Last night, I returned from a walk around the neighborhood to find red spray paint on the Black Lives Matter sign in my family's yard. I wasn't so much disturbed as surprised. Militant racism in our friendly little college town?
Earlier that day, I'd tuned into The Neo-Political Cowgirls Advocacy night: a series of conversations with social justice change makers. As part of the event, Integrity First For America Executive Director Amy Spitalnick and attorney Roberta Kaplan discussed bringing a lawsuit against the Charlottesville rioters. Before, I thought the riot was just a misguided protest against the removal of a Civil War statue. But as Spitalnick and Kaplan explained, it was nothing of the kind.
The rioters, most of whom were not Charlottesville natives, planned the event for months—and planned to get violent. They discussed running into people with their cars and pretending it was self-defense. They targeted Blacks and Jews.
When Kaplan approached those injured by the rioters, their courage impressed her. She told them the process would be long and drawn out, that they wouldn't get much money from it, and that they might receive personal threats if they were involved. Nevertheless, they agreed to act as plaintiffs. Three years later, despite reluctance to comply and threats from the defendants, Kaplan is still fighting.
In her own words: “It’s still going to be a struggle, but we will take back our streets, our democracy, and our constitution, and that’s what gives me hope every morning when I wake up.”
For Amy Spitalnick, the granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor, this is about sending a powerful message that we will not tolerate racial violence in America. Her ancestors, she explained, didn't have this system, but we do, and we'll use it for as long as we can.
That tied into the work of Kerry Kennedy, another social justice activist, who spoke next. President of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, Kennedy takes on international lawsuits she hopes will make change for a country.
Kennedy also amplifies the voices of other social change leaders: she recorded the words of several change makers and published them, and that became a series of monologues, which the Neo-Political Cowgirls performed at the end of the night. In the monologues, we heard from a mother whose daughters were kidnapped and murdered while the police refused to help, an LGBTQ student who faced bullying while the principal turned a blind eye, a woman questioning the death penalty, and finally, Nobel laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel. In his words:
“What I want, what I’ve hoped for all my life, is that my past should not become your children’s future.”
A theatre dance company working to amplify women's voices, the Neo-Political Cowgirls, along with their guests and partners, are working to make his hope a reality. Their Advocacy night sent a clear message about the kind of work they do and why it needs doing.