Friday, August 18, 2017

I was there.

I was in Charlottesville last weekend.

I've written about my love of Charlottesville a few times before (here and here). My best friend moved there three years ago and I've spent so many weekends exploring the town and totally falling in love with it. I'm always so amazed at how nice and welcoming ever person I've met is. All of the businesses are vocally welcoming and inclusive.

This is something Kristin loves about Charlottesville - it's open, inclusive, loving culture; and it's a reason I've come to love it as well.

Friday night, we went to Fridays After Five on the downtown mall. This is an event where they have beer tents, food trucks and live music during the summer. When we got down there, Kristin remarked how not busy it was for  Friday and we assumed it was because it had rained a little earlier and people didn't want to risk getting caught in it.
After hanging out awhile, we walked down the mall to grab dinner at Jack Brown's. As we walked through the mall, I noticed a LOT of police officers gathered in groups all over the mall and things were much less crowded than normal.

As we left the mall, I noticed there were multiple temporary barricades around Emancipation Park behind the mall. At this point I said "oh, I guess there's a rally happening?". We knew there was a rally planned but it didn't hit us until that point that the city was probably quiet because of it.

Saturday morning, we woke up to the news of the violent march that had started very shortly after we had left the mall. I couldn't believe that such horrible hate and violence had taken place in the very spot that we had been just a few hours early when the town had been so sleepy and peaceful when we left.

Anytime I'm in Charlottesville, I always need Bodo's Bagels and this weekend was no exception. We drove to our normal spot to find it closed and the parking lot closed off. Immediately, I check their social media to find they preemptively decided to close that location to protect their employees.
At this point, Kristin and I both started to really get worried about the day's events. As we ate breakfast (we went to a different Bodo's), I saw things on social media that the rally may not really be happening because things got violent before it even started.

I was there to help with wedding preparations, and we needed to do some shopping. Kristin picked a place that was farther away from the Downtown mall to be on the safe side. As we were driving down the highway, Kristin points out my window and says "oh my god, look.... "

As I turned my head, I saw probably 200-300 white, primarily men marching into McIntire Park beside the YMCA and a playground. These people were carrying Confederate flags, Nazi flags, swastika emblems, poles and other random things that were later used as weapons. And we both froze.
Source - Read. This.
I can't describe how awful that scene made us feel. I truly thought I would be sick. And, then, I became extremely aware of my privilege. I, as a white, middle class female, was not in dire danger just by existing in this town at that moment. I realized that we were free to go about our errands, while others were living in fear by these people being in their town. And I think that is what made me feel so sick.

I felt (and honestly still feel) helpless. How do I help? What can I do? How do I make a difference? How do we end such vile hate? I really don't have the answers but I have spent the last six days consumed by these thoughts and truly trying to discover what I can do. There are marches and rallies being planned but is that the answer? Will that solve the underlying hatred that exists in this country and has become more tolerated in the last 18 months?
One thing I also want to note is that these people traveled to Charlottesville specifically to cause an issue and to bring hate and violence to a town that is loving, open and progressive. These were not Charlottesville locals and this is not a problem with Charlottesville. The majority of arrests made during the rally and protests didn't even reside in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The man who drove a car into a crowd of peaceful anti protestors who injured over 19 people and killed Heather Hyer was from Ohio.
Thank you if you made it this far into the post because I know it's heavy and it's kind of rambly but I just have so many thoughts and I don't know where we go from here. I just know that it hurts me so I can only imagine how those who were actually being targeted feel and I want to know how to help.

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Alyssa said...

So ugly. So disturbing. Thank you for writing this and giving your account. That's one of the best things we can do about it right now -- refuse to shut up.

Audrey Louise said...

I can't believe you were there... What a terrible thing to see. I think those states get back reputations as far as race and diversity go but it's nice to hear you praise the town on any other weekend. (I'm from OH and unfortunately there are many people here with opinions like the driver/murderer. There are many good not-hate-group people, too, though- like most places.)