My wife, Jan, and I were having a relaxed morning watching our four kiddos play at our neighborhood park when I got word that a white supremacist group was planning to come destroy one of our city’s most sacred historical/cultural monuments just a mile from our house at Chicano Park.
Jan immediately said, “I’ll toss the kids in the car, and you get dressed. We’re going.”
Chicano Park is not only brimming with life and culture, its huge art murals commemorate the history of this land and its people. A history — often darkened by European Imperialism — that is honest, haunting, beautiful, and true. The murals are painted on pillars that hold up the highway that divided the park after the local residents had been promised a park for their community to gather. It’s the place no tourist to San Diego will ever see unless they choose to learn the stories behind the “story” posted on billboards, magazines, and advertisements proclaiming “America’s Finest City.”
As soon as the police caught wind of thiswhite supremacist group and their plan to destroy these sacred murals in Chicano Park, they reached out to our local clergy organizing network asking us to show up in mass to stand in the way of potential violence. They had reason to believe the group would be armed and willing to use force.
An hour before the white supremacist were scheduled to take action, and with police lining every street, hundreds of us from the community gathered to discuss the strategy of nonviolence we’d employ to protect this place and all it represents. In the wake of Charlottesville, there was an anxious energy about the potential costs of our shared commitment to nonviolence and also a palpable conviction to remain true to its witness.
As clergy representing dozens of different congregations and organizations across our city, it was an incredible honor to stand alongside and follow our Latino, Black, and First Nations friends in a united witness for peace.
Because of the massive turn out of nonviolent protectors, only a handful of people from the white supremacist group showed up and were so overwhelmed that they almost instantly withdrew. Nonviolent resistance requires a unanimous commitment of participants or the witness is broken, and the cycle of violence continues. It was a strong witness that day.
The making of peace requires at least as much strategy and commitment as the making of war.
Finally, the conversations we had with our kids on the way home about racism and our call toward peace were some of the most constructive and formational we’ve ever had. The classroom of peacemaking in the way of Jesus is so extremely tangible when we free ourselves from the idol of safety and embrace our common call to move toward conflict with creative love. And when we bring our kids along for the learning, we directly impact the contours of our shared future.
As a united presence, may we stand in front of every bulldozer that is flattening people and mend the divides of our conflicted world.