Continuing the Conversation on Charlottesville

The gathering of the Alt-Right for the Unite the Right in Charlottesville highlighted an ever-pressing need. The need to discuss racism and to dissolve hateful groups and ideals of white supremacy, while creating unity and solidarity in our communities.

We spoke to two members of the Virginia Tech Community, Ellie Muraca, a Junior in the department of Architecture and Urban Studies, and Sara Joy-Hogg, recent alumna of Virginia Tech and past Editor for our Her Campus chapter. The following is a discussion as we revisit the emotions of the event.

As a Charlottesville native, Muraca details the personal connection she felt to the violence that ensued in her hometown.

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How did the Charlottesville community respond after the Unite the Right rally and all of the violence it spurred ?

So even though I wasn't directly there when it happened/immediately after it happened, I know a lot of people who were directly affected by the terrorism. I had 3 friends who dodged the car when it flew down 4th street, all of whom have expressed emotional trauma.

However, when I came to Charlottesville a couple of days later, I can say that as a Cville resident of 17 years, it felt completely different. It was certainly extremely difficult to see the Heather Heyer memorial, but the general atmosphere of downtown was not one of fear or catastrophe, rather a fierce sense of community and unity. Downtown was filled with a more diverse population than usual, and I think that's a direct correlation to race relations finally becoming a conversation in Charlottesville. It's a big misconception that because most of the protestors were from out of state that Charlottesville was angelic to begin with -- Charlottesville is home to many white, wealthy, privileged young people who often leave minority groups marginalized.

 

Does reading about the Nazi protestors in Charlottesville feel much more personal having known some of those injured?

100% yes. I had a dear friend get hit in the neck with a metal rod by a neo-Nazi, causing him to suffer a stroke a couple of days later. It's surreal to look at the photographs and videos taken and recognize half the crowd, as well as knowing the surroundings in a very intimate way.

How can counter-protestors continue to promote solidarity and discussion of what happened in Charlottesville?

Though it really pains me to say this, because I totally understand why many don't feel this way and why they're angry and want to take out their anger, peaceful protesting and proper protest training is essential to heal our communities. Protest groups during the civil rights era trained for weeks on how to remain peaceful in spite of immense violence and hatred from the opposing side, modern day protestors often skip this essential step.

I certainly understand the appeal of congregating quickly and responding accordingly, but this oftentimes can lead to unexpected issues. Many reformed neo-nazis and white supremacists have said the main thing that made them change was feeling like they were heard and befriended by the opposing side. This is definitely easier said than done, but I believe it's possible. It's not tolerance of hatred, rather proving them wrong in a way they cannot disagree with by showing compassion.

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In a similar situation, Joy-Hogg also was woven into the threads of these counter-protests. Although receiving concern and hesitation from her parents, she knew participating in these counter-protests was something she needed to do.

(Sara’s own image).

As a participant in the counter-protests, what feelings were occurring as you encountered the Alt-Right head on?

It felt surreal. There was so much tension in the air, like things could pop off at any moment and we were just waiting for it to happen. But standing with the other protesters, I felt no fear. I kept thinking “you should be scared right now because the people on the other side really don’t care if you live or die,” but it wasn’t scary. I think because of the strength of all the counter protesters protected me.

Was this rally in Charlottesville something that surprised you? Or is it more so a physical manifestation of injustices already being experienced?

I wasn’t surprised that it was happening at all; I was surprised we hadn’t had such an event in Virginia yet actually. When the protests were happening in Ferguson and Charlotte, I wondered why there weren’t “news worthy” ones in Virginia because the history of this state is rooted in racism. The things I learned about the First Colony in elementary school in Virginia taught me that. I grew up around similar statues and always felt uneasy. It was only a matter of time until Virginia became part of protest history.

How can counter-protestors continue to promote solidarity and discussion of what happened in Charlottesville?

I think the most important thing to do is to keep going. This is only the beginning; I hope we can look back on it later as turning point. There is so much momentum from this one event, the news is still covering it, this is the time to keep pushing and use this momentum to effect change. I think it’s also important to realize that what we did actually changed something, the Alt-Right began to cancel their other planned rallies and people seem to be paying a little more attention to us and what we’re fighting for. To some, protesting just seems like we’re screaming into the void but it does work. If it weren’t for protesters, no one would be talking about Charlottesville.

Do you have any final thoughts to share?

I encourage everyone to do their part and participate in the next protest: rally, twitter debate, anything that can help us make America a place where every race feels welcomed and systematic racism is no longer a thing.

For reference, Sara details of her experiences in this article featured on Babe.

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