antifascism, Charlottesville

2 years since J8

TW: KKK, counter-protesting, police violence, Summer of Hate, J8, A12, personal reflections
Today marks two years since the KKK rallied in downtown Charlottesville. We organized a #BlocKKKparty as a counter-protest. A thousand community members held space in celebration and defiance. The 10 Solidarity Cville demands to the officials of Charlottesville were released — the first demand was to deny the permit for the upcoming August 12 Unite the Right attack on Charlottesville. We already knew that would be violent. We already knew that would be worse than the Klan rally in a million possible ways.

And yet we also knew we would not allow our community to be used as a platform to promote a white supremacist genocidal agenda. So we poured ourselves into counter-protesting the KKK.

The dozens of Klansmen came and went. Several police forces in riot gear protected them every step of the way. Our people were hurt and defiant, as is perfectly valid and understandable in the face of such state support for racist horror. Some people stayed in the street, holding space to reclaim the streets we walk down every day. Some people were resting on the sidewalk, injured and panicked. The police — the police —

Months later, an investigatory report would reveal that the tear gas was a rogue order. It didn’t come from the top. The cop who ordered the tear gas would say, as later reported: “you are damn right I gassed them, it needed to be done.”

Us. He was talking about us. The people of the community. The people rallying against racial terror. The people presenting a vision for racial justice. The people still in the streets when the Klan was long gone.

I personally did not get hit with the tear gas. I was waiting with a friend who had a cramp and needed to sit down. Then someone else noticed the line of cops in riot gear who were starting to prepare, and got us out of the way. Many of my dear friends and comrades continued to face the cops in defiance. Our streets. Our streets.

The cops released a lot of tear gas. They blatantly directly attacked our people. Our people.

Tear gas takes an incredible toll on the body. In the moment yes of course — and for days afterwards. That’s what I learned that week. The attack had physical and emotional after-effects that decimated us.

July 8 marked the beginning of a nightmare. I fell apart. I tried to hold it together but I fell apart. We had one month left to prepare to counter-protest the Unite the Right and defend our community from the blatant plans to perpetrate white supremacist violence. We didn’t know exactly what was coming but we knew it would be really, really bad.

I have been thinking a lot about the decisions I made over the course of the next month. The things I was able to do and the things I was not able to do. The conditions under which I was organizing. The support I needed and did not receive. The support I needed and did receive.

The support others needed that I offered. The support others needed that I did not offer.

The apologies that I may or may not have given already and yet still want to give now, from this further-away place, from this place where I am two years removed and feel it all so much more deeply, and so much more clearly, then I did then.

I wish I could go back to where I was two years ago, sit next to me on the couch, put my arm around me, acknowledge the fears, and tell myself what to do. How to do it better. How to let myself be scared and do it anyway. How to not be alone in the midst of such brilliant community and collaborators.

How to love my people and protect my people as best I could.

I am not able to go back in time and be that person for myself two years ago. I am trying now to be that person for myself and for others as best I can.

And I’m trying to find the words to give or re-give those apologies. That is something I want to do this summer. It will be difficult and also I want to do it.

I love you, Charlottesville. I’m grateful I get to be with you this summer. I love you.

Published by Mimi Arbeit

applied developmental scientist, antifascist community organizer, sexuality educator