Hundreds gathered in the Diag to protest the white supremacist violence that occurred in Charlottesville, Va. this weekend with government officials denouncing President Donald Trump’s response to the incident.
The violence erupted Saturday when hundreds of white nationalists and neo-Nazis planned a “take America back” rally were met by counter-protesters, according to the Washington Post. Ohio resident James Alex Fields Jr. drove his car into the crowd — killing one person and wounding others. A 32-year-old woman, Heather Heyer, was killed as a result of the collision; two Virginia police officers — Berke M.M. Bates and H. Jay Cullen — were killed in a helicopter crash.
Student government leaders across the country had stood against the neo-Nazi rally in a letter of solidatory, including Central Student Government President Anushka Sarkar, an LSA senior. On the highway to Ann Arbor, Heyer's name was seen on display.
The event was organized by Ann Arbor Indivisible, A2D2 Indivisible, Chelsea Stands Indivisible and Indivisible Dexter and featured several speakers.
Ann Arbor Mayor Chris Taylor addressed the crowd; he said attendees gathered not only because of the events in Charlottesville but because national honor is at stake.
“The demonstration and attacks yesterday, I believe, will prove to be a deep and indelible stain on our history,” he said. “It is with regret that I say that Trump and his supporters have polluted something beautiful, and that beautiful thing is the honor of the United States and its people.”
Taylor said he wrote to Charlottesville Mayor Michael Signer, who declared a state of emergency during the incident, to express Ann Arbor’s condemnation of the hatred and violence that descended upon the city.
“Death and hatred in Charlottesville — it was tragic, and it was despicable, but it was regrettably not surprising,” he said. “These things are the natural byproduct of the campaign and the presidency of Donald Trump … To Republicans everywhere, I say this, and I say this with earnestness and with as little rancor as possible — that your party, your party has elected an authoritarian bigot to be our president, and that for years, your party has given aid and comfort to fascists and white supremacists.”
Taylor said Republicans can make things right by renouncing the president, his apologists, hatred and resentment.
Among the speakers was Rabbi Kim Blumenthal of the Interfaith Council of Peace and Justice.
“I have two words for us to say together this evening: never again,” she said. “As children we were taught that the atrocities of the Holocaust were a thing of the past, they would not and they could not be replicated in modern times and we learned to say ‘never again.’ ”
She said many people today have families that suffered or succumbed at the hands of Nazis; many are children or grandchildren of World War II soldiers who came home and shared their experiences or lost their lives. She said for generations their stories have been honored and remembered.
“Never again will we allow hatred to tear at the very fabric of society,” she said. “‘Never again’ is our declaration of commitment to actively work to eviscerate … hatred, genocide from our world.”
Rep. Debbie Dingell (D–Mich.) was quick to condemn the acts, noting the Ann Arbor community was not alone in their response; thousands of communities across the country, she said, are coming together.
“We must stand against racism in every form and that is a message we must send very loud and clear tonight,” she said. “Hatred, bigotry and fascism have no place in this country.”
Her husband, former Rep. John Dingell, tweeted in response to the attacks.
Dingell said second- and third-generation U.S. children are scared to death that someone will knock on their door in the middle of the night, drag their families out of the house and send them to a place from which they will never be heard again. This, she said, is “America 2017.”
Dingell, though not the only speaker to do so, noted that the crowd primarily consisted of white people — not people of color. She said it was important that white allies take the time to listen and to understand how people of color feel.
During her speech, Dingell was however met with criticism from the audience when she said it was important to also understand the perspective of many of her Downriver constituents who voted for Trump. She said they didn’t vote for Trump because they were racist but out of fear for losing their jobs, having seen NAFTA ship jobs overseas.
Another speaker was Austin McCoy, a local organizer and postdoc and instructor at the University. McCoy led attendees in a chant, saying, “No Trump, No KKK, No fascist USA”, a chant often used in protests and rallys on campus.
McCoy said as an organizer in Ann Arbor, he recognizes that at marches and rallies, some people march, some people honk their horns in support and others may have tried to run some people over in their vehicles.
“No one has actually gotten hit (locally), but there’s always been at least one driver, every march, that has threatened to run over people,” he said. “It’s only because of organizers — that are keeping people safe when we march — that has kept that from happening … I just want folks to realize that this is something that can happen anywhere, and it can happen to any of us here.”
McCoy said what happened in Charlottesville was a terrorist attack and one with a deep history. He said contrary to what some may believe, it is not shocking that such an incident happened in the United States.
White supremacist violence is the result of structural racism, he emphasized.
“The United States — not Germany — made Jim Crow a thing,” he said. “The United States made lynching a thing. We have to keep that in mind, when we’re talking about white supremacy in this country.”
McCoy said elected officials who believe in equality, justice and truth are doing just the bare minimum, referencing the Ann Arbor police shooting of Aura Rosser, a Black woman. The AAPD response were similar to the ones of Eric Garner and Trayvon Martin, he said. Authorities in the city tried to demonize Rosser, focusing on her drug addiction, he added.
“You have a choice,” he said. “You can be like everyone else and do the bare minimum — when something racist happens, we’ll come out to a march, we’ll get mad when Trump is elected. Well you know what, Trump might not have been elected… if we had been fighting white supremacy every single day.”
When Taylor spoke again after all of the speakers, he was asked by several attendees to say the name of Aura Rosser. Though he did, he was criticized for not acknowledging the racism enacted against her.
Howard University alum Christian Boyd said she is impassioned to be standing in solidarity against the terrorist act. Boyd echoed McCoy’s sentiments, saying the incident was disgraceful and wrong, but it was not new.
“People responded in shock and confusion, even confidence, and said, ‘No, this is not America,’ ” she said. “Now I need you all to wake up. This is America. This is the America that Black and Brown people have told you about. It’s the America that Black and Brown people have fought for. The only difference between then and now is the white masks are off.”
However, Boyd said that rally in the Diag is also America.
“This America is strong, determined, passionate, tolerant, Black — it is so Black, this America is so Black, it is Spanish-speaking, it is queer, it is women, it is youth,” she said. “This America is loving and it is forgiving.”
Boyd highlighted a principle called ‘ujima,’ which means collective work and responsibility.
“Ujima is the commitment to active and informed togetherness,” she said. “It is the recognition and respect of the fact that without collective work and struggle, progress is impossible and liberation unthinkable. I say that here, to say our work here is far from done. It will continuously take this collective work and this solidarity.”
Nina Eusani works with Ann Arbor Indivisible and was one of the co-hosts of the event. In an email shortly after the rally, Eusani explained she was moved by the powerful messages of the speakers.
“I was inspired by the fact that folks with very real disputes were there together, willing to work together on this issue and also willing to speak those disputes out loud,” she wrote. “It was powerful to hear many of the speakers and attendees challenge the mayor and other elected officials around the issue of the death of Aura Rosser. We can't fight racism and bigotry if we're not willing to engage the places where it exists in our own community.”
Among the attendees was local resident Angelina Zaytsev, who carried a sign that read, “White Silence is complicit in White Supremacy.” Zaytsev said she heard about the event on Facebook.
“I came here today because Ann Arbor likes to pretend that it’s got all of its racist shit figured out, but it doesn’t,” she said “One of the problems I see that many people overlook, especially white people, of course, is how refusing to talk to each other about racism and refusing to challenge each other on racist ideas that are okay to say, right — not having those conversations allows white supremacy to continue and allows things like (this incident).”