Charlottesville was my first protest, and I’ll be damned if it’s my last
They all had the same uniform; khakis, white polo, and Make America Great Again hats
by Sara Rose
“The Governor just declared Charlottesville in a state of emergency. I’m no longer asking you not to go, I’m telling you not to,” my mom told me as I arrived in Charlottesville.
I had never been to a protest before Saturday, and my mother didn’t approve of me attending the march – a massive counter-protest to the Unite the Right rally.
The counter-protest was scheduled for weeks. As a recent Virginia Tech grad who still has ties to the Africana Studies department, I have posted about racial injustice online and written articles about it. I have even made political makeup videos to raise awareness.
But then I realized, it doesn’t matter how many statuses I write or how many videos I make if I don’t actually get off my ass and do something about it.
This would be the first time I was on the front lines and to be honest, I was scared.
Things kicked off around 8 a.m. with prayers, speeches, and songs to prepare us for what we were about to face. Or rather, who we were about to face.
Then, there they were. They showed up in staggered groups. 12 here, 3 there – the Nazis were on their way to Emancipation Park, the aptly-named venue for their rally.
They all seemed to have the same uniform; khakis, white polo, and the all-important Make America Great Again hats.
I saw the first group pass below us on the street, pointed them out to some protesters around me, and we immediately started booing. I found it hysterical because yelling ‘Boo!’ at a group of grown white men really pissed them off. I mean, really pissed them off.
That’s when the name calling started. “Cunt!” “Bitch!” “Nigger!”
It was angering. And empowering.
Some time passed as, I suppose, the Nazis were finalizing a game plan because they had seen our numbers and we were massive in size – maybe a couple thousand. They knew there was no way they could ignore us. We wouldn’t let them.
Eventually we made it closer to Emancipation park. That’s when we got word that the Alt-Right’s assembly was deemed unlawful, most likely because their permit began at noon but they were there much sooner and so were we.
Then all hell broke loose.
The Nazis were no doubt pissed that they couldn’t hold their rally and they knew exactly who to take their frustration out on. The Redneck Revolt was running up and down the streets like a tactical unit, prepared to be the first ones in the line of fire. The Nazi front runners met with ours and that’s when fights broke out and the pepper spray was let loose.
It should have been terrifying, seeing white supremacists strapped with AKs in front of me and a line of officers with their hands on their guns, prepared to protect themselves from us unarmed citizens.
But here’s the strange thing – I wasn’t scared. At all. Not once did I fear for my life, though considering the fatality that day, I should have. In the moment I was overwhelmed with a sense of strength because I knew I was on the right side.
I found that I was more scared of living not standing up for what I believe in than to dying trying to protect my rights and those of all those close to me. This is what I tried to explain to my parents.
Sitting back and waiting for someone to fight your battles for you and make your life better is not what creates change. What ignites change is people like me and you exclaiming that we’ve had enough. It wasn’t enough for me to live and let life happen to me, I decided to take my destiny into my own hands and fight for the right to be a respected human being.
I had somewhat of an emotional attachment to Charlottesville because of the infamous rivalry UVA has with Tech. I have attended parties there and it is only two hours away from the place I called home for four years. It was as if the Nazis came into my neck of the woods and I couldn’t ignore it.
I knew Virginia had its fair share of racism, but I’ve never been in such close proximity to it. And despite what happened, I consider the day a victory.
So what now?
Yes, we have made a small step forward because the whole country is talking about what happened this weekend. Will Charlottesville just be the place where that rally happened for American racial equality?
All I know is that I can’t stop now. This was my first protest but I’ll be damned if it’s my last.