As many of you know, yesterday, August 12th, 2019 marked two years since the Unite the Right rally and counter-protest, and the ensuing terror attack and murder in Charlottesville, Virginia. Many reflections have been penned already, but writing here is a very effective way for me personally to address the trauma of that time and the many, many triggering incidents that have occurred since.
There are many things I’d like to say — theories and observations to share, entreaties to action — but I honestly don’t have a ton of time or energy today. What I would like to focus on here is providing a little clarity and context to the ‘Summer of Hate,’ and the national narrative that has spun far beyond the control of those involved. I’d also like to reflect on my journey since then, to see if I can learn more about what comes next.
First off, please if you will take a minute or two to read the summary by twitter user @destroy_work about what happened during the spring and summer of 2017. At the moment I’m not sure this is someone I know offline, but from my perspective as a resident of Cville increasing his engagement with the local activism scene during that period, their recounting is succinct and accurate. Please read through to the tweet ending in “that shit is UGHHHHH” for the full context.
So with all that in mind, I’d like to focus on something that @destroy_work mentioned in the middle of that thread, and is captured well by another local activist, whom I do know offline:
“Something that is.” And, it turns out, Charlottesville is still “something that is” to the President and his supporters/sycophants/apologists, as well:
I cite these different perspectives because I’ve watched Charlottesville’s story change in the national media, how friends and family dance around it with me and others in person, and to reinforce that ‘Charlottesville’ is not over, gone, or past.
Let me be clear: what we experienced was not an isolated incident, but an extension and continuation of processes that have been playing out over centuries. Two years ago, there was an open gathering of fascists and racists that was met with multi-faceted opposition, the result of which was much injury and some death, almost entirely on the part of the opposition. It should not be thought of as an exceptional event, but a direct manifestation of longstanding foundations of our society. Charlottesville is a buzzword because it nakedly exposed how white power is built into the places that we live and work, the ways we think and act, and how we see each other and the world.
On a more micro-level, essentially every day I am awake, I hear or read mention of Charlottesville in the context of race, power, and organized violence. Last night was another night wherein I had nightmares about confrontations with police and/or violent bigots (not to over-distinguish). There are politicians who are, at this moment and without much if any consultation with survivors or the wider community, trying to use our experience two years ago as a lever for their gain. There are, as cited above, many, many right-wing academics, commentators, and everyday citizens who actively cast doubt on the reality of what happened to the point of moon-landing-faked levels of conspiracy. And within just the past few days and weeks, but really going back to 2017 and beyond, communities around the country and world are being subjected to violence more extreme than what we experienced — attempted bombings, beatings, arson, sword attacks, mass shootings, and the list is sure to grow.
Before the Summer of Hate, I’d spent plenty of time lurking in online areas where ‘alt-right,’ racist, anti-Semitic, fascist, and other extremist views were cultivated. Further back, I grew up mainly in rural areas in the South and North where bigoted attitudes toward minority or non-white ethnicities, non-binary sexuality or gender, and leftist politics were common (even if not always a majority). Sometimes these attitudes were carried out in violent acts, but more often were expressed through vitriolic verbal attacks, or in structural or procedural actions — for example, in the school system, or through policing. Even for a few years after graduating from college, I held onto views that would now probably be called ‘Confederate-apologist’ or ‘Lost-Cause’ narratives. I certainly recognize now that I have a lot to learn about African-American experiences around the country, and the realities of sexism and other forms of discrimination. Beyond such self-examination and reform, over the last two years I've drilled into understanding white power structures, and authoritarianism and fascism specifically. I have a lot more to learn there too, and I intend to study and post more as the journey continues.
To tie this all together, what I feel I can say confidently is that there is an ideological movement in the United States, which organizes online and in person, carries out premeditated violence, and is intent on taking political and social power. Members of this movement wounded me and my friends and neighbors, and continue to claim lives around the country. I call this movement fascism, though it has many aspects, such as: white-nationalism; white-supremacy; sexism; racism; militarism; and numerous and contradictory others. It is supported explicitly and implicitly by the actions of politicians, businesses, and media figures, and it is real.
If you take away nothing else from this, I would like you to believe me when I say that this movement is real. It is real because it is ideas that are made into actions, systems, and institutions by our fellow citizens. What happened two years ago in Charlottesville, and continues around the country through to today, is the carrying out of ideas by those who believe in them. If we don’t want to repeat or continue those experiences, then we need to create and realize other, better ideas. It’s not enough to just counter-protest, it’s not enough to be just anti-fascist. If we want to survive, we must live out our own ideas, and share and transmit them as widely as possible. That’s what I’ve been working on since August 2017, what I intend to continue working on with my community here, and why I’ll leave you with some lyrics from a song that’s helped me through the two years since then.
Hold your breath for a better day, and you’ll never learn how to breathe.
You’re afraid of the dark, but that’s where you learn to see.
You’re no good to the living if you’re too afraid to bleed.
And that’s why your show starts now. Your show starts now.