Three Years After #Charlottesville; Reflections for Today’s Movement
Three years ago on August 11 and 12, over 700 white supremacists descended on Charlottesville, VA for the “Unite the Right Rally,” a gathering that resulted in, among other traumas, the murder of Heather Heyer, a local white anti-racist counter-protestor, may she rest in power. Charlottesville became famous for the August 12th car attack and the August 11th tiki torch rally attack against University of Virginia students and community members the night before. But what isn’t often talked about is that it was much more than a two day event. It was not a surprise, but planned in public for months. In these months, activists organized against the rally, demanding Charlottesville City Council revoke the permit, presenting evidence of the violence that was sure to come. The City upheld the permit and allowed the rally to go on.
Three years later, we are seeing massive levels of state repression against Black Lives Matter protestors in Portland and across the country. In Charlottesville, exactly the opposite happened. White supremacist protesters were granted a permit for their rally by the city. On August 12th, there was no police intervention in the violence of the protest. And following the rally, President Trump cited the “very good people” on both sides. The media was flooded with fear mongering about the “violent antifa.” And the very same white supremacists who came to Charlottesville continued to hold rallies across the country without fear of police intervention or being scooped off the sidewalk by federal agents.
The goal of the rally in Charlottesville was to, as the name says, Unite the Right — it drew over 700 people from varying Far Right groups with the hope of using the rally to galvanize that base and build community across disparate white supremacist groups. This mission failed. It failed because the Charlottesville community and the comrades who joined them refused to back down from white supremacist violence and government gaslighting. A rally that was meant to build power resulted in the dissolving of many white supremacists groups and de-platforming of white supremacist leaders across the country. And we can learn from these lessons today.
To honor the legacy of what happened in Charlottesville is to work against white supremacy in all its forms, including resisting state repression. The right continues to coalesce power and use white supremacy as a political strategy for maintaining power. We are seeing our comrades snatched off the streets in Portland and plans from the White House to make that horror widespread in cities across the country. With the election less than 100 days ahead of us, we know to expect voter suppression and state violence directed towards marginalized communities.
People in power are doing these things because brilliant Black organizers have pulled the entire country behind their vision for a more just world, and more and more of us are choosing to break rank and join the side of freedom and liberation. On the three-year anniversary of what happened in Charlottesville, break rank and join us.
To get involved join SURJ’s list and keep an eye out over the next few weeks to learn more about our plans for fighting state repression.
Grace Aheron is the Communications Director at Showing Up for Racial Justice. She organized with the SURJ Chapter in Charlottesville, Virginia from 2016–2018.