Thousands of people swarmed Washington D.C on Sunday for protests marking the anniversary of last year’s violent “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, but only two dozen of them were actually in support of uniting the right.
A year ago, the narrative of the college town became synonymous with racial unrest and violence, but this year, the activist’s recurring message was that white supremacy has existed in the community for years – and it can’t be ignored.
When Jason Kessler, the primary organiser of the “white civil rights” rally, wrote in his permit request that he expected a turnout of 100-400 people, he certainly didn’t expect the thousands of anti fascism and anti racism counter-demonstrators who far outnumbered his two-dozen-strong turnout.
Violence erupted last year as the “Unite the Right” group gathered to protest the planned removal of the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, resulting in the death of counter demonstrator Heather Heyer and the injury of many others.
Compare that to this year, where the extent of the violence reached by counter protestors was egg throwing and letting off fireworks, and, as reported NPR, the protests were relatively peaceful.
“Why are you in riot gear? We don’t see no riot here,” chanted the activists, highlighting the non-violent nature of the demonstrations.
This year’s protests, occurring across the city, saw people in their thousands celebrating diversity and pushing back against the hateful views promoted by the white nationalists, a welcome contrast to what the city saw only a year ago.
The afternoon of protests consisted of a gathering around the Foggy Bottom Metro station, where many counter protesters headed towards Lafayette park, directly outside the White House gates, beating the “Unite the Right” protesters to the mark.
Makia Green, who represents the Washington branch of Black Lives Matter, told Sunday’s crowd, “we know from experience that ignoring white nationalism doesn’t work,” and ignore it they did not.
Along with the counter-demonstrations, Heyer’s mother, Susan Bro, spoke to the crowd in a vigil for her daughter, saying that “we [America] have a long way to go” when it comes to racial justice. Flowers and messages of support written in chalk for the Charlottesville community also lined the sidewalks and walls.
Someone who wasn’t disturbed by the weekends events, despite them largely taking place in his backyard, was President Donald Trump, who was on a working holiday at his golf course in Bedminister, New Jersey. He did however take to Twitter to condemn the deadly protests that took place last year, saying, “the riots in Charlottesville a year ago resulted in senseless death and division. We must come together as a nation. I condemn all types of racism and acts of violence. Peace to ALL Americans!”
Using peace instead of violence is one way that the shadow hanging over Charlottesville is going to disappear. Douglas Brown of Newport News, who attended the protests last year, spoke of the events, saying that “this day was the day for everybody to get some closure.”
The word “unite,” means to bring people together, a definition that got lost in translation a year ago in Charlottesville. This year, through the peaceful nature of the counter-protesters, fighting for diversity and inclusion, they city is getting one step closer to rediscovering the true meaning of unification.
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