Thursday, July 28, 2005

Chewie's Reflection on the GTRC

Patrick Eakes and I both thought the following comment from Chewie at Ed Cone's blog was one of the best explanations we'd heard for the importance of the truth and reconciliation commission. In it, she is responding to Chip Atkinson's thoughtful reflections/concerns with the Commission (you can read his thoughts both in a comment section below and at Ed's site). I am not sure about the ethics or etiquette of reposting someone's comments (and I couldn't find any guidance in John Robinson's otherwise very helpful standards!), so I apologize if this is poor form. I just didn't want this reflection to get buried.

Chewie's thoughts:

I don't consider the notion of reconciliation to be meaningless rhetoric. Everyone has a different definition and understanding, but to me, it means doing the hard work of really listening to my neighbors - their hurts, fears, prejudices, anger, and experiences - and attempting to understand where they're coming from and why they might act or feel a certain way. To me that's an important - no, mandatory - component of living with a diverse group of people in what we'd all like to be a peaceful, thriving community. It's simply not productive for us to remain divided and distrustful, shouting at each other - or worse, not talking at all - from our respective positions, with a chasm between us that we never attempt to bridge.

I think that this event, though it happened 26 years ago, still has a lot of bearing on how people, groups, and power structures in Greensboro relate to and work with each other. Some of the people involved are still around, and very much a part of the fabric of our community. Many others not directly involved still feel the impact of that event, and would like to talk about and explore that in a fair, open, public forum.

You said that you were devastated by the event at the time, and remembering it still provokes anger for you. That is true for so many people in this city. If we simply leave it alone and let it fester, for fear of what talking honestly about it might uncover, then we will remain divided about it. Those divisions bleed over into all of our other issues: education, neighborhoods, jobs, local government, race relations, business and land development. If you don't trust me, and that mistrust is based on my views on Nov. 3, 1979, is that something we should just accept, and try to avoid each other for the rest of our lives? Or can we talk about it, try to come to some common ground, so that we can live and work together in peace, bonded as we are by our common residency in Greensboro?

The stated purpose of this Commission is not to find who is at fault, or who we can blame for what happened. It's a way to get to the truth of what happened, why it happened, and what it has meant in the life of our community. The means to do that is to hear from a diversity of perspectives, examine documents, and generate a report that contains those findings, along with recommendations for the City. This is in the interest of enabling some peace for people whose lives were affected, some closure to the hurt, fear, and anger it caused, and some healing for a city that was wounded - and still suffers the effects - by a tragedy that occured on its soil.

I've seen ample evidence that this Commission takes very seriously its mandate to be fair and open for public scrutiny. They welcome all who would like to make a statement to them regarding the event or its aftermath, including those who have doubts about the need or legitimacy in such an inquiry, such as yourself. The accusations of bias I've seen have put forth no evidence, and frequently include misstatements of fact or misrepresentations of who's on the Commission, the mandate it's working under, and conspiracy theories about money and new trials - none of which are accurate or based on fact. More often, they seem to be based on fear of what might happen if we look too closely at something that scared the life out of us.

I would simply like to see those who have doubts examine it more closely, and examine their own knee-jerk reactions to mentions of this event that have grown up in the intervening 26 years. Consider the role that media coverage, both current and of that time, has played in shaping your beliefs. Consider the role that race, economics, and your own personal experience of it have shaped your views on it. And consider that someone else in your community - perhaps across town, perhaps right next door to you - views what happened and why in a totally different way.
If you wonder why that is, even for a second, then you're like me and many others who would like to get as close to the truth as we can, and then agree that we can no longer afford to let old anger and fear rule our lives, individually and collectively.

That's one of the reasons I support the work of what I feel is a very fine group of people who are dedicating a year of their lives to help guide us through a challenging process. When it's done, hopefully we'll have a new people's history around Nov. 3, 1979, and a new appreciation for each other, our points of view, and the things that tend to unite or divide us.

And Greensboro can redouble its claim to being a progressive, innovative City of Peace, where people aren't afraid to confront their differences and work together to understand and resolve them.
Difficult? Yes. Scary? A little.
Needed? Definitely.

posted by Jill Williams, exec. dir.


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