Storm clouds are looming over Oxford. While rain and thunderstorms are predicted from Tuesday until Sunday, there is a stronger and more concerning ideological storm heading toward our campus. University students, faculty and staff and Oxonians, I implore you to first and foremost value your own safety and weather this storm indoors.
As many of you may already be aware, two organizations, the Memphis-based Confederate 901 and the Arkansas-based Hiwaymen, will be rallying in Oxford and on the university’s campus on Saturday, Feb. 23. The event’s Facebook page, which lists slightly fewer than 100 attendees going and more than 340 who are interested, as of Feb. 17, says that the goal is to protest the university administration’s erasure of Confederate-adjacent traditions — such as the Confederate battle flag, Col. Reb, the state flag and the song “Dixie” — and oppose efforts to remove the Confederate monument from its current prominent position in the Circle. They write, “It’s time we draw the line in the sand!!! WE WILL NOT LET ANOTHER CHAPEL HILL HAPPEN IN OUR STATE!!!!!!”
While they are very concerned with students removing the monument themselves, as occurred at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, we need to be much more concerned with another Charlottesville happening in our community.
While at a smaller scale, all of the pieces that led to the death of Heather Heyer and the injuries of many others in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017 will be present in our community. In fact, the Facebook page of the Hiwaymen shows that they were present at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville.
In response to these outsiders coming to the LOU community and turning us into nothing more than a weapon in our nation’s culture war, several counterprotests have been organized. While I believe the Confederate monument should be removed from campus and am not afraid to call out the pro-confederate beliefs and white supremacist ideology of these two organizations as dehumanizing and morally reprehensible, I think that engaging in counterprotests is unwise and unsafe.
These are organizations that enjoy causing outrage. Like many on the far-right, nothing fuels them more than “triggering the liberals.” They want to be met by a large counterprotest, and the best way to ensure this rally does not become an annually recurring event is to not give them what they want. Let them come to Oxford, do their protest with no audience to fuel them and then go back to where they came from.
Our counterprotests in the name of love, inclusion, equality and justice, while sending a great message, will not change their minds. In fact, they will only lend fuel to the fire and possibly inflame the already smoldering fault lines of our nation’s culture war. This is neither the time nor place to fight. No matter how noble your motives are, please do not participate in a counterprotest. Our community’s safety is more important. Your safety is more important.
In 1962, Paul Guihard and Ray Gunter were murdered during a riot over white supremacy and racial tension. In 2017, Heather Heyer was murdered in a riot in Charlottesville over the same issues.
Please don’t let it happen in our community in 2019. Share on social media and encourage your friends to avoid the Square, University Avenue and the Circle on Saturday afternoon. Stay safe as we let this storm pass quietly and quickly. Come Sunday, the sun will shine through the clouds, and we will continue the fight against white supremacy in our community.
Jacob Gambrell is a senior international studies major from Chattanooga, Tennessee.