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Kristen Schroeder Konaté had never started a petition before, but when the artist, mother of two, and MoveOn member heard that a group calling themselves the Virginia Flaggers planned to erect a huge Confederate flag above the busy I-95 freeway in Richmond, she knew she had to act.
So Konaté started a MoveOn petition to stop the symbol of slavery and oppression from being displayed. “The Confederate flag is very inflammatory, and it’s hurting a lot of people that this is going up,” she says. “We’re dealing with individuals who, instead of learning from history, want to continue living it.”
Instead, she’s spreading peace. “We’re trying to proactively counter that message of hate by planning positive events to unite the community,” Konaté says. Ironically, the day the Confederate flag may go up is the same day as the Richmond Peace Festival. Konaté hopes Richmond and surrounding counties will focus on the festival, not the flag.
The fact that racism is still alive 50 years after “I Have a Dream” is not lost on Konaté. “I’m very humbled to get a snapshot of what civil rights activists actually went through in the time of Martin Luther King,” she says. “I’m getting a very, very small snapshot of the hate as a Caucasian, and I can’t even begin to imagine what Black Americans went though.”
Despite hate mail, Konaté is undaunted, encouraging others to start a petition if they’re considering it. “Do it! Take that step!” she says. “Yes, you’ll be swimming in a huge frying pan, but you’ll find a lot of people are behind you. That’s what I’ve found.”
Listening to her passion for peace and action, it’s surprising this is Konaté’s first petition. “I’ve been outspoken on issues before, but I’ve never started one,” she says. She went to www.MoveOn.org, “followed the instructions, started to circulate it, and it exploded.”
“Exploded” is the right word. The petition launched August 11, and more than 23,000 other MoveOn members have signed it since — a set of supporters Konaté is now organizing in other ways. The petition has garnered nationwide media attention and inspired others to start similar campaigns. “A petition signer [in Florida] emailed me and wanted to start her own petition, because there’s a large Confederate flag on Highway 75 bothering a lot of people,” says Konaté.
When asked what motivates her, Konaté answers, “I have two children. If I want to make the world a better place, this is how I can do it nonviolently. My children are biracial — my husband is from Ivory Coast, West Africa. I’m fighting for their future, not necessarily mine.”
While looking to the future, she’s also inspired by the past. “[My grandpa once] said, ‘Only a dead fish goes with the flow. Don’t ever be a dead fish, Kristen.’ I think I’ve taken that to heart.”
Join the 23,500 other people who have already signed Kristen’s petition: