Hundreds of students and Charlottesville community members marched through Grounds Monday night to protest the University and city’s response to the recent white nationalist torchlit march and “Unite the Right” rally.
In addition to the march, a list of demands signed by multiple University groups was presented and read to those gathered before the marching started. The event started at the amphitheater and ended at the Thomas Jefferson statue north of the Rotunda, where the torchlit march erupted into violence on Aug. 11.
“It was really disturbing to see these people come into this space and acting as if it’s theirs, and scaring people and making them feel unsafe,” Kajsa Foskey, a second-year College student and member of the Black Student Alliance, said in an interview with The Cavalier Daily.
The list of demands included both specific initiatives to be taken as well as ways to enact systemic change. The first demand on the list was that the Confederate plaques on the Rotunda be removed, and the list also included the demand that a “strategic and actionable diversity plan” be issued.
Another demand — that the statue of Thomas Jefferson be “re-contextualized with a plaque” to include the history of the statue as an “emblem of white supremacy” at the University — brought shouts from the crowd with supporters yelling, “Take it down.”
The organizers of the march asked the entire crowd gathered in the amphitheater to turn and face University President Teresa Sullivan who was seated away from the group as they read the list of demands. Above her, a group of masked demonstrators holding a “crush white supremacy” banner stood on the stone railing.
Following behind a “community defense against all fascism” banner and a procession of people injured in the Aug. 12 car attack, the march proceeded past Alderman Library and the University Chapel to the statue of Jefferson where demonstrators filed up the stairs of the Rotunda.
On the columns of the Rotunda, a banner bearing the Seven Society logo overlooked the crowd announcing that “racism can, will, and must be defeated.”
Monday night’s “March to Reclaim Our Grounds” was organized by the Black Student Alliance, U.Va. Students United, the Minority Rights Coalition and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People at U.Va.
Those at the event expressed their desire to expel the notion that Charlottesville stood for the values of white nationalist groups that came to the city.
Other attendees described an attitude of complacency that they believe has existed in the community, something they said shouldn't need violence and hatred to disrupt.
“We sleepwalk, and it is time to wake up,” said Lisa Green, who is a member of Cville Pride. “It shouldn’t take tiki torches for us to wake up.”
One student, fourth-year Batten and Curry student Diane D'Costa, recounted her first night as a resident of the Lawn, which coincided with the white nationalist march through Grounds. D’Costa heard chants “you will not replace us,” change to “Jews will not replace us,” and knew that as a Jewish woman of color they were targeting her whole identity.
Devin Willis, a second-year College student and BSA secretary, discussed the importance of being honest about the University’s history. He said the story of black students at the University has been a “struggle and resistance.”
Lorena Tabrane, a first-year College student who said she lives at the International Residential College, said the events of Aug. 11 and 12 changed her view of the University.
“In a sense, I saw this place as shiny and new, and the events kind of shaded that a little bit,” Tabrane said.
“The events that followed what happened last weekend, with everyone going to the Lawn and uniting against those hate groups definitely gave me a better idea of the University in the sense that before I just thought this was a university like any other,” she added. “But now that I see what the students are capable of in protesting against those hate groups, I feel more comfortable and safer in this community.”
On Aug. 16, thousands of community members gathered for a peaceful rally and march through Grounds to denounce the recent violence.
Natalie Romero is a second-year College student who was struck by the gray Dodge Challenger that plowed through a crowd of people protesting the “Unite the Right” rally near the Downtown Mall on Aug. 12. She said leading up to the events of the weekend, it took “nothing but a second” for her to choose to come back to Charlottesville before the school year started to counter-protest the “Unite the Right” rally.
She said in retrospect, she wished more students had turned out to counter-protest the Aug. 11 torchlit march through Grounds organized by white nationalists.
“I wanted to see students there, I wanted to see more solidarity, I wanted to see that there was a group of people behind me waiting to stand up because when I was pushed up against that statue, there was no one there to hold me,” Romero said.