by VA-06 Democratic nominee Jennifer Lewis
I stood in front of the library on Market Street on August 12, 2017, as the Nazis marched towards me. Soon I was surrounded by polo shirts, shields, and helmets – and the most vile, vicious slurs you can imagine.
I still have a voicemail on my phone from my grandpa as he watched the events unfold on television. He told me to go home, that I might get hurt, but also that he was proud of me. An old friend, who I hadn’t spoken to in probably 10 years, messaged me to thank me for being there. Her family is Jewish.
I sometimes tremble when in Charlottesville for work – when a helicopter flies overhead or I hear the racing siren of an ambulance. But as the anniversary of August 12th is upon us and I reflect on last year, I know one thing: I had to be there. I knew then that I might be scared and disgusted, but there was nothing that would keep me away. I felt compelled by an impulse that’s hard to describe, beyond politics and personal safety. Maybe a moral impulse?
That same impulse propelled me into my congressional race. With all the hate and vitriol in the world, I knew I couldn’t sit on the sidelines. When I’m out on the campaign trail, I find people in the Sixth are fed up with violent, racist discourse calculated to incite the most disgusting segments of our society. They’re also upset about the blatant corruption in our political system. It’s even more poignant that I’m running in a year when the Republican on the top of the ticket in Virginia is an associate of Jason Kessler – the originator of the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally.
Last week at the Augusta County Fair, Corey Stewart approached me. He extended his hand, but I refused to shake it. That may not have been the most civil way to act, but the picture of him standing beside Jason Kessler is burned into my memory. I couldn’t bring myself to knowingly shake the hand of someone whose actions I find so abhorrent. As he walked away from greeting me at the fair, Mr. Stewart had the nerve to say, “I’m not as bad as they say.”
He’s right – his actions and rhetoric show that he’s much, much worse. He’s been actively attacking Senator Kaine’s son and employing known white supremacists. That barely scratches the surface.
I believe that I stood up for the best of our country that day in Charlottesville, and that’s what I intend to do if elected. We’re better because of every single person that was there on the ground one year ago, every single person who stood up to the hatred from these white supremacists.
Today I provided mental health services by responding to a crisis hotline – in case anyone needed someone who would listen. Our Waynesboro Democratic Committee also hosted a blood drive today. I’m inspired each and every day by these acts of kindness and solidarity made by members of our communities in the Sixth – and across our Commonwealth.
I’ve been an advocate my whole life, and I know what it’s like to stand up to bullies. The memory of racing to the spot where Heather Heyer was murdered – the terror, the confusion, the bodies scattered around – will haunt me for years to come. But I won’t let it stop me from continuing to fight for the values that I know most of us have in common.
We can’t let hate win.