BY RACHAEL BLISS
War-ravaged countries around the globe aren’t the only places where citizens long for peace. In Asheville, our peace is disturbed by the institution of racism, which is woven into the fabric of our society in ways many of us never see.
This summer, someone spray-painted “Black Lives Matter” near the foot of the Vance Monument, according to a WLOS-TV report. By sunrise, city workers had already removed the paint, and the news was quickly buried as other stories took precedence.
Some who saw this short report considered it just another act of vandalism by young people who should have been home in bed. But there was much more to this story than an act of vandalism: In it, I saw pain — a pain that most of us in Asheville don’t validate. When we look at this stark stone obelisk, we don’t think of it as a monument to a man who, as a colonel in the Confederate army and then North Carolina’s wartime governor, collaborated in keeping black people enslaved.
This isn’t the only local tribute to Civil War “heroes” either: There are at least a half-dozen others in Asheville and Buncombe County. But how many memorials do we have to mark the day enslaved African-Americans gained their freedom here in Asheville in April of 1865?
We’ll begin bringing peace home to Asheville when our leaders commit to honoring those African-American heroes who, together with their allies, helped make our city the popular place it is today. These diverse social activists, architects, teachers and artists, who happened to be black, are practically ignored in our city.
And while we’re at it, what more can we do to balance the messages found on our current monuments that glorify slave owners and those who fought to maintain slavery here?
Many of us celebrate Asheville as Beer City, Bee City or Tree City, but what do we do to nurture peace among the people of all races and backgrounds, whose lives play out in local homes, attending our schools and walking our streets?
Do we work with the Black Lives Matter movement to heal the rift between police and young adults of color? Do we honor local peacemakers, who may live right next door or elsewhere in the state?
Some of us here in Western North Carolina have drawn on our shared passion for peace to form a new group called WNC 4 Peace. And on Sunday, Sept. 20, we plan to present our first Peacemaker of the Year Award to the Rev. William Barber of Moral Monday fame as part of our People’s Peace Festival, to be held next door to the French Broad Food Co-op.
Our overall goal is to collaborate with all WNC peace and justice groups — economic, racial, social and environmental — to develop a plan for making this beautiful part of the world a place of peace, particularly for our children and grandkids. This year, 50 groups are either sponsoring or endorsing our International Day of Peace proclamations, which have been recognized by the Buncombe County commissioners, the city of Asheville and four members of our local legislative delegation (state Sen. Terry Van Duyn and Reps. Susan Fisher, Brian Turner and John Ager).
After this year’s International Day of Peace (Monday, Sept. 21), we’ll continue to work on behalf of the many local folks who feel that our peacemakers have left them out of the equation. Beginning here in Asheville, we intend to encourage WNC communities to become Cities of Peace (or even Cities of Compassion) that unite all segments of their population, including people of color, whites, the homeless, the disempowered, the left out and the unwanted.
While I was still in my mother’s womb, our country dropped the world’s first atom bomb on Hiroshima. I grew up in Omaha, frightened by the sound of B-52s from Offutt Air Force Base flying over our house. In school, I hid under my desk during war drills; at home, I ducked when my dad threw glasses at my mom. As an adult, I saw my husband leave his family to fight in Vietnam; we later sponsored victims of that war in our home.
Today, I join other peace activists in advocating an end to the wars and violence that devastate communities all over the world, including Asheville. Together, we remind our elected leaders of the billions of dollars earned here in WNC that have been spent on war since 2001. I will never stop working for a real world peace that will bring our war dollars back home, where they can be spent in better ways, such as:
- Establishing a peace park in Asheville to honor the people of all races who’ve worked for peace.
- Hiring the best police, teachers and firefighters, and ensuring that they’re paid enough to be able to care for their families adequately.
- Providing a home for every person in our region who needs one.
- Making our streets and sidewalks safe for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians alike.
- Offering tax incentives for clean, alternative energy to improve our environment.
We invite folks of all races to join us in promoting peace, both locally and globally. Our kids shouldn’t have to grow up economically deprived and living in fear of violence at home, on the streets or in their community. Like other children and adults around the world, we all long for peace and harmony in our diverse neighborhoods.
In Asheville, that means we’ll need to cross racial and social boundaries, recognize our past mistakes — and embrace our common hopes for the future.
Rachael Bliss, a founding member of WNC 4 Peace, has thrived in Asheville since 2008. The mother of five children and grandmother of six, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.