Community members gathered Wednesday at Market Street Park to celebrate resistance to white supremacy in Charlottesville on the third anniversary of the deadly white supremacist Unite the Right rally of August 12, 2017. The event was organized by community members, Congregate Charlottesville, Defund Cville Police, Showing Up for Racial Justice Charlottesville and Charlottesville Democratic Socialists of America.
In an interview with The Cavalier Daily, community activist and rising second-year College student Zyahna Bryant, who helped organize the “Reclaim the Park” event, described Wednesday’s atmosphere as joyful — despite the trauma inflicted three years ago.
“All over, Black people especially have always been able to find pockets to express joy,” Bryant said. “This event is really just a part of a longer tradition of finding collective care and finding self care and the ability to be optimistic and to be able to press through and continue to fight for the longer issues.”
Wednesday’s event included dancing, food, art and shared stories of collective grief and resisting white supremacy in Charlottesville. The event drew a diverse crowd of survivors, community members, students and activists to the shadow of Confederate General Robert E. Lee statue in Market Street Park — which became a flashpoint for the white supremacist violence of August 2017 that culminated in a car attack that killed Heather Heyer and injured more than 30 other counter-demonstrators. Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro, spoke at the event on Wednesday.
In 2016, Bryant petitioned Charlottesville City Council for the removal of the Lee statue and the renaming of Lee Park. The Council voted in favor of the statue’s removal and park renaming in February of 2017. Lee Park was known as Emancipation Park from June 2017 to July 2018, and is now referred to as Market Street Park. The Lee statue, however, still stands, entangled in a legal battle that prevents its removal.
In a press release, Christina Rivera, a representative for the Charlottesville Anti-Racist Media Liasons, asked on behalf of the organizers that members of the media and police do not attend — an appeal that Bryant said was done to protect identities of attendees. In point, several weeks ago, certain protestors who appeared in media coverage received threats and found burned tiki torches in their front yards around Charlottesville.
“We were wanting people to show up as their authentic selves,” Bryant said. “[We wanted] people to feel like they have an element of privacy, so that they feel like when they come out that their identities are protected and that they're safe.”
The groups that organized Reclaim the Park were chosen because they were active before, during and after the counter protests on Aug. 11 and 12, 2017, Bryant said. Their continuing and trusted activism remains constant in the Charlottesville community.
Amid a nationwide reckoning with systemic racism, Bryant emphasized that Charlottesville residents and organizations must remember to push for change locally, too.
“Truly what we need is for organizations — we're here in Charlottesville — to take a look in their own backyard, look at the issues and how they exist locally,” Bryant said. “Get involved locally, pay attention to local politics.”
In efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at the event, organizers took precautionary measures such as handing out face masks, encouraging social distancing and making available hand sanitizer stations.
The Cavalier Daily followed the wishes of the organizers by not reporting from the event in person and conducting all interviews remotely after the festivities concluded.