by Brandon Ferdig
On March 19 in a stadium in Arizona, a pair of protesters disrupted a political rally. One was wearing a KKK hood. A black attendee became so upset with these protesters, that as they walked by him, he attacked the other of the pair with vicious punches and kicks.
This, of course, has been just the latest in series of clashes at such rallies.
And this political season, of course, is just the latest in a series of popular movements transforming its members into violent actors.
Following the recession of 2008, US big banks got their bailout. America wasn't happy about that. The Right reacted first: The Tea Party. They protested with Gadsden flags and guns on their hips. In 2014, Tea-Party-types would use those firearms in a standoff in Nevada with federal officials, and two members of this standoff would later murder two Las Vegas police officers.
The Left's response followed closely behind with the Occupy Movement, shutting down buildings, blocks, and streets and physical clashes with law enforcement.
Black Lives Matter was the next powder keg to explode, inspiring riots in Ferguson and Baltimore and motivating the murders of police officers as well.
Lately, we're seeing and hearing the dramatic reactions on college campuses and a new era of those sensitive to non-political correctness.
And then, we have this activity surrounding the presidential race.
Trump's inciting words and his supporters' violent words—and actions—have been the fodder for many stories on national media. But Bernie Sanders followers, as well, have sometimes acted egregiously, including the KKK hood-wearer described and pictured to the left.
I'm not sure if it's the times we're living in or simply a product of the Internet. Perhaps both. While the country's finances are transforming by way of the recession and a slow gutting of the middle class, the Internet can take a spark of frustration toward a local issue and turn it into an inferno engulfing the nation by way of easy, swift, and organized reactions.
Regardless the cause, we're seeing transformations in people as a result.
The question is: How are we going to face adversity? What will it encourage us to do? Or, more aptly put for this website: How will we transform?
I understand the temptation to assume an ever-narrowing view through which one can obsess on the problems out there—problems of a certain type dependent on our particular ideological frame of reference. We can become enveloped in the drama of politics, crime, and the other hair-triggered reactors out there waiting with baited breath for the first sign of something to pounce on. (And which the media is all too happy to provide for us.) With an ever-more-frequent, ever-heightening pattern of extreme action taken by one party leading to a reaction from another, leading to reactions from the other, leading to... It has perpetuated to the point of having, presumably, anti-racists donning KKK hoods.
Consumed by drama, we focus on our ideological enemy rather than on solving the pressing issues over which we disagree.
The same day I was saddened to read about that rally in Arizona, I later watched a segment of 60 Minutes featuring a boys' high school in Newark, New Jersey. Located in a troubled part of the city, St. Benedict's Preparatory School seems to have used the momentum of its challenge to educate hundreds of teens by putting them in charge.
"It's a population that never gets to have control," said schoolmaster Reverend Edwin Leahy.
With that control comes the responsibility to account for their peers.
"If the parents don't know where he is, we have to find him," said a senior leader from the school. "The guys around him are there for him."
At this school, 98% of the boys graduate. For the rest of Newark, it's 68%. (In my city of Minneapolis, the rate is less than 60% for African American students.)
How ugly and how beautiful we humans can act when addressing the problems of the world! The two aren't so far apart. It comes down to how we initially respond to a problem. We have a choice in our transformation.
Last summer I met a Ghanaian named Bright Dey. He was visiting the US for a leadership seminar. Bright is an education administrator for his developing nation's government. Tough job. Yet he said to me that he doesn't see problems and challenges as troubles and frustrations—but as opportunities to succeed and improve.
In this way, we see that adversity isn't good or bad. It's simply a test of character, an opportunity to exercise either fear or love.
This election is a perfect—albeit unnerving—example at what people transform into when choosing fear and anger.
On the other hand, we have Bright, we have St. Benedict's, and we have all the ways in which the movements mentioned above have also inspired heroism, courage, and change for the better.
Indeed, I'd be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the numerous, positive transformations they've ushered in: winning elections, empowering communities, improving policy.
My challenge to myself (and readers here) is: as we encounter the forks in the road that are the challenges in life, take the path of love.