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Tolerance: A fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, beliefs, practices, racial or ethnic origins, etc., differ from one’s own; freedom from bigotry.

I have been thinking a lot about tolerance.  Being in the District’s shadow, Alexandria is not immune to polarised politics and toxic rhetoric. On June 14th, as is well known, five people including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise were shot by James T. Hodgkinson in Del Ray.  No one should ever be hurt or killed for the political affiliations.  The shooter was not from Virginia and the vast majority of Alexandrians are tolerant people.  However, we do have residents who push hateful agendas.  For example, White Supremacist Richard Spencer lives in Old Town directly above a chocolate shop – which does beg the questions of whether he only likes white chocolate?

Spencer was confronted at the Sport and Health gym, where he belonged for a time. Another member challenged him about his political beliefs.  His membership was subsequently terminated for being a disruptive influence. Shortly after this, someone in Alexandria (I hope it was just one person) began putting up racist flyers at night.

How tolerant must we be of intolerance? I disagree with Spencer on well….everything.  However, he has a right to express himself just as others have the right to speak out against hate speech.  In the case of the gym, he was not expressing political views when confronted.  It is a slippery slope to restrict people’s access to facilities based on their beliefs. Spencer had a right to be there, others had a right to express their displeasure with his presence and views, but he ultimately should have kept his membership.   Could my progressive views on most social issues result in my being kicked out of gyms in conservative states?  Confrontation often hardens rather than shapes opinions.

Alexandrians are looking for ways to express support for their tolerance. There are signs on businesses throughout Alexandria that read “No Vacancy for Hate”, “All Are Welcome” and “No Matter Where You Are From, We Are Glad You Are Our Neighbors”. People have a right to protest speech they disagree with – however, protesting near Spencer’s place of residence/employment would negatively affect neighbors and small businesses that have noting to do with him.

How else can we stand up for tolerance in Alexandria? As Martin Luther King once said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”  Perhaps the better question is how to model the change we want to see in our communities, our country, and the world.  We can volunteer – this list of opportunities from the Alexandria municipal government and from Volunteer Alexandria can help you get more involved.  We can step up our support to those in need – for example by becoming foster families and/or adopting. We can be the best neighbors we can including by meeting and befriending people of  different backgrounds, ethnicities, and faiths.  Another possibility is to support national groups that track hate speech such as the Southern Poverty Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union.

In Alexandria and beyond, diversity is our strength.  Do you have ideas for supporting tolerance in Alexandria and other communities? Please share them at @bryan_schaaf