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Yes, Bigotry Matters. What Will We Do About It?

On Saturday, the congregants of Chabad of Poway were celebrating the final day of Passover when a gunman intruded on their celebration and turned it into another national day of mourning. While Southern California was suffering at the intersection of bigotry and gun violence, six of the Democratic presidential candidates were addressing our intersectional inequality crisis here in Nevada, the current President was busy rewriting history on his relationship with white supremacists, and national media pundits were (once again) obsessing over which Democrat(s) might make the largely white and mostly male “establishment leaders” feel more comfortable.

Does anyone else see a problem here?

“I want to make clear [that] we have to face the legacy of segregation, Jim Crow, and the continuing [racial] inequality in this country today.”
– Beto O’Rourke
Photo by Andrew Davey

I started the day very early, much earlier than I usually do on a Saturday. Six candidates came to Las Vegas to participate in SEIU’s and CAP’s National Forum on Wages and Working People. During the forum, all six aimed to connect with the kinds of working-class voters you don’t always hear about on the cable news channels, the working-class voters who are mostly from communities of color and largely women. These voters not only struggle with income inequality, but also institutionalized racism, misogyny, homophobia and transphobia, and other forms of bigotry.

While former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) was on the stage, Kansas City McDonald’s worker and Fight for 15 activist Terrence Wise asked him how he’ll specifically bring about justice for all the workers in the audience. In what was O’Rourke’s better moment that day, he responded, “I want to make clear, as important as $15 is the [wage] floor, we have to face the legacy of segregation, Jim Crow, and the continuing [racial] inequality in this country today.”

Later in the day, Los Angeles janitor and SEIU member Anabella Iguirre Alarcon shared her heart-wrenching story of surviving sexual assault while former HUD Secretary Julián Castro was on the stage. Castro responded by promising action to protect all workers from abuse of power, including immigrant workers like Alarcon.

“The asylum program is a scam! Some of the roughest people we have ever seen. They look like they can be fighters for the UFC!”
– President Donald Trump (in Las Vegas on April 6)

While Castro was on the stage, I began seeing the news alerts about the shooting at Chabad of Poway, just north of San Diego. Lori Kaye was killed after she stepped in front of the shooter to save the life of Rabbi Mendel Goldstein. No one else was killed that day, though three others were injured in the shooting attack. The shooter used an AR-15 style assault weapon to commit this attack, and he was likely motivated by his white supremacist ideology and the desire to replicate the recent white supremacist attacks on Pittsburgh and Christchurch (New Zealand) in San Diego.

Speaking of Pittsburgh, the Poway attack appears to be the latest in a series of white supremacist terrorist attacks across the nation. And yet, once again, President Donald Trump responded with brief words of encouragement to victims and survivors before pivoting back to the very same discriminatory attacks on immigrants and other historically marginalized communities that these white supremacists interpret as words of encouragement for them.

Photo by Andrew Davey

Here in Las Vegas earlier this month Trump asserted, “The asylum program is a scam!”, then proceeded to compare refugees to UFC fighters, even as he and the Republican Jewish Coalition would later honor one of the Pittsburgh Tree of Life survivors. Right before the Poway attack, Trump (again) defended his “very fine people on both sides” immediately after the August 2017 Charlottesville white supremacist attack. And in the wake of Poway, Trump and his Republican Party are continuing this pattern of divorcing this viral strain of anti-Semitism from its larger white supremacist ideology, despite growing evidence to the contrary.

“No one should be in fear in a house of worship. […] This is so fundamentally wrong in our country.”
– Elizabeth Warren
Photo by Andrew Davey

While speaking with reporters at Bonanza High School last Saturday, U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) declared, “No one should be in fear in a house of worship. […] This is so fundamentally wrong in our country.” This came on the heels of Warren offering her plan to take on intersectional inequality at Bonanza, and at the SEIU/CAP Forum earlier that day.

Once upon a time, we expected political leaders to at least pay more lip service to denounce bigotry and violent extremism. Yet now, Trump has successfully been radicalizing the Republican Party in “going soft” on white supremacist terrorism while some in the “Democratic Party establishment” engage in seemingly endless navel-gazing over whether an older white man holds the keys to winning over more “working-class white voters”. Meanwhile diverse communities remain under attack, whether it’s a violent shooting attack or it’s historically-rooted economic inequality, and far too many political and media insiders ignore this crisis far too often as they rush to crack more jokes about the White House’s seemingly never-ending “infrastructure week”.

As we’ve been saying here for some time, Trump’s xenophobic rhetoric and the growing list of white supremacist terrorist attacks point to the larger crisis facing our democracy. It’s far more than a mere “political issue”, and it’s long past time for the nation to respond with more than just canned lines and prepackaged YouTube videos. Really, it’s long past time for us to actually do more to erase the hate in all these United States.

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