By Loretta Kensinger
(This is the speech given by Loretta Kensinger, Central Valley Progressive PAC Vice President, at the Stop the Hate rally on Aug. 24. The event was held in the Tower District.)
I am so honored to be able to stand here with you all today and to speak. I want to state clearly I speak today out of a profound love against ideas filled with hate. While I speak in hope we can embrace Dr. King’s grand ideal of “beloved community,” I recognize that such love does not come through blindness to our faults; it comes only with honesty, reconciliation, atonement and forgiveness. To speak of such community love is to speak of complexity not simplicity, though today we are presented with a simple choice. As in the 1930s, we face the question posed in Florence Reece’s great labor organizing ballad: “Which side are you on?” Are you on the side of hate, of fear, of a vision that says our community must always be divided? Or are you on the side of unity and the hope we can build “beloved community”? We here today know which side we are on!
This is a particularly poignant question in this age of rising hate groups. And increasingly it is a vital question for people who look like me. We are being told by groups spewing hate that they speak for us, for White people, for people like me. So it is particularly vital that people who look like me decide decisively, state publicly and clearly which side we are on. As African-American, lesbian, feminist author Audre Lorde stated, “Your silence will not protect you.” So I am here to let you know which side I am on. When the KKK speakers claim to talk for White people, I will stand up proudly and say, “Not in my name.” Evoking activist Mab Segrest’s powerful memoir, you can call me a race traitor.
And when our President and others claim that to honor U.S. history we must continue to honor those traitors who ripped this country apart in order to continue to enslave African- Americans, then I stand with the great-great-grandsons of “Stonewall” Jackson and say “No!” I say our history is more than this tragedy.
I stand on the side of history that that gives us Angelina and Sarah Grimké, born to one of the wealthiest slaveholding families in South Carolina, who courageously spoke out strongly against slavery and bigotry all their lives. I stand with Henry David Thoreau who wrote so eloquently of the importance of civil disobedience in his opposition to the imperialist Mexican-American War. I stand with Frederick Douglass, that former slave who rose to become one of our most powerful voices for justice, including the rights of women.
I stand with Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi and Alicia Garza in recognizing all lives will matter only when we establish firmly that Black lives matter. I stand with all those who have faced down bulldozers and tanks with prayers and bodies and flowers and love, most recently seen in Standing Rock.
We can’t hide from our history of racism, imperialism and homophobia, but while we try to teach its horrors we should recognize the long rich history of those who had the courage to resist. Let’s build monuments to our rich heritage of courageous people who stood and who fought, and even died, for love. Monuments to the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, to Fred Korematsu, to Fannie Lou Hammer, to Anne Mae Aquash, to Matthew Shepard and to Heather D. Heyer. These are surely all my ancestors, not in blood, but in spirit.
We must remember individuals and communities are not chained to be inevitably what their parents were. We can learn; we can do better. The writers of the constitution did not state “we the people in order to form a perfect union.” They said, “We the people in order to form a more perfect union.” That “more” is the key. In each generation, we take hold the reins and act to make this union better; perfection is not an endpoint, it is a hope. And for me that hope is articulated in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s beautiful view of that mountaintop, in Emma Lazarus’ amazing call to “Give me your tired, your poor,” in the 40,000 who stood last weekend in Boston and in you here today.
Deciding to stand on the side of justice is a step. Being willing to put our bodies between the jackboots and those most directly threatened is another step we can take. Learning to recognize and hear the dog-whistles that for years have emboldened and empowered the extreme terrorists hate groups is another step to take. I believe the presidential pardon of Joe Arpaio, a man who referred to his tent city confinement areas as a “concentration camp,” will be heard as a clear whistle by extreme hate groups that President Trump’s condemnation in the wake of Charlottesville is insincere. And we must take steps to organize to take back the high ground and build a vision of beloved community into the fabric of our society.
There are many ways to organize, but I urge you to recognize that local and regional politics are as vital as national politics to consider. The cities that have defiantly called for sanctuary status for immigrants attest to this. The cities that led the way on LGBT rights well before the national government stepped in attest to this. The U.S. cities now on totally renewable energy attest to this.
I belong to one organization engaged in trying to reclaim our local government and push toward a more progressive vision, a more truly beloved community, a more perfect union. The Central Valley Progressive Political Action Committee organizes resources to promote progressive political agendas in Fresno.
We are currently organizing to help concerned citizens in District 7 and District 3 Fresno City Council areas find each other, articulate their issues and amply their voices through support of progressive candidates. These districts matter to us all, not only because they are our neighbors but also because victories in both races will influence the entire City Council in a more progressive direction. Pam Whalen, CVPPAC president, is circulating in the crowd if you want to join up now.
Whatever your next steps, remember today! Remember: we are stronger than hate. We are stronger together. We know which side we are on. And we say clearly as one: No hate! No KKK! No fascist U.S.A.!