and arm of the guy hurting my sister. That's when little sister came around with the principal, who promptly threatened to suspend big sister and me from school -- her for "provoking" the incident and me for fighting -- until we threatened to sue him personally for allowing the assholes to harass my sisters and assault me on a regular basis. On the way home, we stopped by the nearest emergency clinic and I got 15 stitches.
That's when my parents started thinking about moving us away. In total, though, I was physically assaulted 27 times, stabbed two more times, and shot at twice before we finally moved away the summer before my senior year in high school. Now, I've been very fortunate for the most part in that I am a stereotypical linebacker -- very big and very strong -- so my attackers usually walked away from their attacks with much worse injuries than I suffered. But they knew they wouldn't win a fight and attacked me anyway because it was so important to them to draw Jewish blood. Thank God their chauvinism worked in my sisters' favor, or they would have been attacked, too. The local authorities never did a damn thing to protect me or to stop the people who were attacking me, even though it was widely known who they were, there were often witnesses, and attempted murder is generally frowned upon. Indeed, they all but tacitly approved what happened to me. I think the only kid who had it worse than me was the one openly gay kid in schools -- and he leaned on my sisters and me and our very small, close-knit circle of friends for support. Ultimately, though, he couldn't take it -- he ran away when he was 15, and I have no idea what became of him. I can only hope that he is alive, safe, and happy somewhere.
We moved away 11 years ago and I haven't been back since. There are only two people left there who I still care about, and though they tell me things have gotten a little better in the past 11 years -- the authorities, for instance, aren't all rabid bigots anymore -- I'm not sure how much I trust their judgment on something like this. You can't tell a white person what it's like to be black in the Deep South -- John Griffin taught us that lesson very well -- and you can't really know what it's like to be a Jew in a place rife with anti-Semitism unless you are a Jew who has experienced it yourself. You couldn't pay me enough to go back to that little corner of hell. I still have nightmares about that place once in a while; it's like my own personal version of PTSD. And though I will never forgive the anti-Semites for what they did to my sisters and me, after 11 years, I have finally gotten past my rage enough not to want to cause unspeakable damage to each and every one of them. I am a gentle person by nature, but one who has been forced by circumstance to commit acts of great violence in self-defense. I now have the maturity to guarantee that I will never cross the line between self-defense and offense because someone pissed me off, but it was a hard earned maturity and I have no desire to test it.
And yet, there's almost nothing I wouldn't do for a good friend. And one of the two people left there who I care about needs me. You see, she desperately wants to leave. Her parents are among the worst of the worst in town, and one of her brothers is the asshole who stabbed me in that attack on my sister. She's not like them; she never has been. And now, without her family's knowledge, she has taken a job in Madison. She managed to do everything covertly -- she searched for the job on-line, made sure to cover her tracks on her computer, interviewed when she was in town for a friend's wedding, and got a job offer. She can move into her apartment on September 1 and start work after Labor Day. Now all she needs is to move to Madison, but her parents would never let her -- yes, they're that abusive and controlling -- so she needs to leave town on August 26, when her parents will be out of town for the weekend. And that's where I come in.
On August 25, my girlfriend, one of my sisters, and I will be driving a borrowed pickup truck toward my hometown. We'll camp out that night, wait out the day of the 26th, then complete the trip there. We plan to arrive at night, pack up my friend's belongings as quickly as possible, load them into the truck, and get the hell out of town before dawn. Because it will be dark and my friend currently lives on an isolated farm, we expect to be able to get in and out quickly, without being spotted by anyone who might wish us harm. If we are spotted by my old tormentors, however, it could be very dangerous. Some of you have already offered to help if you can; there's really nothing you can do, other than pray for our welfare and think good thoughts for us. I expect to be out of touch for the better part of three days; only one local friend knows exactly what we are planning, and he has instructions in case we don't contact him in a timely manner. I'm not ashamed to admit I'm terrified of going back to my hometown; ultimately, though, I'm also very proud to be rescuing a friend from Naziville so she can finally live the life she's wanted for as long as she can remember.
You might wonder why I would share this story with you. Fortunately, there's no way any of the people I'm worried about would be caught dead on a site like this, so it's not a problem to mention it here. Partly it is because I consider many of you friends and I wouldn't want you to worry about me when I disappear for three days, and because I know if my friend (who is a lurker here, but will have my password in case of an emergency) raises the alarm, some of you will respond. More salient to the site, however, there is another reason: my hometown is a product of the kind of ideology promoted by the Rethugs, especially BushCo Rethugs. My hometown experience is what happens when these bastards are allowed to act with impunity. This is what we're fighting for -- because the kind of story I tell you here is all too common, even if it isn't commonly heard. We need to make sure that this kind of story can never happen in our country. The great rabbi Hillel, who lived at the end of the first century BCE and the beginning of the first century CE, famously taught:
If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
If I am only for myself, what am I?
And if not now, when?
I must stand up to the Nazis in this particular way, or no one else will. Perhaps no one else can.
I cannot worry about myself alone when my friend's future is at stake.
This has to be done now. This is how I'm fighting the Nazis and their enablers. How will you fight