Living in Society Social Commentary

Connections to Virginia

Statue of Robert E. Lee, Charlottesville, Virginia. Photo Credit – Leo Lentill, Wikimedia Commons

I was stationed at Robert E. Lee Barracks in Mainz-Gonsenheim, Germany during my military service as an infantry officer.

It seemed odd at first — that the American kaserne would be named for the commanding general of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia — but it became background for what could be described as a politicized military presence in which drugs, domestic violence, alcoholism and prostitution — regardless of race or ethnicity — eclipsed such concerns. The post-Vietnam military was a pisser.

A descendant of Virginians, with family roots 100 years before the American Revolution, I came up learning a tolerance for the Confederacy as a way of seeking my own ethnicity. Over time I followed the advice of 1 Corinthians 13:11, King James version, “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” I now have no patience for those who would whitewash the peculiar institution that was part of antebellum Virginia.

My connections to the Old Dominion, now  Commonwealth, have been numerous. In light of this weekend’s violent confrontation in Charlottesville, one comes to mind.

I met and worked with Virginian Mike Signer who came to Iowa to work on the John Edwards presidential campaign before the 2008 Iowa caucus. Later I worked on his campaign for lieutenant governor, canvassing a Virginia call list from a restaurant on the Iowa City pedmall. He lost that election but went on to become mayor of Charlottesville, Virginia where a statue of Robert E. Lee is the center of controversy that precipitated violence and at least three deaths over the weekend. Here’s his statement on Friday’s events:

I have seen tonight the images of torches on the Grounds of the University of Virginia. When I think of torches, I want to think of the Statue of Liberty. When I think of candelight, I want to think of prayer vigils. Today, in 2017, we are instead seeing a cowardly parade of hatred, bigotry, racism, and intolerance march down the lawns of the architect of our Bill of Rights. Everyone has a right under the First Amendment to express their opinion peaceably, so here’s mine: not only as the Mayor of Charlottesville, but as a UVA faculty member and alumnus, I am beyond disgusted by this unsanctioned and despicable display of visual intimidation on a college campus.

Racism stained our country indelibly. It continues to define us, as evidenced in Charlottesville. There are no “sides” to this conflict just an emerging realization this is not about remembrances of who led the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia during the Civil War. It’s about paying attention to racism in society and taking steps to confront it in our daily lives. That is easier said than done. In Iowa there is plenty of this work to be done.