Open Carry Love

On Saturday at the Four Freedoms rally in Pittsfield, MA, I saw a poster that said:

“Open Carry LOVE

between my BROTHERS and my SISTERS


Wish I had a pic of that one to share with you! In the meantime, here’s another favorite:


As for myself, I did not make a sign for the rally. Instead, I went around and let people know, how much I appreciated their signs…  I was particularly encouraged by ones that were funny, or loving, or both. Those are the stories I’ve been collecting for a while now, since if we’re going to be strategic about healing racism, we need to be asking ourselves some serious questions about what strategies can be most effective.


You may have seen this video already, of former KKK leader Johnny Lee Clary recounting his encounters with Reverend Wade Watts. If not, here is the link: four precious minutes on YouTube that made me laugh and cry and tremble at the power of the human spirit. Open Carry Love, indeed… and here is a link to a Wikipedia article, if you want to learn more about Rev. Watts after watching the video.

There are many more examples of the power of love to transform hate. Back in October, a month before the election, the Washington Post published an in-depth article called “The White Flight of Derek Black“, on a young man who had been an up-and-coming white nationalist leader, and underwent a significant change of heart. While a bit long, this detailed account is well-worth reading.

Another very short, powerful video is Channel 4 News’ Confessions of A Reformed Nazi, an interview with Arno Michaelis: “To really defy the violent extremist narrative, we have to admit, difficult as it is sometimes, that they are human beings.” Along these lines, a few nights ago I had the opportunity to see Michael Moore’s “Where To Invade Next” again. The contrast between the punitive focus of American prisons and the rehabilitation focus of Scandinavian prisons could not be more stark…

Of course, Love does not preclude setting strong limits. I was as relieved as anyone to hear the ACLU changing their policy in response to Charlottesville events; they will now refuse to defend armed groups who are claiming “free speech”. And I totally get that there are many different kinds and degrees of violence: of course violence in self-defence is significantly different, both in degree and in kind, than the ideological violence of racism and fascism. No argument there…

Yet my concern is about effectiveness. We are quite aware of how violent responses only breed more terrorism abroad; why would we not be concerned about the same dynamics here at home? In his article on Huffpost, Marc Erlbaum quotes the Michaelis’ concern about how extreme responses can serve to escalate extremism:

“Be mindful that people with nothing to lose are the most dangerous. Someone getting fired and publicly humiliated can easily become the next Dylann Roof or Wade Page. I’d be all for this if it led people to dialogue, learning, growth, and ultimately, love. If this just leads to punishment it will only make things worse. You can’t punish the suffering out of people.”

Hate is contagious. We all tend toward reactivity when we feel threatened. Yet Love is contagious also… and much more effective than we tend to realize.

More on healing hate: “Life After White Supremacy profiles four former members of right-wing extremist groups, while a related article from Positive.News describes the Exit movement that helps people leave hate groups. Here is an NPR interview with Christian Picciolini, former neo-Nazi and now co-founder of Life After Hate, the U.S. branch of Exit.

Scientific research on healing prejudice and bias: This Vox article is a good place to start…

Creative responses to hate: Check out my friend and colleague Tom Atlee’s recent blog post, for many more resources along these lines…

Practical applications: White Ally Toolkit is an organization that helps white people apply empathic listening skills in conversations with family members and friends on the pervasive nature of white supremacy, and our shared responsibility for transforming it.

Dr. David Campt sees it as white people’s responsibility to both initiate these conversations, and also to offer skillful empathy to their white family members, friends, and neighbors; he sees this as a powerful way to support learning, grow consciousness and inspire action. No need to start right away at the deep end of the pool with neo-Nazis; we can practice and hone our skills with well-intentioned people who can still benefit from honest and loving explorations of systemic and institutional racism.

I’m looking forward to bringing Dr. Campt to our area, and learning more about his work first-hand. It feels very aligned to me with the work of the National Coalition Building Institute, another organization that does great work training people in skills for transforming ignorance and hate.

May we all learn and grow in our ability to Open Carry Love!






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