When news broke that members of the KKK were planning a rally in Cumberland over the weekend, my Facebook feed was suddenly abuzz with indignation. Those whom chimed in were concerned that the spectacle with mar people’s perception of Cumberland—a city currently invested in efforts of renewal and economic development featuring tourism and the arts. Commenters worried that the taint of a KKK rally would detract from Cumberland’s many charms. They argued that the overwhelming majority of western Maryland residents certainly do not support KKK beliefs or tactics.
On the other hand, as left of center as some of my friends and colleagues are, many argued that even hate-mongers have the right to gather. They contend that though they vehemently disagree with KKK members’ opinions, if they want to preserve their own constitutional rights, they must recognize that those rights extend to KKK members. That settled, the question then became what the community should do to demonstrate that western Maryland does not condone such racist and hate-filled attitudes.
While the online debate continued, I took the question to students in my “Social Problems” course. It’s a diverse group, with about 2/3rds of the course African American. “What should the community do?” I asked them. Their response was overwhelming, and a little surprising. “Nothing,” they said. “Absolutely nothing!” They argued that KKK members are attention seekers and by countering with protests or even covering the rally in the media, we would be giving them exactly what they wanted.
The real problem, the claimed, was that the media was probably going to cover it regardless. If it never received any press at all, the rally would be a spectacular failure. Unfortunately, it seemed too late for that given the local paper’s coverage. Word was already out and by Thursday afternoon commentary on the planned rally had spread to email exchanges and phone calls.
Community members wanted to send a clear message—hate isn’t welcome here. By Friday afternoon at least two counter rallies were planned—one silent protest positioned directly across from KKK members and the other gathering for peace to take place at Canal Place. My friends and colleagues debated which, if any, to attend.
Where was I on Saturday? I was in downtown Cumberland enjoying the afternoon with my three year old son. We dined on hotdogs at Coney Island and attended a bouncy birthday celebration at Kids Kingdom. I wasn’t at any rally. The words of my students resonated and I decided that I would not give a handful of KKK members, who weren’t even from Cumberland, the power to alter or interfere with my family’s special Saturday plans. Time spent with family is at a premium these days; I chose not to allow the KKK to rob us of that time.
Admittedly, I’m not sure if that was the right decision. I’m proud that members of my community were concerned enough that they wanted to act. . .