I am watching the TV off and on, with my hand over my mouth since yesterday. Shock, horror, sadness, frustration. All of it mixed up in a scene that I saw unfold in the USA. Violence, kicking and punching, and yelling. Death, men with sticks, torches and riot gear. A car driven through a crowd with such speed and conviction that bodies flew, and then reversed to make a fast get away without regard for the devilish act that he had just executed.
And a most striking piece of the footage is the former KKK leader on the screen, gently and happily telling a reporter that they (the white supremacists of the world) were there to do as per Trump’s campaign promise – they are taking America back.
As I started writing this I was thinking about parables and comparisons to what happened in the US on a Saturday afternoon in August in 2017. Where else in the world? Everywhere. But we are more taken by emotions and fear, when we see it in HD on our TVs, when it is in the so called Free World. The greatest country on Earth? I wonder how long until the racism and hate permeate our borders, and make these gatherings normal and expected here. We have a problem here. It has been creeping around the sidelines for a long time. And it has been sloughed off as only a few. Not representative. But the variations of intolerance and lack of empathy for others in the world is deep seeded in all of our communities. Especially, here in Nova Scotia.
At the same time I was listening to debates about the cultivation of hate in Trump’s campaign and presidency, a thread was quickly forming on Facebook over a memorial held for the two Sullivan’s Pond geese that were killed this week. The geese were crossing at the same crosswalk they use every day – yes they do use a crosswalk (that’s part of their charm) – when a driver came through there and ran three of them over, claiming he did not see them. People all over, who know these geese, and those who live immediately local, are having a hard time with the driver’s claim. Witnesses initially felt it was intentional, as the driver could not, from their own observations, have missed these birds, and made no effort to slow down. Some were really angry, some were sad and some were calling for action. The geese are part of the community. They bring happiness to people who see them on the pond and add a little delight to the day when they cross the street as a group. I feel the same little bit of joy, when I see a group of preschoolers on a walk, holding hands, heading off to the park. In the end, a memorial was planned, with a message of thanks for the local wild animal rescue who care for the geese.
The issue of fault was a partial driving force for what happened on Facebook, but I was completely (likely due to the day’s newsfeed in general) disgusted with what people were writing. Some thought they were really funny, making jokes about roasted goose, and others were calling the gathering stupid, ridiculous, idiotic. They were making harsh unreasonable judgements about people, claiming none of them cared about abused children, or poor people, as if they would know anything about a complete stranger based on one comment on a post about one event. The whole thread was one small faction saying – How does this even bother you? while the other side (a larger majority) were poking, and jabbing and jeering. One guy even wanted to know how much the city paid for this? What? People gathered in a park. It wasn’t a state funeral for heaven’s sake. The whole thing was just another public display of how little people think about others and even more obvious, how little they think before they spew. It was the worst of the internet at its finest. And the normal thing to do, would be to scroll past, say what ever you feel to yourself in private, and butt out of something that has nothing to do with you, has no impact on you and that which you claim to not care about. Your lack of concern for an issue does not dictate how others are supposed to feel or think, and you had the option to simply not attend something that you felt was silly or unnecessary.
This was just one example of a bitter, nasty and wholly unacceptable level of abuse that occurs on Facebook every day. It could be anywhere, but more and more it is part of every local social media dialogue in Halifax, Nova Scotia. It might be the geese this week, or it could be a debate about pollution, or fishing, or teachers or First Nations or Pride parades or anything that comes up. There is a part of this place that enters into intelligent and well rounded dialogue. There are some who read, but refrain from commenting, whether they agree or disagree. They just read, or even scroll past. Then there is the angry bug that gets into many little heads and drives people to write the most insulting and eventually nasty and downright abusive things they can think of. And many times, the antagonists accuse their prey of being the bullies.
Sometimes, people get attacked on their personal pages for expressing their disappointment with a situation or an organization. Sometimes, admittedly, it is good for a post to be challenged if it is inaccurate, or offensive. The best course of action is to remove such posts, but admins seem to like the activity on their page, even that which is unhealthy. More often than not, the post has no actual impact on the daily existence of the world, it is just a personal post, but all sorts come out of the woodwork to spout off and make it about all kinds of things. My personal page is private and I delete people who attack me for my opinions. Debate is a good thing. But far too often these “debates” dissolve into diatribes and deranged strikes.
I have stopped following most of the local news pages and only see those pages when a friend shares or comments on a post. I have learned too many times the truth or common sense have no place on these pages. People don’t want to hear anyone else’s perspectives. There have been times when someone, a stranger, that I have somehow unwittingly offended by a comment, has gone to my page to look at my profile and while it is locked down, whatever bit is available for the public to see becomes fodder for a tirade of sorts about my character. When I have spoken the truth about something, people of all sorts, who have never met me or have no clue where I even live, have been able to state with absurd conviction (as if they were my neighbor), that I am nut job or any other number of derogatory descriptors. Delete! Pretty soon the sensible will have withdrawn and the whole lot of bitter and angry souls will have no one to pound on but themselves.
