By Cillea Houghton
NASHVILLE, TN — Political commentator and former special advisor in the Obama administration Van Jones brought his We Rise Tour to Vanderbilt’s Langford Auditorium, along with guests Demi Lovato and activist Connie, to discuss the recent attacks in Charlottesville, Va. and other current issues.
“When they’re marching and when they have their torches and the President of the United States can’t distinguish between people who are using violence to oppress people and people who are basically trying to defend themselves, there’s something wrong,” Jones said about the Charlottesville attacks.
Connie, a young woman who was at the frontlines in Charlottesville working against the white supremacists and neo-Nazis who marched into the city on Aug. 11, gave her account. “I couldn’t not to go to Charlottesville,” she said. “There’s something about sitting with fear when you know you’re doing the right thing.” She described the scene as “very scary,” saying the group she went with were unarmed and committed to non-violence, but were met with racist insults, crude gestures and violence from the other side. Connie was one of the people injured when a car plowed into a crowd of people, resulting in a serious knee injury. “It’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen,” she said. “I’ve never known this sort of hatred.”
She also offered words of wisdom for President Trump, who condemned the neo-Nazis in a statement on Aug. 14, but went on to say “there is blame on both sides” during an Aug. 15 press conference. “Sitting here as a victim of a terrorist attack in this country, I am frightened and I am scared about the direction that we’re going and if we don’t stop with the hate and the bigotry that’s what going to sink this ship and I don’t want that to happen,” Connie said.
Jones, a native of Jackson, Tenn., spent a lot of time as a student activist in Nashville, and called on the south to continue to show “dignity” and “common sense” in the midst of the country’s turmoil. “We need to start to rise up right now to show the country our true character. Right is right, wrong is wrong, and what you’re seeing right now is not left versus right, it’s right versus wrong,” Jones said.
In his keynote address, Jones described the evolution of America as a democratic republic as a “process,” calling Frederick Douglas, Harriet Tubman, Susan B. Anthony, Martin Luther King Jr. and more as “founders in the process.” “You’re founders too,” he said to the audience. “We’re the founders of the America our children and grandchildren will live in.”
Jones has traveled the country with the We Rise Tour in support of his Love Army campaign, a “values-based movement” that aims to create an inclusive country. “We’re going to put our love against these other’s people’s hate. We’re going to put our hope against their fear. We’re going to put our compassion against their cold hearts. Our love symbols against their swastikas,” Jones said about the movement. “And we are going to win.”