Organizers of anti-racism groups call for eliminating platforms for white supremacists

Speakers condemn large police presence in Charlottesville at press conference ahead of Aug. 11 and 12

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Red. Brittany Caine-Conley of Congregate Charlottesville and Sophie Schectman, an organizer with U.VA. Students United, hold up posters highlighting local activist efforts. 

Andrew Walsh | Cavalier Daily

Representatives of several Charlottesville anti-racism organizations — including Black Lives Matter Charlottesville and U.Va. Students United — held a press conference at First Presbyterian Church Friday to share perspectives on the white nationalist rallies of last Aug. 11 and 12  and their course of action for the one-year anniversary this weekend. The activists expressed the need to eliminate a public platform for all white supremacists and to protest what they believe to be an excessive police presence in Charlottesville this weekend.

Although the organizers of the conference want the University to take action against white supremacy, Grace Aheron, organizer with Showing up for Racial Justice Charlottesville, and Lisa Woolfork, an associate professor of English at U.Va. and an organizer with Black Lives Matter Charlottesville, said they believe the University and city officials are overcompensating for last year’s lack of action by putting an excessive number of police in the city.

“Increased militarized police presence does not make the city more safe,” Aheron said. “Enacting real justice would make the city more safe, especially for black and brown communities. There are lots of communities of black and brown people who are feeling less safe … because of this over-militarized police state.”

A common theme organizers addressed was the term “civility.” They believe civility shows a respect the likes of Jason Kessler — the organizer of the deadly “Unite the Right” rally last Aug. 12 — do not deserve. Woolfork argued civility protects white supremacy and thus perpetuates it.

“Civility and politeness must not be used to maintain white supremacy,” Woolfork said. “There should be no platform for white supremacy. No airtime, no speeches, no interviews, no way for white supremacists and fascists to spread their violent views and actions. No both sides.”

At the Unite the Right rally last August, white nationalist James Alex Fields drove a car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing 32-year-old Charlottesville resident Heather Heyer and injuring multiple others. Charges were brought against Fields who pleaded not guilty to multiple federal hate crimes in July and has a jury trial at the state level set for Nov. 26.

Sophie Schectman, an organizer with U.Va. Students United and survivor of the car attack last August, promoted the anti-racist rally organized by U.Va. Students United that will be taking place at the North Plaza of the Rotunda tomorrow from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. 

“If you are outraged by Nazis marching with torches, attacking us on campus, join us in outrage of the ways white supremacy manifested in our community,” Schectman said.

Around the same time as the press conference, University President Jim Ryan sent a community-wide email announcing the Lawn would be closed beginning Friday at 6 p.m. in order to prepare for “The Hope that Summons Us” — an event hosted by the University on Saturday to bring members of the University and Charlottesville communities together. The email also said metal detectors and capacity limits will be in place for the U.Va. Students United rally at the North Plaza. Schectman said that students, faculty and supporters will gather at the site regardless of the University’s restrictions.

The organizers also discussed what they have seen as the University’s failure to address the white nationalist rallies last August. Schectman reiterated three demands from U.Va. Students United — lifetime no-trespass orders to all white nationalists involved in the Unite the Right rally, full payment of all survivors’ medical bills and a public statement from the University announcing the permanent ban of all white nationalists. The University issued a no-trespass warning to Kessler in April, effectively banning him from University property.

Schectman recounted how she suffered serious injuries from the car attack and received no consolation or reparation from the University. 

“I know I haven’t struggled to the extent that other survivors have,” Schectman said. “While I have the privilege that my family’s been able to cover my medical and personal expenses, I know that most of the survivors don’t have that, and are still struggling to make ends meet. U.Va. has the resources to take action, to support survivors and pay all remaining medical bills.”

Aheron mentioned that a rally would occur at Washington Park Sunday morning to mourn the losses from last August and to celebrate the solidarity and resilience anti-racist protestors have built since last August. Aheron said she believes the activism of groups like Showing up for Racial Justice Charlottesville have succeeded at fighting racism by pushing for the acquittal of black men who faced charges related to counter-protesting the Unite the Right rally last year — including DeAndre Harris who was brutally beaten by several men at the rally.

“We have so much to honor,” Aheron said. “Our protests here in Charlottesville made the Unite the Right rally a failure. And since Charlottesville, far-right groups have been fracturing and falling apart. Since Charlottesville, other communities have fought back against white supremacist terror and fascist takeovers.” 

Some of the organizers of last year’s white nationalist “Unite the Right” rally claimed the Charlottesville City Council’s February 2017 vote to remove the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from Market Street Park — formerly Lee Park — in Downtown Charlottesville was a motivating factor for their event. The city has yet to successfully remove the statue of Lee, as well as a nearby statue of Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, due to an ongoing lawsuit against their removal which cites Virginia state law that protects war memorials. 

When asked about her opinion of the continued presence of the Confederate statues, Woolfork marked the lack of action as proof that we live in a white supremacist society.

“These monuments are actually Civil War participation trophies,” Woolfork said. “It is only in a white supremacist society do we allow monuments in commemoration of victory to people who uncategorically lost a cause to preserve a white supremacist republic.” 

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