No nation filled with hate can be great

DRAKETOWN, GA Members of the National Socialist Movement, one of the largest neo-Nazi groups in the US, hold a swastika burning. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Hate is not only devastatingly traumatic to those on the receiving end, it’s destructive to those doing the hating. It’s like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die. Still, hate is an undeniably powerful and seductive emotion. It incites people to action, even to violence. It is regularly put to use for political gain. America is getting toxic daily doses.

Given the disturbing conditions in our society and the vacuum of moral leadership at the highest levels of our government, I feel an obligation to come to my country’s aid and do everything I can to counter the forces of division, bigotry and hate that threaten to rip the fabric of our society to shreds. After decades working as a government watchdog and democracy reform advocate, it’s quite a shift of focus for me professionally to take on the challenge of becoming We Are Many-United Against Hate’s executive director. The group was started in late 2016 by Masood Akhtar, a Muslim American from India who was alarmed by proposals to establish a Muslim registry in the U.S. as well as a Muslim travel ban.

What We Are Many-United Against Hate already has achieved as an all-volunteer operation is being recognized nationally. The FBI director recently gave Akhtar the agency’s Community Leadership Award. Akhtar’s efforts also were saluted by the Southern Poverty Law Center with a Certificate of Appreciation for his contributions to the ongoing fight against hatred and intolerance in America. His name was added to the Wall of Tolerance in Montgomery, Alabama to provide inspiration to all those who choose to take a stand against hatred.

What makes We Are Many-United Against Hate unique and special is that it doesn’t just express righteous indignation after each new eruption of hate-fueled violence and condemn the perpetrators from afar. It works to overpower hate one act of common decency at a time. When Baraboo high school students were photographed making a Nazi salute, We Are Many-United Against Hate went to Baraboo to help organize a community-wide response. Akhtar repeatedly traveled to Baraboo to plan actions with the superintendent, high school principal, mayor and other community leaders.

Two other leaders of We Are Many-United Against Hate — one a former white supremacist organizer and the other an ex-police officer whose father was killed in the mass shooting at the Sikh temple in Oak Creek in 2012 — made powerful joint presentations as part of a series of events aimed at promoting understanding, healing, reconciliation and redemption.

This is a shining example of We Are Many-United Against Hate’s approach. But it is just one example. In repeated instances in communities far from Baraboo, the same kinds of interventions are made. Sometimes it’s done in the schools. Other times in community forums. Even one-on-one counseling and mentoring.

That same spirit is reflected in the public policies We Are Many-United Against Hate is promoting. The group’s recommended policies don’t concentrate on punishing acts of hate. Instead of dwelling on symptoms, they address the root causes of hate. For example, large segments of our nation’s population are feeling left behind, watching their employment automated out of existence, struggling to make ends meet as their standard of living erodes. When jobs paying a living wage are hard to come by, immigrants and racial minorities get scapegoated even when the primary culprits are automation and globalization. Robots don’t become the targets of hate, people do.

The grotesque economic inequality in America today is a breeding ground for hate and a recruiting tool for hate groups. That’s why We Are Many-United Against Hate calls for policies offering protection to vulnerable workers, such as living wage guarantees and a pilot program testing the effectiveness of a Universal Basic Income program.

We need a new social contract, a covenant between us describing what we all are called to do for our country and each other. We need to celebrate differences, honor America’s heritage of openness to foreigners and promote religious tolerance. We need to figure out how to have civil conversations and build solid relationships with those we currently count as enemies. We need to face down our greatest national demon—race. We need to overpower hate. One act of common decency at a time.

Mike McCabe is the executive director of We Are Many-United Against Hate, a nonpartisan organization of common people who are urban and rural, spiritual and secular, seeking equal protection for all, united against hate, bigotry and racism. The group’s website is united-against-hate.org.

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