Friends invited me to the Solidarity with Charlottesville: Not In Our Town Rally at the Colorado Springs City Hall last Sunday, Aug. 20. Like many people, by now I'm familiar with the nationwide movement to remove Confederate monuments and the reaction to that by right-wing groups.
Truth be told, I was a little apprehensive about the possible appearance of neo-Nazis or the KKK at the rally.
As soon as I approached the crowd of about 400-500 people I saw the police officers everywhere, all spit and polish in their blue uniforms. That was reassuring. But then I saw the armed men with the self-defense shot guns, the kind with the short barrels and pistol grips, dangling from straps on their shoulders with the Double Ought rounds in the loops. Whose side were they on?
I saw the young "antifa" people, clad in black with veiled faces like ninjas. They carried red flags on sticks. Those sticks could be turned into weapons, no doubt. There was a portrait of the newest martyr for the cause, the murdered Heather Heyer. How young and innocent she looked.
But then I felt foolish. How could I even contemplate violence like what we saw in Charlottesville? This is Colorado Springs. Nothing like that could happen here. We are too civilized in General Palmer's city.
Or just too complacent. We would never do anything like that. What? Start a riot between Nazis and white supremacists on one side and anti-fascists and Black Lives Matter on the other. Never. Not here.
Anyway, I said to myself, I am a serious observer. What about the anti-racism, anti-fascist resistance and its manifestation in Colorado Springs? Seriously, we are a town not friendly to left-wing movements.
But this has to be studied. It's a new thing in our community, with real implications for our future. The question is: How long will this anti-racism movement last in Colorado Springs? And will it make a difference? Things have to change here.
We are no longer the small 1950s town that many of our leaders seem to think we are.
So, there I was, meeting many people I know among the parents with kids in strollers and many older folks and long-time activists. There was an intensity in the crowd. Speakers harangued the crowd in angry tones.
But the speakers were invisible to most of the crowd because of a silly-looking large wooden "art installation" bolted to the steps of the Greek Revival City Hall. Their disembodied voices floated away. Mainly for that reason there was no climax to this gathering.
How like Colorado Springs. We get all worked up about a truly big problem like racism and then we have our indignation stymied by a display of what passes for public art.
That's us. We know how to say all the right things but can we get a crowd really worked up? I didn't see that.
Yes, people cheered and jeered, clapped and whooped at the right times.
But that wasn't enough. We seem to have trouble getting serious even if we are deadly serious. This no doubt sets us apart from other places.
I was there because I am alarmed by the rise of a racism that many think is dead in this country. But racism is alive and well. I know that it exists here. But we treat racism against Blacks and Latinos like we treat most other serious problems. Many of us in Colorado Springs, including elected officials, believe that if we ignore racism long enough, like most other problems it will just go away by itself.
I talked with one person at the rally who set the whole thing in the correct perspective.
He was an older African American man standing there on the side walk in front of City Hall. He was very serious.
This is what he told me: "If you're black or brown, just retired from the military and looking for a job, don't look here.
It won't happen. We don't want to get to the core. We don't address the real issues - the systemic racism, the institutional racism. It's easy to say 'I'm against the Nazis!' But we don't deal with racism on a day-to-day basis."
Joe Barrera, Ph.D., is the former director of the Ethnic Studies Program at UCCS and a combat veteran of the Vietnam War.