Independence Day— Charlottesville’s Test And Challenge
Every July 4, my family and I attend the naturalization ceremony at Monticello. It’s among the most inspiring events of the year, as new citizens from a wide variety of nations and cultures take their oaths to become Americans, and commit to protect this nation from all foes, whether foreign or domestic. It is a day that we take stock of our values—freedom, equality, diversity, inclusiveness, opportunity—and what makes us a special nation that serves as a beacon of hope across this globe.
Juxtapose this against the challenge we face as a community in the coming weeks, as hate groups hope to stamp a negative imprint on the city that we love. It is a serious challenge, though not as serious as those our forebearers faced when they created a new nation, or President Lincoln when he fought to save the Union, or Dr. King when he marshaled an army of nonviolent activists in the service of equality and opportunity. But it is a challenge nonetheless to who we are today as a community, and how we will present ourselves—both to those who seek to provoke and to those in the outside world simply looking for yet another example of the chaos, discord, and thoughtlessness in a country seemingly engulfed by it.
The Nation’s Eyes on Charlottesville
We need to meet this challenge and surmount it, and in doing so, show the nation what Charlottesville is all about. And reaffirm what is good about America.
In doing so, we will undoubtedly take strength from Jefferson, Madison, and the founders’ insistence on the importance of the First Amendment. We fully embrace the rights of all citizens to speak and to peaceably protest, even when their views are totally antithetical to our own. That is part of what makes this nation special. And yet we can say, as is our right as a community, that not only do we reject hate and those who would foment it, but that we will only engage it in ways that we can shape and control. This is one reason why I strongly support efforts in our community to confront the KKK event not by going to it, but instead by building and supporting community celebrations throughout the city. I respect and understand my friends who suggest we attend the rally and confront the demonstrators directly, but respectfully disagree. I believe that the hate groups would like nothing more than for groups to confront them face-to-face in a way to provoke an ugly response. I suggest that we do not give them that satisfaction. If we want a direct confrontation, why not simply install and leave huge signs around the park proclaiming our values, thereby showing our views without provoking an incident. Such an effort would dramatically and visually provide a contrast to what they are likely to say, and totally diminish their efforts to control the narrative. But physically confronting them would, in my view, simply play into their hands. It could generate a shouting match, even lead to violence, and in the process, tarnish Charlottesville’s image as a peaceful, diverse, welcoming community. Perhaps we should leave them to their own devices; just look what happened recently in Gettysburg when hate groups called for a large demonstration but almost no one came. “Guns And KKK Members At Gettysburg Confederate Rally, But No Foes To Fight.” Huffington Post
I have been greatly encouraged by the numbers of citizens engaged in this issue, and believe if we respond appropriately, we will strengthen a community that has experienced considerable division over the last year, and set the stage for further actions to unify us.
Alternative Activities Planned
Below you will find a number of activities planned for our community on Saturday July 8 (the day the North Carolina KKK event is scheduled to be held in Justice Park, formerly Jackson Park, from 3-4 pm). These events are subject to change, so check the organization’s website for updates.
1. City of Charlottesville:
• The Jefferson School African American Heritage Center and Jefferson School City Center will host “Unity Day” (9:00am to 12:30pm) with coffee, outdoor meditation and community discussions throughout the morning. Details on the Facebook event page here.
• The IX Art Park The People’s Picnic: Coming Together for Community. Food trucks, music and community art exhibitions from 11:30am to 1:30pm. Check the Facebook event page here.
• Unity C’ville A concert will be held at the Sprint Pavilion from 2:00pm to 5:00pm. And continued in the evening— “Grits & Gravy Dance Party” at The Jefferson Theater.
Unity C’ville website has a listing of the day’s event: https://www.unitycville.com/event-schedule/
2. Clergy Collective:
The Charlottesville Clergy Collective includes about 50 congregations from the area. On July 8, CCC will be at First United Methodist Church with a Hospitality Safe Space from 1:00pm to 5:00pm. Safe space, prayer and music. They also plan to maintain a presence in Justice Park before and after the KKK rally.
Their website (http://www.cvilleclergycollective.org/) discusses a number of actions:
—Sunday July 2 through Saturday July 8:
• Meetings at Justice Park at 6 am, and implementation of the Jericho Model (Joshua 6).
• Anointing of Building and Grounds
• Walking around perimeter of Court Square once each day (July 2 thru July 7), and seven (7) times on July 8.
• Also being considered is the beginning of continuous prayer on July 8 (from 6 am July 2 thru 4 pm), where anyone can sign up for 1 hour (or half-hour) blocks.
• A period (or periods) of Fasting on pre-designated dates/times.
3. Albemarle-Charlottesville NAACP rally at Jack Jouett Middle School, 210 Lambs Lane. Taking a stand for justice, equality, and civil rights in our community. 2:00pm to 5:00pm.
4. Together Cville is not organizing any protest actions of its own, but their newsletter states that they favor a diversity of non-violent tactics and encourages everyone to PLAN what they are going to do to oppose the KKK in Charlottesville on July 8th. Here are some of the options they have listed:
OPTION #1: Attend the “Unity C-Ville” counter-programming events.
Many city leaders and UVA President Teresa Sullivan are recommending not engaging with the KKK and attending alternate events instead.
OPTION #2. Do you have medical training? Be part of a street medic team. Besides providing information about rallies, Together is assessing if there are other ways we can support non-violent opposition to the far-right on July 8th and beyond. Having a team of street medics is one of them. Street medics (or action medics) are volunteers with varying degrees of medical training who attend protests and demonstrations to provide medical care such as first aid. If you have medical training and are interested in this, please write to TogetherCville@gmail.com and let them know.
OPTION #3. Protest at Justice Park. [Toscano: There may still be a counterprotest at the park during the rally. Although I do not recommend such a protest, if you feel you need to attend, consider organizing yourselves to be prepared.]
Here are some tips:
A. Form an Affinity Group — a group of people who share common interests, perspectives, and trust. Don’t just wander to the protest alone. Rather, assemble a group of friends who share your protest tactics, level of risk, goals for involvement in the protest, etc. More on affinity groups at http://www.occupywallstwest.org/wordpress/?p=954
B. Know your rights. Standing up for your right to protest can be challenging. Check out this handy ACLU guide: https://www.aclu.org/know-your-rights/what-do-if-your-rights-are-violated-demonstration-or-protest
C. Learn and practice verbal de-escalation techniques. When a potentially violent situation threatens to erupt and NO weapon is present, verbal de-escalation is appropriate. Here’s a link to a good 2-pager on how to do this: Link
D. Stay safe at the protest. Some specific suggestions:
• Plan ahead. Know what to expect and how to get assistance.
• Have a plan to contact your friends / affinity group if separated.
• Be calm and focused: When things get intense, react to danger or warning signs sooner not later.
• Watch for signs of physical and mental problems in yourself and others. Try to calm down others who exhibit panic or aggressive behavior.
• Document, film, or write down incidents of violence.
• Do not forget to eat, and drink plenty of water.
E. Read through additional resources:
• A thorough overview of protest how-to’s from Amnesty International USA:
• “How to Protest Safely and Legally”:
• An Activist’s Guide to Basic First Aid: