Students filed into the Wilson Hall auditorium at 7:00 on Thursday, August 31st, for the first event in the “Disorientation” series: “How Did We Get Here? A Panel/Q&A with Organizers Defending Charlottesville from Fascism”. It ultimately ended in an intense confrontation near the Rotunda.
The event began with a Powerpoint presentation on the big screen. First, it discussed the student-run organization, Students United, a “coalition of UVa students organizing for a more accessible, affordable, and inclusive UVa”.
The group went on to outline some goals, including: “fighting tuition hikes, BOV public comment period, fighting white supremacy at UVa and in Charlottesville”.
The next slide discussed the issue of the Robert E. Lee statue in Emancipation Park. It gave the history of City Council’s plans to remove it, which began in 2012. Three years later, someone painted “Black Lives Matter” on it, and high school student Zyahna Bryant petitioned for the statue’s removal.
Since then, the park has been renamed and the statue has been scheduled for removal in February of this year. The city was then sued in March, and the statue’s removal put on hold while Jason Kessler and his group, “Unity and Security for America,” began to speak out in disagreement with the council’s decision.
The events that followed in the summer have become etched in the nation’s consciousness. The KKK, Nazis and white supremacists from around the country descended upon Charlottesville. On the night of August 11th, torch-bearing marchers chanted things like “Jews will not replace us!” and “blood and soil,” a documented Nazi chant, as they charged onto grounds and up to Jefferson’s statue.
Some of the people who defended the Lee statue were in Wilson Hall Thursday night. Community leader Jay Scott later recounted the events of that evening. He is writing a book on everything he witnessed first-hand titled Defending Charlottesville.
Before the panel started, a student organizer explained why a police officer was standing outside the Wilson Hall room. The officer told her that police had received reports that there were threats of violence against the Disorientation event being held.
The panel then started at 7:30. The aforementioned Mr. Scott introduced himself first, followed by Nay Nichelle, a local musician originally from South Carolina. A local teacher and longtime activist then introduced herself as Donna. She was followed by a man who identified himself as Luis. Lastly, Tracye Redd introduced himself. He came from the DC Black Lives Matter group and detailed his travels across the country for the BLM movement.
The sixth and final panelist showed up late: a community organizer named Sizzle.
Together they answered the moderator’s question about fascism at UVa.
Donna spoke first, detailing past encounters at rallies, from disrupting Jason Kessler live-streams to pointing out Nazis in a crowd. She voiced a concern that “many white people in Charlottesville, who consider themselves to be liberals or progressives, were the ones who were trying to stop us from stopping these Nazis in this crowd.”
She went on to explain how she could very quickly organize groups to mobilize in protest using a phone-tree system.
Jay Scott talked about his wishes for members of the community to gather and defend their community.
“A lot of people don’t want to come out and support these type of things. The first thing I noticed as soon as I got on the scene on July 8th for the KKK rally was a mass of white people. I was looking for the ethnic people, but they were nowhere to be found.”
He went on to criticize those who only support via social media, but don’t actually gather to support and defend the community. Sizzle later echoed many of these sentiments, adding her emphatic call for “the immediate ending of the JADE task force.”
The Jefferson Area Drug Enforcement Task Force (aka JADE) started in 1995 and has drawn criticism for, as Sizzle put it, their “snitch program with thousands in it. They help put unfounded drug charges on people without evidence and using coercive, manipulative methods.”
Luis then brought up the story of Sage Smith, a transgender teenager who went missing in 2012 and has still not been found. Charlottesville police have since reclassified the case from missing person to homicide. Luis advocated for pressure on the police department to keep looking for Smith, and called for community members to continue searching and spreading the word.
He later read a list of demands on UVa students, prefacing the list with a statement of wishes.
“We want to see reparations for black people. We want a world where all people, particularly people of color and colonized countries have the right to self-determination. We want a stateless society.” This was met with vehement applause from some members of the crowd.
He continued to read the list:
1. “You all need to pay black, trans, and fem organizers.
2. You all need to get trained. Go to direct action training, on the law, on how to be a street medic, on how to build armor for yourself out on the streets. Get trained on how to fight fascism, how to find Nazis in the streets. And pay the trainers.
3. Stop any campus and fascist activity.
4. Build student-based resistance… You all need to learn to fight for yourselves before you try to fight for other people
5. Join civil resistance.
6. Systemic white supremacy and fascism go hand in hand, and we must fight all of them.”
Tracye Redd talked about how Black Lives Matter organizes, how they try not to take over a situation from local organizers, and how they looked at the July 8th counter-protest as a “dress rehearsal” for August 12th. Redd detailed how “the police kicked me in my head and they dragged me.”
