The evening of Saturday, August 11th, 2018 marked the first event in a weekend of memorial events and counter protests on the one-year anniversary of the first Unite the Right (UTR) rally. The reverent memorial event planned on Saturday was hosted and organized by Students Act Against White Supremacy on UVA’s campus. After approximately 25 minutes of starting the event police in full riot gear formed a semi-phalanx formation, interlocking their elbows as if they weren’t facing an unarmed crowd with shields, guns, and clubs. Their aim was clear – to intimidate a mourning community into submission.
Chants of “Why are you in riot gear? We don’t see no riot here!” began to swell as the crowd formed their own line of defense against the police. City councilmember Wes Bellamy was present and plainly stated that he thought the actions of the police were unreasonable, although he did little to interfere. Eventually, it became clear that the police weren’t going to leave the crowd alone, leading this stationary speaking event to evolve into a massive march of 500 – 1000 people.
The march began with an almost eerie silence, with many in the crowd seeming uncertain of the action but acting in solidarity despite threats of violence from the police. This quickly developed into a movement of determined and invigorated people who had spent the last year living in fear and under intense media exploitation only to be attacked by their own police force at this moment of mourning and healing. The people of Charlottesville had clearly had enough and were ready to tell the world.
As night fell, chants of “We are unstoppable, a new world is possible,” “Avenge Heather Heyer,” and “Corey Long did nothing wrong,” echoed across the city. As the march winded through different areas in and around downtown, other residents came out of their homes and the nearby bars and restaurants to thank those in attendance, with many joining the march. As the march continued late into the evening, approaching the downtown mall area where Heather was murdered and dozens of our friends and fellow workers were badly injured, the police decided to make another attack on the peaceful crowd.
One last raucous chant of “What goes up must come down; take these fucking statues down!” roared as the police charged the march with shields and weapons – some with standard issue batons and others with blunt instruments that didn’t seem to be any sort of police equipment. It became clear that the police were not only intent on doing severe harm to the crowd, but that the only part of Charlottesville worth protecting to them was this luxury store front shopping area. As those in the front of the march attempted to turn the crowd away from the police, they set upon the crowd driving a wedge between several smaller clusters of people, leading to the rest of the crowd disbanding under threat of harm.
While this behavior on the end of the police may have been entirely predictable, the power reclaimed by the people of Charlottesville was a thing of awe. Not only did they successfully defy the arbitrary confines set up by police, but not a single (citizen) fascist dared to show their face, leaving those in attendance to shout into the night sky as a thunderous unified voice that their city was done being known only as the poor victim of organized fascist violence.
The people of Charlottesville unequivocally demonstrated that they mean business when it comes to opposing fascism, whether they are wearing hoods, polo shirts, or badges.
Despite the best efforts of politically motivated news media personalities to demonize the march and its participants, there was no property damage, no arrests made, and no major injuries to speak of. The fearful contingent of police who lashed out in spats of violence against the peaceful and unarmed crowd were the only violent incidents of note, a few brief seconds that pale in comparison to the beautiful and powerful moment that was the night of 8/11/18 – the night Charlottesville took its power back.