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Today (July 20), near the small community of Zinc, Arkansas, the Ku Klux Klan begins a training camp for participants ages 16 and up with the goal of creating “a mighty army” to achieve what it calls “racial redemption” and protect whites from what they claim is “racial genocide.”
The camp, located outside Harrison, Arkansas, is in the heart of the Ozarks, near where I grew up. And it’s far too close to where I live now in Missouri.
The Klan will claim their message of racial hatred represents white America, white Christian families in particular, and that their actions are for our protection.
We all know these claims are lies and delusions. Today, we’re launching a campaign to say so. Because recent events remind us that it is not acceptable to remain silent in the presence of hate.
There is a long cultural history of silence in the face of prejudice in rural places. While there are people who have made the stand against hate, far too often people find it easier to refrain from public conversations about race and other matters of social justice. Some rural communities have fewer numbers of people of color. While the individuals who reside in these communities find racism and white supremacy immoral, they will not speak out. It becomes easy to believe that it is not our problem. I am here to tell you that it is. It is all of our problem. It’s a northern, southern, western and eastern problem. It’s a rural and it’s an urban problem. It is a white, black, and everything in between and beyond problem. It is an American problem. We can no longer be complicit in silence. We must speak out, because it is right and necessary.
In rural places we have real struggles and real assets. Those assets are often folded into the stereotypes that tell our story. Outsiders characterize us as backward, ignorant, or bigoted. We should acknowledge that this, in part, is due to the KKK and other supremacist groups like them. We should acknowledge that we have allowed their tactics of fear, intimidation, hate, and violence to, in part, define how others view us and, more importantly, how we view ourselves and our communities. It’s time to reclaim our own stories and let the haters know that they will not define us and the places we love.
People around the South are coming together in response to the Klan’s “training camp” by building a regional coalition to stand against hate and silence and to reclaim our identity. Today we are launching the #NotmyOzarks campaign. #NotmyOzarks will offer people the chance to define their community or region for themselves, pairing positive imagery and messages that offer a counter-narrative to the Klan’s message of hate and violence. We’re asking people to photograph themselves with a message that incorporates the hashtag #NotmyOzarks or a localized version and share them via our Twitter , Instagram and Facebook accounts.
We invite you to join us in spreading a core message: It is up to each of us to break through the silence, join with others bravely speaking out in their local communities, and build long-term campaigns for change.
You can create hashtags, conversations, and events that represent your communities. For instance, in southern Missouri, we will launch an interfaith poverty and social justice Bible study and reading group. Activists in central Arkansas are launching a series of living room-conversations to uncover hidden history, name injustice, find commonalities, envision the future we want to see and create strategies to make it a reality. Others are putting their bodies in action across the region in other ways.
Change begins at home, wherever that might be.
The people of rural America have different traditions of faith and often different viewpoints, but we turn to one another when we are in need of support. This is no different. We must pull together to fight for our future.
We stand up as grandmothers, parents, youth, teachers, gas station workers, church members, farmers, writers, and organizers and say that we will not accept the KKK’s divisive tactics. We stand in solidarity with all who are oppressed. We come together to support communities where racial hatred finds no protection. The time has come for each of us to stand up in our home communities and ask, “What will the coming generations expect of us?” And then we need to act accordingly. Won’t you join us?
Rachel Reynolds Luster is a folklorist, fiddler and community organizer.
You may follow the campaign at #NotmyOzarks or join the Facebook event page. The coalition launching the campaign includes the following organizations: SURJ: Showing Up for Racial Justice (Nashville), SONG: Southerners on New Ground, McElroy House: Organization for Cultural Resources, Little Rock Collective Liberation, Fayetteville Free Zone, Russellville for Justice, Omni Center for Peace, Justice, and Ecology, and Occupy the Ozarks along with individuals representing their families and communities.