Thoughts & Links on Charlottesville From People Who Were There

firsthand account of Charlottesville and discussion on racism
Photo by Aaron Burson on Unsplash

It's been just over a week since #Charlottesville happened. 

I spent much of last week waffling between rage and grief, hope and hopelessness. Not to mention a certain amount of guilt that it took *this* event to make me realize how awful it must be for people of color and survivors of individual and collective trauma to repeatedly have to retell their story in an effort to educate an ignorant populace.

And then there's the survivor's guilt, that I shouldn't be so traumatized by something I was only on the periphery of. I live in the city of Charlottesville, population 46,000, but I didn't end up going downtown last Saturday. I had intended to take shelter in the United Methodist church that was designated as safe space, and bear witness to whatever occurred alongside my faith community, but the governor declared a State of Emergency just as Daniel and I were packing up to head over, and it seemed clear that our decision had been made for us.

We opted to go to a prayer service at a nearby Episcopal church instead, talking with members of our community about our call to action and trying to determine what our role would be in the inevitable aftermath.



When we got out of the service, we received word that a car had intentionally plowed into a group of counter protesters on 4th Street, the street I walked up everyday when I worked downtown. That was all the information we had at the time, but it was enough to terrify us; it made us realize nowhere was safe. The friends we had run into at the service lived on the other side of downtown and didn't feel safe going home, so we made a plan to take shelter at my house a few miles out from the city center. We stocked up on beer, hoping to calm our nerves a bit, and spent the afternoon sitting and waiting for news.

At around 4, my friend, who had gone downtown earlier thinking we were already there, tried to get on the bus to go home, but learned they had canceled service due to various roadblocks. My friend, Sarah, and I, jittery with adrenaline, headed toward downtown to pick her up. We pulled into a parking lot near a community park in a predominantly black neighborhood. A gathering was taking place and volunteers from the group were monitoring traffic in and out of the lot to ensure their own safety.

That is the reality we faced all across town on Saturday, community members watching out for one another because no one else was looking out for us. 

When we were trapped in a prayer service the night before, clergy called police and they never showed up. When neo-Nazis went after clergy the following morning, it was Antifa who defended them. When the synagogue received threats of violence during their Saturday morning service, they were forced to hire their own meager security because the police wouldn't offer protection.

And this, oddly, is why I have hope for my town. 

We stood up for each other, even when we knew the heavily armed militia on the neo-Nazi side could have massacred us at any moment. We watched out for each other, even though we had unresolved racial tensions to deal with. We saw each other, and this was both representative of what Charlottesville is and what it can't quite be. This town is not perfect - it is racist, self righteous, and unrepentant in many ways - but we were our best selves on Saturday, even with all that adrenaline pumping through our veins.

I witnessed with my own eyes courage that rises above guns and racial slurs and rage because it is the antithesis of hate. I witnessed the absolute power that comes from a place of humility and collectivism rather than a place of self aggrandizement.

To sit with that, and honor it only as a memory, doesn't do it justice. The lesson I learned last weekend is that positive forces beyond ourselves can win the day if we open our fists and take each other's hands, not in a kumbaya sort of way, but in an organized, intentional, determined, un-self conscious way.

I am through with the posturing. 
With the identity politics and the think pieces that come from a place of fear that we aren't good enough. I am not good enough, but WE certainly are, if we can look each other in the eyes long enough to come up with a plan.

I am through with the fear of embarrassment. 
If I say something "wrong" in the pursuit of justice, I will be corrected and I will move forward.

I am through with making discussions on justice about my role when it's not, and never has been, about my individual choices and individual action. 

I am through with thinking I need to be the sole proprietor in a business of social change. 
We are poisoned with the falsehood that we need to be entrepreneurs of justice when what we really need is to stop and freaking listen to the voices who already know how to do this work: the voices of the marginalized, the oppressed, the long suffering, the woke. I need to spend less time reading about white privilege and more time being in physical spaces with those already doing this work.

I am through with sweating the small stuff, thinking that my rich analyses of other people's think pieces does anything at all. 

I am through with keeping quiet.
And I'm through with letting people spread blatant lies about the people I know and love and trust.

Oh yeah, and I'm through with this "conscious community" acting like there's no place for "politics" in this space. 
What we do is inherently political, and if you're only concerned with people outside your country, then you've got some work to do.

The Articles and Stories That Shed Light on What Really Happened:

What I Wrote: 

No comments

Post a Comment