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August 17, 2017

Charlottesville: The city and state failed, but we stood up

Death and perseverance. Pain and joy. Solidarity with those who suffer. This past weekend and the days surrounding it have been full.

Having grown up in the Philly area and being formed by its punk and hardcore scene, the final lyrics to Paint It Black’s “Memorial Day” come to mind.

Here’s to the skinned knees

And sutured hearts.

Here’s to the unhappy endings

And all the false starts.

Skinned Knees.

It’s not even worth trying to write without crying.

We knew this was coming. Anyone putting any level of work into preparing knew that they were coming for violence. We knew it was not about free speech rights or a statue. It was always about violence. After all, white supremacy itself is a form of violence.

Local leadership, save for two particular council people, ever bound to the left side of their brain, lectured about the First Amendment. In effect, they argued the constitutional right of Nazis, fascists, and white nationalists and supremacists to descend on our town and violate our right to not be beaten, abused and killed.

But those were minor scrapes.

Sutured Hearts.

Dr. Cornel West and the Rev. Traci Blackmon visited to preach and prepare us to confront them nonviolently, in the tradition of Jesus, Gandhi and Martin.

On Friday night, Blackmon preached that the Goliath of white supremacy would not die until its head was cut off. Saturday morning, Brother West prepared us to march with a sermon detailing the “bleak moment” in which we live, and the necessity of action and presence, as he is wont to do. He ended by saying that claiming to follow Jesus means standing in solidarity with those who suffer. This is the Jesus I believe in — an unarmed man of color who was executed by the agents of the occupying empire, who knew what awaited him in Jerusalem. He went anyway, and laid our course.

There were those, including Virginia’s governor, who while sitting comfortably in their ideological recliners, said that we should ignore them and “make alternative plans.” They argued that this rally and these groups could somehow be ignored into oblivion. To those folks, I would suggest they offer their insights to someone diagnosed with an emboldened cancer. Such banal offerings are screaming echoes of the White Moderation that Martin warned us about over half a century ago. This ideological sterility exposes the ignorance of its proponents and endangers us all.

“Let us march.”

The tension in the air was palpable, thickening the closer one got to the park. Right wing militia groups already lined the streets. Police stood idly by (which they would do). I watched the NSM (National Socialist Movement) march, and saw militarized police sitting down, as if on a lunch break, on 3rd Street. We later heard from the governor that the right wing militia members were armed more heavily than state police. I saw the militia members, and noted their armaments. They were significant and certainly overdone. But that they allegedly had the VSP outgunned should be seen as nothing but a failing of public safety, and I am certainly NOT advocating for the continued militarization of police.

Let it be known that several dear friends in the clergy group have said that the Antifa saved their lives multiple times on Saturday. Say what you will about them. They protected my friends and my city. To them, I am grateful.

Unhappy Endings.

Friday night featured a torch-lit march from the invaders in which a friend was assaulted while streaming their counter demonstration. Another man is currently in the ICU after having a stroke that is said to be directly related to having been bludgeoned with a torch. Those of us at the church service were locked inside, and have faced warranted-if-harsh criticism for not coming to the aid of the counter demonstrators. It sits heavily in my stomach.

I wasn’t there when the car tore down 4th Street and plowed into this group defending our community. That driver killed Heather Heyer. A friend of mine was a foot away.

This morning (Wednesday) I’ll break from writing to attend Heather’s memorial service. Nazis have put out a call for people to attend and disrupt the service. They are still here, patrolling our city in a passive, if very aggressive occupation. They are taking our photos to spread in their internet basements.

False Starts.

It does not feel like victory. The Nazis certainly don’t concede defeat. But the world saw. The state and city failed. We stood up.

Friends have come from near and far to support us. New, likely lifelong friends have been made in this struggle. We will heal and be stronger in the long run.




We are not erasing history. We are building the future.

Rest in Power, sister Heather.

Let us march.

•  •  •

Jordan Leahy is a Charlottesville, Va. resident who grew up in Bucks County and graduated from Temple University. He was among those who participated in the counter-protest on Saturday.