I feel like I went to type that a lot this surreal, tragic, horrible week in my hometown. But then I realized I have a lot of words. A jumble of confused angry, sorrowful words and feelings as my hometown has been in the national spotlight this week. 3 people have died, and 35 or more injured in the violence. Charlottesville has become interchangeable for “alt-right” and “neo-nazi” and “fascist” in articles, tweets and social media posts this week.
Charlottesville is not a big city. We only have about 47,000 residents, and around 20,000 students at UVA. We have an ugly Confederate slave-owning past, like every southern city. But it is our liberalism now that has made us a target. 80% of our residents voted for Clinton in 2016, and I’m sure some of the other 20% voted for Stein. Our last mayor was a Sikh, our current mayor is Jewish and our vice-mayor is African American. Our International Rescue Committee has welcomed 3,000 people from 32 countries since 1998.
The people who came to town this past weekend to hurt us were mostly out-of-towners. We certainly have angry racists here (and they were also in full force) but they were not in the majority. As the arrest warrants pile up, as the ID’s accumulate on social media “outing” sites, we see people who came from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington State, Nevada, North Carolina, etc., to hurt us. To tell us what our town square should look like. They came to intimidate our refugees, our African American citizens, our Jewish neighbors. They hurt us. They killed one of us. They drove around in cars and tried to beat up as many of the people they could find. But they did not defeat us.
Yesterday at Heather Heyer’s memorial service, her mother spoke with eloquence and passion through her sorrow. She warned the alt-right that their violence and the death of her child had not silenced her message but had “magnified” her message. “I’d rather have my child, but by golly, if I gotta give her up, we’re gonna make it count.”
Last night we carried candles and marched to the UVA campus to exorcise the hate and reclaim our town and the campus. We shouted “love wins,” “Whose town? Our town!” and sang “We shall overcome.” We have become a lesson to other cities and a catalyst. Baltimore removed their statues in the night. Durham protestors destroyed theirs. Cities are cancelling alt-right rallies left and right, fearful of the violence. There is a new awareness of this hateful movement and the dangers of embracing our racist past and putting it up on pedestals. Apparently all the horrible tragedy in Charlottesville was necessary to make that happen.
You’re welcome, America. Now let’s make it count.