David and I went to a Stand Up Against Hate vigil today in Portsmouth, pulled together by Occupy New Hampshire. They hold a Civil Rights Sundays demonstration every week, and this week the focus was to condemn the violent bigotry of white supremacists rallying in Charlottesville, VA this weekend, which led to the death of 32-year-old Heather Heyer.
David and I have been talking a lot recently about how hard it is to hold people accountable for their actions when we don’t have effective ways of sanctioning bad behavior, a basic premise of reciprocal social exchange. For a long time I’ve thought humans probably function together best at the village level. If you have to look someone you’ve harmed in the eye, it’s harder to continue with hurtful behavior. Too many people in power in our country never have to see, in any way, the people harmed by their hateful and inhumane acts.
So today as I stood on the curb in Market Square, holding my sign that read “the Granite State Says NO to Hate,” I looked at people as they drove past. I made eye contact whenever I could. Many people in cars smiled and gave the demonstrators a thumbs up, some honked in solidarity, many ignored us, some were rude. I decided to gather some data.
I counted positive responses — a honk, a smile, a wave — while I counted the number of cars driving by. Ten out of 25, eight out of 25, eleven out of 25. The people who were supportive were young and old, alone and in groups, and included a couple in a truck on jacked up wheels with Virginia plates. The woman driver started honking and waving the moment she saw us and kept it up as she passed the demonstration.
The data is encouraging; almost 39% of passers-by openly supported our message of love and our condemnation of hate.
By counting the number of cars that passed in blocks of two to four minutes, I estimate that about 750 cars drove through Market Square in the hour of the vigil. From those, there were five people who shouted profanities, or make America great again (we agreed with that sentiment, with several signs declaring that hate will not make America great), including one man who calmly told us he voted for Trump. It sounded like a confession. At one point I watched a stern looking man drive towards the curb where we stood, then finally turn with the curve in the road as he gave us the finger. He was number three of the four who flipped us the bird. In total, that’s nine overtly negative responses out of 750 — just over 1%.
That leaves 60% of those who passed us not responding at all. I suspect many of them didn’t connect our presence and signs to the violence in Charlottesville. Many of them likely don’t pay nearly as much attention as I do to national news. Some of them may have felt too inhibited to respond, a theory supported by the phenomenon both David and I noticed. When there were a number of cars passing us at once, if one person honked, many others did too.
By the time we left, the knot of tears that had been in my throat all day was dissolving. The loving responses beat the hateful ones by a lot.