Jefferson’s BLM protests stir anger, but why?
By ANDREW MCGINN
Dale and Nancy Hanaman clearly possess a wellspring of inner strength in order to parade around the courthouse square Tuesday after Tuesday — for nine weeks now — in a rural community where conformity too often determines status.
But no one should actually fear them physically pulling down the statue of Abe Lincoln overlooking Lincoln Way or knocking the bronze likeness of Thomas Jefferson off his bench in the Thomas Jefferson Gardens.
With all due respect, have you seen them?
It’s also hard to picture Adrienne Smith kicking a canister of tear gas back at police in riot gear. Or David John, my old guidance counselor at the pink school, spray-painting “ACAB” or “BLM” on the side of the courthouse.
And if you think they might be capable of that, just wait till you hear about the Antifa planning meetings that have been occurring at Long-Term Care.
Now, this isn’t to say that the Hanamans, or Adrienne, or David are elderly — they’re just older than me. And my parents. And older than the people who have heckled them on and off these past nine weeks as they march for Black Lives Matter.
The marches organized by Dale Hanaman, 75, vary weekly in size, but participants generally skew “older adult” in age.
And, honestly, these weekly affairs are so peaceful that if you didn’t hear the occasional passer-by yelling “ALL LIVES MATTER” or see a pickup truck flying a “TRUMP 2020” flag circling participants, you may not even sense their presence.
That’s why I wanted to take this opportunity to say what I’m about to say: Harassing this particular group of protestors isn’t a good look for agitators.
If there’s a “right way” to protest, as some have suggested there is, then all of us should be proud of what we’re seeing in Jefferson on Tuesdays at noon.
If you don’t agree with their message — although I don’t see how anyone except for a racist could take issue with a sign that says, “Racial prejudice is learned” — organize your own rally.
In fact, that right — “the right of the people peaceably to assemble” — is enshrined in Amendment I of the Constitution. (That’s the amendment right before the one about guns.)
While the harassment to date is nowhere near the level where police might need to intervene, I fear the current political climate is volatile enough for something just that stupid to occur.
I took a call early last week that has been on my mind ever since. It was from, let’s just say, a very well-known Jefferson resident who said she didn’t want to see any further coverage of the local Black Lives Matters demonstrations in the newspaper. (It was more of a demand than a request.)
Jefferson, she informed me, has never had any problems of race.
I only listened. I now wish I would have explained that it was on the pink school playground in the early 1980s that I first learned of the n-word: “Eeeny-meeny-miny-moe, catch a (n-word) by the toe,” went the start of nearly every game of tag.
I thankfully had parents at home who set me straight — that it’s not a word nice people use. I can only surmise that some classmates weren’t as fortunate.
And speaking of intolerance, another popular game among kids then (when not at school) was called “Smear the Queer.” The whole premise — a lone kid with a football tries to avoid being tackled by a mob in pursuit — seemed to be a dry run for those later Fridays in high school when taunts of “fags” were lobbed at me and my friends as we scooped the loop.
Chris Henning, a regular participant at the Tuesday marches, shared a story last week about being a young county employee here in town at the time of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in 1968. When news reached their office, she reacted with shock. Her supervisor, on the other hand, remarked, “That (n-word) deserved it.”
I digress. The caller also accused Black Lives Matters activists of being “communists”; that the local marches are going to “invite violence into our community”; and that she has “lost all respect for the Methodists.”
Hanaman, who lives near Rippey, is a retired United Methodist minister. The Rev. Julie Poulsen, of the First United Methodist Church in Jefferson, is a regular participant as well.
The Methodists are, it would appear, going it alone. Some other congregations were apparently so resistant that Poulsen was forced to issue a disclaimer that the marches don’t have anything to do with the Greene County Clergy Association.
The most vocal critic of the marches — someone who has stopped at least twice now to argue or berate the group — is a man who purports to hold a position of leadership in his church.
Wherever he may be, the Rev. Dr. King is undoubtedly looking down thinking, “Been there.”
King was in solitary confinement in Alabama on a charge of “parading without a permit” when he wrote his famed “Letter From Birmingham Jail” in 1963.
It’s important to remember that King wrote his magnum opus specifically in response to eight white clergymen — two of them Methodist — who criticized his efforts to desegregate their city, calling his demonstrations “unwise and untimely.”
King had particularly harsh words for what he called the white moderate and the white church, concluding that it wasn’t the KKK that represented the “great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom,” but “the white moderate who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice.”
“We will have to repent in this generation,” King wrote, his words still true, “not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.”
King lamented that the early church wasn’t “merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.”
The letter’s most famous line — “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” — has been the inspiration for marches and demonstrations (some violent, some not) in cities big and small since the chilling death on Memorial Day of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
For his part, Hanaman reasoned that “everywhere” does technically include Greene County, Iowa, despite the fact that the county is 97 percent white.
When he marches, he thinks of his multiracial grandkids. He thinks of his father, who was comfortable using racial slurs.
Everyone brings their own reason for marching. Chuck Offenburger, for one, thinks of his late brother, a small-town Iowa boy who was so heavily involved in the civil rights movement of the 1960s that he worked as Dr. King’s press secretary.
However, in covering these marches, I’m yet to hear anyone disparage police in general or call for defunding the local police department in particular.
There certainly has been no talk of violence or “Marxist” ideology.
I also haven’t heard them invoke Trump’s name, contrary to what the two guys with Trump flags on their trucks may think.
The past two weeks, I’ve heard remembrances of the late Congressman John Lewis, a giant for civil rights, and his belief that human beings are of one family who live in the same house.
If that’s too radical a message for Jefferson to handle, then the caller lied and Jefferson does have a problem with race.