Then a community activist in the crowd talked about how “the people of the city are upset with the city because we knew August 12th was going to be the one. We knew that something was going to happen August 12th. July 8th was just to get everybody’s mind kind of going a different direction.”
Redd continued to say, “the police and the KKK are one and the same. It took people July 8th to see that the police are the aggressors. To see the police kicking [protestors] and dragging them and pepper-spraying them while they are peacefully assembling.”
Redd later declared, “I believe that liberal people are more dangerous than the alt-right, more dangerous than the supremacists, more dangerous than the KKK, more dangerous than all of them. That’s because they know about the injustices, and they say they want to help. But where are they when stuff’s going on. They’re not willing to lay their bodies down and fight.”
Nay Nichelle had some of the final words before the Q&A, in which she said, “this is not a game. I really do hope that people know that people of color are watching, and nobody of color should be terrified or hate on because of their color… Do not be afraid of white supremacy, but acknowledge that it is real. White privilege is real.”
After the panel ended, one of the student organizers explained her phone call to the precinct. She said that the police officer she talked to did not mention a threat against the event. The student reported that the police “decided to send an officer to the event because of the content of our message.”
Panel members and audience members collectively voiced disdain and cited this as an example of systemic white supremacy in the police force.
The Q&A session then started but was abbreviated due to time constraints. The questions largely pertained to logistical questions, though one woman asked panel members for their opinion of the recent “Open Discussion About Racism” held in town.
Donna answered, criticizing the event for a lack of diversity and citing it as a moment for white people to continue posturing as open-minded. As Donna went on, the woman got up and left the auditorium with her bag.
At 9:00, the audience and panel members filed out of Wilson Hall Auditorium, with the intent of marching down the lawn to the Jefferson statue.
In front of Old Cabell Hall, the crowd linked arms in rows of five or six and proceeded to march. They chanted “Black Lives Matter!”, “No Trump, No KKK, No Fascist UVa!”, “No Justice: No Peace!”, among other sentiments.
The rows fell apart more and more over each hill, linked arms broken by variances in speed and the struggle to traverse the slopes. The group carried on up the Rotunda steps, around the side of the building, and out to the front steps.
There the audience congregated before the student organizers. Through a bullhorn, some of the student organizers echoed earlier sentiments that this event serve only as the beginning of student activity. They thanked people for coming out. They urged students to bring friends and spread the word. One woman sang a short rendition of “Oh Freedom”.
Then three guys walked by from the direction of the corner. An older man went to start talking to the crowd about his experiences at UVa in the 80’s. One of the guys was wearing a red cap turned backward on his head. He shouted, “Go capitalism!” Then he turned, they laughed, and they carried on.
Several organizers rushed over to the guys and began urging them to leave, following along as the guys made their way in the direction of Rugby Road. The small group then disappeared from view behind the Jefferson statue.
When shouting began to erupt from the obstructed group, the students descended the steps and rushed across the square to the small group.
The three guys managed to call a UTC ambassador over, who was watching from his bicycle at a distance. After a brief conversation, the ambassador rode away from the angry throng of students approaching. The students then surrounded the three guys, shouting at them to leave and mercilessly deriding them.
Now enveloped by an immense crowd, the three began to retaliate and hopelessly defend themselves. Their retorts only served to garner them more antagonism. Their attempts to flee became less and less substantial.
The flash of a news camera illuminated the group, causing people to turn their attention at the NBC 29 cameraman who was recording from behind the group. He was met by a flurry of cries to leave. As people turned to approach him, he hurriedly fled.
Word spread fast that the ambassador had called the cops. Though many ignored the warning, some of the student organizers began yelling “mic check!” to turn people’s attention towards their warning of imminent police.
The crowd slowly dispersed. Many continued to yell at the three guys, others started looking around questioningly, unsure if it was okay to leave.
Soon, the student organizers were arranging rides for people and making sure people went home. The guys got free from the crowd and made their way towards the corner.
As the crowd turned their attention towards getting home, one of the three men stood further down the brick sidewalk. He warned passersby, “Don’t go that way! They’ll attack you. They assaulted me because I’m white.”
This statement brought more derision from crowd members. He argued about how he was pushed when he was simply trying to leave. A small audience formed around him and his new opponents. They argued that he should have left, that he was not assaulted simply for being white, that they never had to yell at the group to begin with.
One of the other men came over and defended him. The third finally came over, wide-eyed and apologetic for shouting “Go capitalism!” He pulled his friends away from the indignant crowd.
Then a couple Charlottesville cops came over and told the guys to come with him away from the sidewalk. He took their names and IDs down as the crowd truly did disperse.
This was one of the first events of the Disorientation series that UVa Students United has put together. They have since had a couple meetings, with plans to attend the City Council meeting on Tuesday the 5th.
Their next event is called “Education Without Violence”. It will be held tonight.