Maybe this is common. Maybe people are just bloody pissed off everywhere. And that is what we need to take note of – the anger and lack of empathy or tolerance for what others believe in. The venom with which we communicate over things that barely even matter is incredible. And that element of anger is directing a larger and more violent unpleasantness in this world. It used to be important to choose your words, own your behaviour, and respect others. But now it is a free for all. And when the leaders of this world are inciting anger and intolerance, are adding to it with rhetoric and messages of hostility, even lies, it is no surprise that the lowest denominator is making itself visible. They have permission to. When a premier chooses to demonize teachers and nurses, and lie about their labour negotiations, to turn the public against them, the angriest, and meanest and nastiest of their supporters got on board and championed the message. When a city council felt it was just too much to respect the First Nations people of this province, and continually sloughed them off over Cornwallis’ undeserved prominence in the downtown, the local chapter of white nationalists came out of their cave and put Halifax on the map for reasons most of us can’t stomach. But along with the visible khakis, black polos and Red Ensign were the social media diatribes and pro-Cornwallis contingent, who ignore the facts about Cornwallis, and white nationalists, and decided what and how the First Nations people should feel about how they have been treated for the past 268 years.
Those racists… who knew before July 1, 2017 about this group? Not I nor any of my friends. But the fact that they have formed in Nova Scotia does not surprise me. What does surprise me is that people defended them and thought they had done nothing wrong. “These poor young men” were being treated horribly. Huh? What they stood for went right past people’s ears and eyes. Who they are, based on their own descriptors, was translated by the locals as nothing actually really offensive. No one looked past the obvious fact that their webpage wasn’t going to say, “We are racists and bigots.” And social media went ballistic. All sorts felt the statue was too important to allow the Mi’kmaq to make any demands on the rest of us. These guys in polo shirts were just defending the statue. A statue that represents a hateful violent time in history, not only here but across the globe, was crucial to retaining our history, and many people showed up to see a riot. Many wrote online what they thought the First Nations people were going to do to that statue. They didn’t even bother to ask, or try to understand what was hoped would come from all of the kerfuffle. Just illogical, uneducated, intolerant accusations. It was a sad time in this province, to see so many approach this issue with blatant disregard for a group in our society, and added to that, a common message – Just get over it.
Now, we find ourselves tied to Charlottesville, the saddest town in North America this week. They did not invite this to their town. They did not encourage this invasion and the ensuing violence. They did not create the spectacle nor the opportunity. And a beautiful young woman, a civil rights activist, was killed because violence appeared to be the answer for some. Two police officers died in service, and 30 some other people were injured. He may have been a lone wolf in his own violent act, but the day was filled with scenes of angry mobs fighting in the streets, with weapons in hand. And the day was organized by the leader of the same racist group that made its first appearance here in Halifax, Nova Scotia on Canada Day. If we treat this appearance here as if it wasn’t really a big deal, we then give them permission to keep making appearances, and embolden them to show themselves more and more. And when we have leaders and elected officials who refrain from speaking out against these groups, in defense of the anti-racist movements, by refusing to deal with unpleasant decisions, by creating division, and by stalling on making an effort to see the bigger picture, we are inviting these people back.
This province has been an angry place for a long time. I notice it and am saddened by it often. I think a lot about this being a bad place for my children to grow up. Everyone thinks of the Maritimes as a happy and friendly place. The people here are so helpful. But that just isn’t always the case, and it is getting worse and worse by the day, week and month. This environment is a harbinger for hate groups. They prey on the angry and poor. We need to be intolerant of the intolerant and not defend a group that has white supremacist or nationalistic leanings, even if they didn’t do much on their first venture out into the light. We need to be less quick to express our own opinions about what others believe when it is not offensive, dangerous or related to hate. And we need to be less tolerant of others who do. The anger and bitterness directed at our fellow Nova Scotians, who are often hurt by the bitter and severe behaviour that is directed at them, is the result of not being in front of the victim, face to face. When we see someone being abusive, we need to step up. And when we think of a smart or insulting response to something we don’t agree with, we need to count to 100 before typing our own harsh and judgemental, unnecessary and perhaps unwelcome negative perspectives on someone else’s feeling, experience, event or goals.
The memorial at Sullivan’s Pond hurt no one, inconvenienced no one and drew attention to no one. If you have thoughts about it, ask yourself why. Why does it make you angry? Why does it prompt you to be hurtful and rude? Why can’t you tolerate other people dealing with a sad incident the way they choose to, when it isn’t any of your business and has absolutely nothing to do with you? If you read the comments and felt compelled to add your own insult, did you feel good afterward? This behaviour speaks more about intolerance than a good joke.
Intolerance comes in many forms and starts out small. We have a great deal of intolerance in this province, especially in this city and it is inflicted on others without refrain, every single day. This is what we need to be concerned about. What it leads to is what we need to concentrate on and get busy about fixing. Not a memorial you didn’t attend. Leaders need to foster compassion and empathy. The greater good. And until people learn to apply their anger in ways that improve their own lives, the society we live in will continue to become less and less tolerant of one thing after the other until no one can even tolerate themselves.