Chip Somodevilla_Getty Images Charlottesville Protests
Society & Culture, Practice & Voice

Protests: When Both Sides Act Badly

Photo Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

My hope and prayer is that people of all backgrounds and religions will rise up to rebuke this growing movement of bigotry, and that we will do it without violence, in peaceful protests.

As a person with Jewish heritage (a Jewish father) and an African American daughter, I have experienced the large rallies and violence of neo-Nazis and white-supremacists in Charlottesville as a bold and public attack on my family and my people. I am wanting an equally bold and public rebuke with complete moral clarity of this movement of discrimination and hatred by the leaders and the leader of our nation. I have also seen why it is of utmost importance for our responses to such movements to be non-violent.

We must remain peaceful in our protests

The vast majority of counter-protesters who came to stand against hatred, bigotry and fascism were peaceful. Despite that fact, there were some who used violent rhetoric and actions. In doing so, it has allowed people, including the President, to claim there was “violence and bad behavior on both sides.”

The words and acts of violence by counter protesters opened the door for this unfortunate and dangerous rhetoric of moral equivalency. Since there was violence on the part of some counter protesters, they ceded some of the moral high ground of the counter protests. It played right into the hands of the white-supremacists and neo-fascist movement. This is a powerful reminder that non-violent protest is the most effective and the most morally defensible type of resistance.

Charlottesville hit home

As a minister, for the past 20 years, I have tried to stand up against bigotry of all kinds. It’s my philosophy that my liberation is tied up with the liberation of all people. The protests in Charlottesville hit home even more personally for me because the attack was so overtly directed against Jewish people as well as African Americans and others.

I am reminded of the words of Martin Niemöller, a German Protestant minister and a vocal critic of Adolf Hitler during WWII.

First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me

My hope and prayer is that people of all backgrounds and religions will rise up to rebuke this growing movement of bigotry, and that we will do it without violence.

Rev. Marlin Lavanhar is the Senior Minister of All Souls Church in Tulsa. Read more from Rev. Lavanhar on


  1. Carrie Stuart-Grote

    Thank you Marlin for your thoughtful words. I know I am blessed by your presence in our community & especially that you are my minister.

  2. What your words are saying to me is that the only moral way to protest the beating of a human right in front of me is to throw my body on top of the victim’s and silently take the beating myself. Do I have the courage to do that or equivalent actions? Marching silently on the sidelines while others are being bloodied – I can’t see that as being effective. I am conflicted, angry, fearful, and all of that is imbued with feelings of helplessness.

    1. Your feelings are completely valid and relevant. Knowing how to respond and dealing with the outcome of the response is a battle many of us are continuously facing. Rev. Lavanhar addressed this in-depth in last Sunday’s service. Here’s the link if you’d like to hear more from him.

  3. I appreciate your comments. I think the violence from a few in the left shows that all human being, regardless of creed, are capable of twisting noble ideals into an excuse to hate and kill others.

  4. Andrew Donovan-Shead

    The Southern Poverty Law Center provides a student guide to coping with extremism. You can find it at this address,, and adapt it to your local situation. Here are the most important points from this publication:

    (1) “ABOVE ALL, AVOID CONFRONTATION WITH THE ALT-RIGHT SPEAKER AND SUPPORTERS. The alt-right thrives on hostility, and hate feeds on crowds. Video footage of an altercation will only provide cover for the speaker, who can claim to be a victim. As hard as it may be to resist yelling at alt-right speakers, do not confront them. Do not debate them. Do not resort to violence, in speech or deed. As this publication makes clear, there are many other ways to challenge the beliefs of this movement.”

    In any volatile public confrontation, you don’t know who are friends. There will be agents present who appear to be on your side, but who are there to provoke violence. You have no control over these wildcards.

    (2) “IF THE ALT-RIGHT APPEARS … [IN YOUR AREA], ORGANIZE A JOYFUL PROTEST AWAY FROM ITS EVENT. Make it a festival for diversity and tolerance. Have music, speeches and other entertainment. Use the Women’s March in Washington as a template. Publicize your event using social media, newspapers, radio, placards and fliers. Be creative in showing your distaste for the alt-right. You may also consider hosting a conference, vigil or forum. Ask groups routinely targeted by the alt-right to speak.”

    (3) “CULTIVATE A COMMUNITY OPPOSED TO BIGOTRY. In addition to groups typically targeted by the movement, enlist support from other groups, such as political organizations, athletes, unions, faculty members and alumni. Hold strategy sessions with them and design an action plan. You will find that others will join you if you summon the courage to speak out against hate speech. The community you create will last long after the speech that brought you together.”

    (4) “… the most effective course of action is to deprive the … [alt-right] of the thing … [they want] most – a spectacle. [The] alt-right … know their cause is helped by news footage of large jeering crowds, heated confrontations and outright violence at their events. It allows them to play the victim and gives them a larger platform for their racist message. Denying … [the alt-right] of such a spectacle is the worst insult they can endure.”

    These are dangerous times that require courage and engagement by all peaceful, reasonable people who are “dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of our society.”

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