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Cunningham: You can be Nazi or you can be American. You can't be both

You can be Nazi or you can be American. You can't be both. The endorsement of any form or portion of Nazi ideologies is a betrayal of American values. As Americans, we have the responsibility of being aware who we stand shoulder to shoulder with.

By now, we are all aware of the ugly and tragic events that happened in Charlottesville. Torch-bearing neo-Nazis gathered to spew their ignorant hate, culminating with a white supremacist from Ohio driving his car into a crowd of counter-protestors, killing a woman named Heather Heyer.

I've been reading about the driver. It has been reported that his high school history teacher tried to lead him away from him from his pro-Nazi sympathies, but to no avail. It makes me ask, just how many people in his life knew about his hate but did not challenge him on it? Did he see that as acceptance? As permission? How many times do we hear bigotry in our lives but just let it go? "Well, so-and-so is of a different generation," or "well, so and so just says those things."

It's 2017, and it's all unacceptable. It's ignorance. Standing up for the Confederate flag, or the Nazi swastika is ignorance. We can't be afraid to call out the hatred. If we ignore the ignorant, they will stay ignorant.

In times like this, many of us remember the words of Martin Niemöller:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.

I am Jewish. I heard this many times growing up. Rev. Niemöller was a Lutheran preacher who gave a series of talks after World War II where he painfully admitted the complacency of Germans like him who didn't speak out. If my own words seem strident, it's because after this weekend, I don't want to make the same mistake.

Tensions are high right now, but I'm proud that Tucson has been its usual bold and progressive self in promoting and celebrating our diversity. We need to keep calling this sort of thing out. We also need to recognize within our own lives where we've fallen down in not just tolerating others, but accepting them and welcoming them. I'd say to some degree that many of us have our comfort zones. It is no surprise that most people associate with people they have things in common with. Examples of these things include church membership, children the same age, age, religion, neighborhood, values, ethnic background, being fans of the same sports teams, sexual orientation, common hobbies or even political party.

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I'd challenge all of us to make a concerted effort to live out of the bubble once in a while. Engage folks that in all probability you have very little in common with you, and just get to know them. If all of us did a little more of that, we'd probably have a lot more collective knowledge to temper ignorance.

There are moments in history where we are asked to make choices as a country, and most of the big ones have been about whether or not we accept our neighbors as fully American. The choice should be easy. If you have any trouble, I'll say it again: take a good look at who is on the other side.


I’d like to give a shout out to Rev. Owen Chandler of Ward 2’s own Saguaro Christian Church who was one of the first to speak out and rally the community after the horrible events of Saturday. You’ve done the East Side proud, reverend.

Paul Cunningham represents Ward 2 on the Tucson City Council.

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2 comments on this story

Aug 21, 2017, 5:20 pm
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Thank you for writing this article. It is important to put the clowns and their supporters (like Trump) in historical perspective to stress how dangerous they are

Aug 19, 2017, 11:21 am
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I would like to give a shout out to Lynn Hourani, Najima Rainey, and Zaira Livier - three women of color who stood with Rev. Owen and also denounced hate and white supremacy at Sunday’s rally.

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Click image to enlarge

Bob Michal/Flickr

A makeshift memorial on the Charlottesville street where Heather Heyer was killed last weekend.