In the morning last Saturday, I witnessed scores of volunteers of all races come together in a huge event to help the less fortunate — also of all races.
In the afternoon, I stood on Market Square and watched hate mongers shout “White Power!” while surrounded by police and counter-protesters.
The contrast could not have been more stark. I’m grateful I had the morning experience to help me keep the afternoon one in perspective.
The morning event was “Shoes for School,” an annual activity sponsored by the Knoxville Area Urban League and Enterprise Rent-A-Car to provide new athletic shoes to underprivileged children in time for the start of school. It involved 38 companies and organizations, 28 community service groups and 240 volunteers. More than 1,100 children got shoes and school supplies.
The afternoon event was, of course, the march of a hate group, the National Socialist Movement, from Market Square to the courthouse. The organizers of that event were not from Knoxville. But the counter-protesters were. (I was on Market Square because I had unwittingly scheduled a nail appointment at Salon Visage at the same time as the march.)
The morning event was bright and cheerful with music and ice cream and huge inflatables. The afternoon event was creepy with a noisy police helicopter circling overhead and police SWAT team members hanging onto an armored vehicle in the center of the square. Appropriately, the sky darkened as a storm gathered to the west.
While some on Facebook and Twitter suggested that Knoxville should be embarrassed by the hate march, I was actually proud of Knoxville on Saturday. We provided the resources to do some good for people who needed it. And we met the modern-day Nazis with an even larger demonstration than they had brought showing our disagreement with their position. Our law enforcement officials made it abundantly clear that law-breakers would not be tolerated — and they weren’t.
A normal Saturday turned into a very thought-provoking day. Here are photos from both events. I think they pretty much tell the story.
A little later, in the heart of downtown Knoxville, another group was getting organized. The mood wasn’t quite so cheerful.
Photo credit: My friend Andie Ray took five of these photos: the police show of force, the bike cops, the chopper, the handcuffs and the counter-protest. Thanks, Andie, for letting me use them.