Even by 6 p.m. – an hour before the Interfaith Service of Lament and Hope was to start – people began to gather at Second Baptist Church. By the time Minister Sharon Weeks, 3rd Vice President of the Evanston NAACP, began her welcome, the sanctuary was more than packed, with people sitting on the floor in front of the pulpit and standing in the back.
The words of the politicians and religious leaders described the pull of faith and protest that brought more than 400 people to the church that evening. On Aug. 12, white supremacists holding a rally in Charlottesville, Va., attacked protestors, killing Heather Heyer and injuring others.
President Donald Trump’s response, blaming “both sides” and “many sides” for the violence, has been deemed by some too weak to be meaningful and by many others as an outright endorsement or bigotry and white supremacy.
The speakers brought the national crisis down to the local level.
“We are living in the days of domestic sorrow and national unrest,” said Ms. Weeks. “Yes, another tragedy has befallen us. We stand as people of hope in the midst of this national woe. We will rise, as resilient people do and we will get up and rebuild.”
Mayor Steve Hagerty said, “Tonight, we gather to speak out. We speak out because we know that silence in the face of evil is evil itself. We speak out to voice our fear for the precarious state of our country. And we speak out because history shows us that unity against injustice and oppression will prevail. … This weekend’s events in Charlottesville remind us that unity against injustice and oppression is paramount. Charlottesville shows us that, as a country, we are never far away from seeing those who would choose to normalize racism and intolerance empowered. In this case, it only took one president and his sycophants, using dog-whistle politics. We speak out to condemn this. And we must be specific: the rallying cry of white nationalists is one of hate, bigotry, and violence. Such views are counter to democracy and will never be acceptable in our national and local life. … Future generations must see that we were unified in our belief and actions that love, kindness, courage, and empathy were stronger than hate. As a nation founded on the ideals of democracy, but also built on the back of racism and sexism, we must leave behind evidence of our work against bigotry and intolerance. History will judge us on our willingness to fight against any assault on our values of respect, fairness, and human dignity.”
Efforts to create a fair and just nation must start locally, Mayor Hagerty said. “We must be vigilant – and fearless – in rooting out inequalities that exist in our backyard. That means having our citizen police complaint assessment committee take an honest look at our complaint process, that means looking seriously at alternatives to arrest for young men in our community, and that means looking for additional ways to make our community safer and more welcoming for immigrants. Fortunately, no other citizens are better prepared to unify against hate and toward hope than those of Evanston.”
Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin said, “We’ve done this too often – when we’ve seen the world go in a direction we didn’t want to see. It is not fake news to know that white nationalist, the Ku Klux Klan, and neo-Nazis are evil and that no positive influence in society. … We know what evil is, and we will not tolerate it in our community.”
Statements from Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky and from Leon Russell of the national NAACP were also read. “We must come together against
this hatred,” said Rep. Schakowsky.
Mr. Russell said that a president of the United States defers to the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis “reveals a man lacking a moral compass and a failure to understand what it means to be an American and a human being. … The NAACP joins others to all upon him to live up to the responsibility of being President of the United States, and, if he cannot do that, he should not be in office.”
The speeches were interspersed with music, dance, and readings of sacred texts.
Rabbi Andrea London of Beth Emet The Free Synagogue read in Hebrew and then translated from the book of Isaiah: “In righteousness you will be established; You will be far from oppression, for you will not fear; And from terror, for it will not come near you” (translation from the New American Standard Bible).
Referring to a passage in the book of Deuteronomy, “I place before you two paths – of blessing and curse,” Rabbi London said, “Tonight as we gather, we want to declare emphatically that we choose the path of blessing,”
Hafiz Saiid Ahmed read and then translated from the Koran (chapter 3) “Be conscious of Allah. … Hold to the rope of Allah and do not become divided.”
Mohamad Saiduzzaman of the Dar-us-Sunnah Mosque said, “With what happened last weekend, it is hard not to give up hope. … When you see Heather [Heyer’s] mother’s face, you can see God still lives in us. I have seen many, many of these events come to test us. Heather’s death and those of many like her cannot have been in vain. … This is not a time for tears; it is a time for action. … Those who intend to divide us, have mercy on them.”
“Hope and lament,” said Dr. Nancy Bedford of Reba Place Church “are not to be confused with blind optimism and despair. For there to be hope, there has to be a recognition that things as they now stand are not acceptable. Lament? At its core, we know that things do not need be this way. … With state-sanctioned racist violence and state-sanctioned protection [of racists], people are rethinking pacifism. None of us knows how one committed to non-violence will last.”
In his call to commission and action, Second Baptist minister Reverend Michael Nabors said, “We need to be aware that the things that happened in Charlottesville are divisive in more than just one way – not [just] race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation, but there’s some psychological stuff that’s going on in the world – and not just in response to Charlottesville but to the aftermath.”
Mr. Trump, said Mr. Nabors, is “the most dangerous human being in America, far more dangerous than any threat of nuclear weapons. … Those who have supported his lunacy are guilty of the crimes he is committing. … We must be filled with righteous indignation. The heart and soul of our nation are at stake.”
Other local clergy also spoke or read from sacred texts. Several churches and local organizations were involved in the hastily put-together event in the wake of the violence in Charlottesville. Rabbi London said neither she nor Rev. Nabors called many churches directly but she “posted the event on our Evanston clergy Facebook page and sent it out via our listserv.”