Hundreds of people showed up Tuesday night in our small “city” of Burlington, Vermont to support the rights of refugees and immigrants. Because of our open-mindedness, Burlington has been a refugee resettlement area for years, so we have a lot at stake as a community – not just the refugees themselves, but the businesses they buy from and where they are employed, and the citizens of a city made so much more culturally diverse than it would be otherwise.
The crowd was mostly young and red hot, with some headscarves and brilliant African fabrics scattered through the crowd. After listening to the speakers as we shivered in the chill, we finally got to march toward the top of our historic Church Street, then back to City Hall. The pace was brisk and the chants surged from one end of the blocks-long march to the other.
A tall, harsh-voiced teenager shrieked “S—w Donald Trump!” and the crowd joined right in. I recoiled – not because I am less angry than they are, but because I’ve studied the Nazi occupation of Amsterdam too long. Hatred gets us nowhere – or, rather, it sets us on a dangerous path that we have seen before. As soon as we begin to denigrate other people and see them as less than human, there’s no limit to the evil we feel entitled to do to them.
I knew the chant was wrong, but I did what too many people did during the Holocaust: I kept silent. I made excuses: I’m too old, they’d never listen to me. In other words, I collaborated with what I knew was wrong.
On the edge of the crowd, a lanky man in his forties spoke up, not shouting but speaking loudly enough to be heard. “We shouldn’t chant that,” he said. “It’s an awful thing to say.”
The teenager asked, “What do you want us to say instead?”
A moment later, we were all shouting “Love trumps hate.” The man who spoke up made a difference. Next time, I want it to be me.