Charlottesville: Which Side are You On?

24 August 2017

Osborne President and CEO Elizabeth Gaynes responds to the recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia. 

Dear Osborne Family and Friends,
 
“Which Side Are You On?”  is a union song I learned growing up about the struggle of coal miners in Harlan County, Kentucky, who were terrorized by Sheriff J.H. Blair at the behest of the mine owners. Following the events in Charlottesvile, that question -“Which side are you on?” - demands an answer from us all.
 
While it may be easier to assume the hate groups that gathered in Virginia two weekends ago are confined to places below the Mason-Dixon line, they operate and exist here in New York, and in our prisons as well as Virginia prisons. My first direct (known) contact with white supremacists was in a prison; I saw men in a NY visiting room with swastika tattoos on their foreheads and fingers, and in Virginia I saw swastikas and confederate flags in the correction officers’ “lounge”. While images of white supremacists marching by torchlight are terrifying, it is almost more frightening to hear justifications and excuses from the Trump administration.  Hearing chants of “blood and soil,” and “Jews will not replace us” was definitely a trauma trigger for me, and should be for my fellow Jews who may have thought we were out of those woods.
 
We must acknowledge that racism and white supremacy have been part of the United States since our origins. At the same time, we should remember and celebrate the brave souls who have resisted racism, oppression, and white supremacy in many different struggles over the years. My father, an Army lieutenant in World War II, sent this letter to my mother in 1945, after the liberation of a concentration camp in southern Germany. From the Civil Rights era to today’s Black Lives Matter movement, African Americans, people of color, and their allies have risked everything to demand a better world. Last week, Osborne staff traveled with a number of our young people to DC to visit the National Museum of African American History. While people of color in this country are well aware of the history of white supremacy, and organizations like the Ku Klux Klan in the United States, we must all learn that history. As the saying goes, “those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
 
We at Osborne remember the past and stand against all forms of racism and white supremacy. We know what side we are on: the side of justice, equality, solidarity, and compassion. When we don’t consciously choose a side, we give comfort to those who would do us harm. We need to choose, but we also need to care for ourselves and others. I have no brilliant words to offer, but I am glad we have each other in times like this.

La lucha continua,

Liz Gaynes