Solidarity with Charlottesville

On Friday there was a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Carrying torches of flames throughout the streets of the city, the predominately white male group included nazis and fascists. That afternoon a car drove into a crowd of counter protesters at the rally, killing one person and injuring many others.

In the aftermath of these events, vigils took place around the nation to stand in honor of those who have died in this ongoing struggle for justice, and to stand in opposition to white supremacy, racism, and ethnocentrism. I attended the rally in Syracuse, New York, arriving to find a crowd of people gathered in the middle of downtown. A speaker from an immigrant rights group spoke first:

“The state is murdering people. I have no faith that the state should be given any power to attempt to root out fascism. That’s our job. This is what happens when we ignore the Richard Spencers of the world. They’re organizing, and we have to organize. We will get no true help from politicians, the power will come from the people.”

The speaker stated that having conversations with others when you encounter racism is important, but we also need to show up in the streets to make change happen.

“Your racist relatives- no fucking conversation will change that. It will always be the masses of people organizing in the streets against oppression that will make the changes necessary.”

The speaker also pointed out blame to those that helped make the far right rally a public reality in the streets:

“The most revolutionary thing you can do is tell the truth… I want you all to know that the ACLU helped organize the far right rally in Charlottesville. They made that choice, and that is completely and utterly disgusting. There should be no platform for fascism and white supremacy. There should be no power of “free speech” for those with the impetus to murder. The events that took place in Charlottesville are the consequences of not taking a position to completely remove oppression.”

Another speaker took the stage and expounded on the same ideas.

“We are called to respect the higher laws of freedom and liberation. And we are called to stand up for peace and justice because silence is collusion. The theory of ‘ignore them and they will go away’ we are finally learning will not work.”Some people say racist and misogynistic people were “just raised that way” and can’t change. They just have a different world view. No deal. You are not allowed to just disagree with my humanity,” a speaker from the south side of Syracuse stated.

Speakers from Black Lives Matter spoke about how the current political climate was heightening xenophobia and racism, but also that these things have been a part of America’s history since its inception.

“Trickle down economics does not work, but trickle down racism does. And it’s coming from the highest office in the country,” a speaker explained.

This past weekend Trump spoke about the events in Charlottesville being an “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.” The next speaker at the rally asked us to rethink how we thought about laws, and violence itself:

“The far right rally was violence not only in action, but in theory as well. It was organized around hatred. Hatred is violence. When the president said that “violence took place on all sides,” he was gas lighting victims and making them feel responsible for what happened. This is classic oppression and control tactics.”

The Black Lives Matter group coordinating the rally spoke about all the current intersecting social justice issues needing to be addressed in Syracuse today. The children in Syracuse have the highest concentration of lead in their blood in the country, police officer getting away with rape, youth in solitary confinement, the need for safe sanctuary spaces for immigrants, and the need for solidarity- not charity.

We were called to action by the Black Lives Matter group.

  1. If you see a cop pull someone over on the highway, pull over as well and record the interaction with your phone.
  2. Be an observer in the courtrooms as well
  3. Show up in support at rallies

“Solidarity not sympathy. If you stop for me on the highway and record the police interacting with me, I’ll say thank you. But I need you to recognize your privilege as a white person too. You’re not doing me a favor, you’re doing your part in solidarity with me in this institutional racist country we live in… Don’t be offended. A lot of times when I speak about this white people get offended. But I’m a racist too, because I’m a product of this country. Being an ally to people of color doesn’t mean you’re not racist. It means you’re willing to check your privilege, and learn to be aware of it.”

Walking away from the rally, a girl sitting on a bench outside the rally stops me.

“Hey, are you coming from that rally? So you think black lives matter, right? So what happens when a white person dies, isn’t it the same as when a black person dies? Don’t white people matter?”

I think it’s a trick at first. But then realize she’s really asking. And this is what real engagement and world changing looks like- actually talking to one another. I tell her why I showed up today- to stand against the culture of white supremacy that has been guiding our country since its inception- and she nods her head. She tells me a little bit about herself:

“I’m Muslim and people are trying to label people like me a terrorist on the news, but I was born right here in Syracuse. And I’m not a terrorist. I’m a black woman in America.”

In the end, we introduce ourselves and shake hands.

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