A Moment of Civil Dialogue Between Black Lives Matter, Trump Supporters Last Weekend

It was a rare moment in a culture where violent protests and refusal to listen are becoming the norm.

By Liberty McArtor Published on September 21, 2017

On Saturday Trump supporters gathered in Washington, D.C. While the rally was small — only a few hundred attendees — one moment shined bright. It was when Black Lives Matter counter-protesters ascended the stage, and a bit of civil discourse took place. 

A video of the interchange is heartwarming in an all-American, right-to-peaceably-assemble kind of way. And yet it’s rare. Today, political opponents hate each other. Dangerous riots are the norm. And many young adults view violence as an acceptable response to ideas they don’t like.

What took place Saturday was special, but it shouldn’t be.

“Actually Made Progress Today”

“We came out, we were gonna chant, we were gonna do a demonstration, but we didn’t have to,” Hawk Newsome told Now This. “We just spoke. It worked. I’m happy about that.” Newsome, a “proud American and a Christian who cares deeply about this country,” is the president of Black Lives Matter of Greater New York.

It started when black Trump supporter Henry Davis invited the group on stage, Huffington Post reported. But then Davis told them to get off stage. That’s when rally organizer Tommy Hodges stepped in. 

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“It’s about freedom of speech. It’s about celebration,” Hodges said of the rally. “We’re going to give you two minutes of our platform, to put your message out. Now whether they disagree or agree with your message is irrelevant. It’s the fact that you have the right to have the message.”

Newsome took the microphone. “I am an American,” he said to cheers. “And the beauty of America is that when you see something broke in your country, you can mobilize to fix it.”

Other times Newsome drew boos, like when he insisted his group was not “anti-cop,” but “anti-bad cop.” 

“If we really want to make America great, we do it together,” he said at the end, eliciting more cheers.

Afterward Newsome shared about his personal interactions with some of the rally-goers. “I feel like two sides that never listen to each other actually made progress today,” Newsome said. “Here I went from being their enemy to someone they want to take pictures with their children.”

Many Students Accept Violence Over Civility

That’s the kind of progress philanthropist Foster Friess has been pushing. At the end of August, he encouraged people to have coffee with someone they disagree with. Friess led by example, inviting Missouri state Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal. Earlier this summer the Democrat posted on Facebook that she hopes “Trump is assassinated.” She has since apologized, but remains a controversial figure. 

“While we have differences, we support civility,” Nadal tweeted alongside a photo of herself and the Trump supporter.

Such civility is an increasingly foreign concept, especially as political protests continue to grow violent. 

A series of violent clashes at Berkeley University in California this year have helped bring this problem to light. Some of the riots initially began when right-wing speakers were invited to speak at Berkeley, including Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter.

“Two sides that never listen to each other actually made progress today.”

Most recently, conservative commentator Ben Shapiro was invited to speak. The recent riots prompted the university to shell out $600,000 to prevent violence. The group that invited Shapiro was asked to pay a $15,000 security deposit. Multiple local businesses closed down. Area roads and even some of the seating in the auditorium where Shapiro spoke were sectioned off for fear of violence.

Older generations are justifiably alarmed at the the growing violence at campus protests — and the measures apparently necessary to keep it at bay. But a recent study suggests a growing number of millennials and Gen Zers see no problem. 

An Example to Follow

This week Brookings Institute revealed that nearly 20 percent of college students think it’s okay to silence controversial speech with violence. 

Thankfully not all college students are willing to resort to violence. But many are still unwilling to hear to opposing viewpoints. Fifty-one percent think the increasingly common campus shout-down is acceptable. Students would literally rather yell non-stop than hear any opinion that challenges their own. 

More students should follow the examples of Friess and Nadal, who got to know each other even though they are polar opposites. And in a season where groups frequently exercise their First Amendment right to protest, more people ought to imitate Hodges and Newsome.

Instead of ignoring the Black Lives Matter protesters, Hodges gave them a platform to speak. Instead of resorting to violence or insults, Newsome took advantage of the opportunity to civilly explain and defend his position. 

In his interview with Now This, Newsome noted that neither side yielded any of their own beliefs. Nevertheless, “I think we really made some substantial steps.”

“That’s the power of communication,” he said. 

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