As the League of the South rally fizzled away Saturday afternoon, about a thousand people protested around Murfreesboro’s Public Square opposing notions of white nationalism and white supremacy.
But before sunrise that morning, a different group of counter-protesters had already set the wheels in motion to spread love in their community.
Starting with breakfast for law enforcement and culminating in a crowd more than 700 strong, Murfreesboro Loves spent the day demonstrating against hate and campaigning for love, allowing folks to use their voices without attending the rally.
“Today we’re not marching against them. We’re marching for us,” Abdou Kattih told the cheering group gathered at Barfield Crescent Park.
“White supremacists and their ideology are not welcome in our community,” said Jason Bennett, as he advised folks against addressing the opposition negatively.
“Today’s an outpouring of love by our community, to stand together and try to help tell the true story of Murfreesboro,” said Advent Lutheran Pastor Michael Jannett. “God’s doing some really good work here in empowering us to serve our neighbors.”
By early afternoon chants of “Show me what democracy looks like, this is what democracy looks like,” and “No hate, no fear, refugees are welcome here,” echoed along Old Fort Parkway and Veterans Parkway, as two groups of Murfreesboro Loves activists marched the sidewalks waving signs while those driving past honked and cheered.
“We’re here peacefully marching, demonstrating, in non-confrontational ways,” explained Scott Martindale as traffic whizzed past. “Their hate’s not welcome here in this town… the reason they chose it, because they thought we supported them, was completely wrong.”
Rev. Joy Warren of Cumberland Presbyterian said setting the right pace for a movement is important.
“Just like our march today, we want to vary our speed so we all stay together as we all move together. We don’t want to leave anybody behind,” said Warren. “We want to go together, because it’s about community building, so we want to build a community together.”
She believes the power of supremacist groups lies in pitting people against each other, but unity is stronger.
“They want us to feel like we have something to lose, and there’s someone who wants to take it. But if you have a different vision of community, where you want everyone to be woven together -- salvation, for me, is everyone woven in together, to the fabric of our community… I think as part of who we are, we crave that community and we crave that love and togetherness,” said Warren. ”Murfreesboro Loves’ hope is that this is the beginning of consistent, intentional community.”
Though the afternoon’s activities were curtailed after League of the South announced they were cancelling their rally downtown, but no one seemed to mind.
“We just, out of an abundance of caution, went ahead and shut down the park,” explained Nate Williams, assistant parks director. “Based on some things we heard, that there were some potential issues coming this way, we wanted to go ahead and just shut down the park.
“From our perspective, teamwork has been tremendous throughout the city, and you look at all the different law enforcement agencies coming together, they’ve just done a tremendous job, and it’s awesome to be able to witness that."