An event organizer holds the megaphone while I speak at a vigil for Charlottesville in Traverse City, Michigan, August 13, 2017
In 1975, when I was ten years old, my family came home from a vacation to find our house in Augusta, Georgia, vandalized with swastikas and anti-Jewish epithets on the walls.
We were not robbed. Nothing was stolen. Instead, the only purpose was to threaten us with hateful words and symbols. We moved to Michigan shortly afterward and the memory of the horrible incident faded. My life since 1975 has been pretty much swastika-free, I’m happy to say.
But, like many American Jews during the 2016 campaign, anti-Jewish epithets suddenly appeared in my Twitter timeline, scrawled there by Trump supporters or Russian bots. It's why I launched my IndieVoices podcast, where I talked to publishers and authors representing people marginalized by the 2016 campaign. I'm normally a writer. Not a speaker. But these times called for more. So, I attempted to lose my stage fright and natural shyness and just talk to people. It worked. The podcast was so successful that my local public radio station asked me to file reports for them, too.
Then Charlottesville happened, and for the first time in my life, I grabbed a megaphone and spoke at a rally. I am one of only a handful of Jews in my small Northern Michigan city, so I felt it was my job to speak up against actual Nazis. This is something I never thought I would do in my life. This is what Trump has done. It’s not that I’ve given up on objectivity. It is just that things simply are objectively abnormal.
It's why I've straddled a line this past year or so between journalism and activism. At times, it's made me uncomfortable with myself. Then, I think, there can be objectivity even in times like these. As a journalist, as a Jew, as a human being, it's OK to objectively look at the situation and see that things are not right. It's why I'm launching this podcast and continuing to speak out wherever and whenever I can.
Below, is the text of what I told a crowd in Traverse City in August, when I grabbed a megaphone for the first time.
Rally for Charlottesville, Traverse City, Michigan, August 2017
I’m Howard Lovy, the grandson and son of Holocaust survivors. And when I see Nazis murdering people in the streets of the country to which my grandparents and my father fled, I have no choice but to speak. I have seen this before.
For the blessed memory of all those in my family who were murdered in the gas chambers at Auschwitz, shot in the streets of Budapest, worked to death at Mauthausen, I am here to represent them, because they cannot speak for themselves, and to tell you that we have seen this before.
In the same way nobody but an African American can truly tell you what it is to experience to pain and humiliation of racism every day, if you really want to know how it feels to see the Hitler salute in America, with anti-Semitic slogans spewing out of their mouths, ask a Jew. We’ve seen this before.
This is not the usual differences between conservatives and liberals. We are not talking about small government vs. big government. Private enterprise vs. social entitlements. This is a demagogue using race, religious, and ethnic hatred as a path to power, then making it seem respectable by wrapping it in layers of patriotism. I know it is easy, too easy, for a normal citizen to get caught up in anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-Latino, anti-Jewish rhetoric and think, well, this doesn’t apply to me. We’ve seen this before.
When the Holocaust deniers in the White House tell you that there are “many sides” to the story of Charlottesville. “Many sides” to the story of a group of Nazis, feeling so empowered by their president that they feel it is OK to slam a car into a group of anti-fascist protesters and murder a young, idealistic woman, Heather Heyer, who stood up for what was right, it is an invitation for more armed Nazi thugs in the streets, killing and beating the defenseless. How do I know? Through my murdered family, I have seen this before.
Make no mistake. They might look ridiculous. But Nazis don’t just make silly salutes and spout off white nationalist rhetoric. They are mass murderers. I told this to my son yesterday as we watched the news from Charlottesville. He became frightened, and asked my wife and me whether Nazis were going to get him. I told him that, in our community, despite our lack of diversity, he is well-protected.
Traverse City is my hometown, and as long as we show up to events like this, as long as we speak out when and where we can, we send a signal that bigotry and hatred are not welcome, and my son can sleep soundly at night without fear.
I have seen this before. But I swear on the blessed memory of my grandfather and all of my murdered family, that I will never see it again.