#Charlottesville: Vigil held to ‘stand up to hate’
Members of the Alt-Right – including various white supremacist groups – took to the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, last Saturday night to protest the removal of a statue memorializing Confederate General Robert E. Lee. While the demonstrators started out nonviolent, the tide quickly turned as counter protest groups arrived to “shutdown hate.”
The tension culminated when 20-year-old Ohio native James Alex Fields Jr. allegedly drove his vehicle into the counter protesters, killing a 32-year-old woman, Heather Heyer, and injuring 19 others. Two Virginia State Police officers, Lt. H. Jay Cullen and Trooper Berke M.M. Bates, also lost their lives Saturday evening after their helicopter crashed in a wooded residential area near the University of Virginia campus.
The nationwide response to the events in Charlottesville have been focused toward healing, solidarity and, according to Susan Pipes, Shepherdstown outreach captain for West Virginia’s chapter of the Women’s March, standing up for what is right.
“We believe (Heyer) stood up for what she believed in: the notion that ‘if you aren’t outraged, you aren’t doing it right,'” Pipes said.
Pipes was instrumental in coordinating a candlelight vigil Monday night at McMurran Hall to honor the lives of Heyer, Cullen and Bates.
“We had had a vigil at the White House (the previous week) and it was our purpose to bring this to Shepherdstown. The Jefferson County Young Democrats and Vigilance Jefferson County joined with us Monday night,” Pipes said. “I counted 177 people at the vigil – give or take. There was a lady there from Morgantown, a few from Frederick, Maryland, but mostly everyone there was a Shepherdstown resident.”
Three speakers commented on the “dire situation the country finds itself in.”
“Real Americans suffered and were slaughtered in two great wars to resolve the reasons for their effort to mar the freedom they now reject,” said former labor organizer and civil rights movement participant Stewart Acuff while reciting a poem during Monday’s vigil. “Just about 60 years ago tonight, on Aug. 16, 1967, at the convention at the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Dr. Martin Luther King said, ‘Darkness cannot put out darkness, only a light can do that.'”
Acuff then turned to, what he described as, the future change he hopes to see in politics by introducing Sammi Brown, who intends to challenge Jill Upson, R-65th district, for her seat in the West Virginia House of Delegates.
“Brothers and sisters of the resistance … ‘Stand up and fight back,'” Brown led the crowd in a chant. “We march together and we will not tolerate hate. What you saw in Charlottesville was nothing more than an act of domestic terrorism. We exercise love and power, and we will stand up against those who want to degrade.”
Christina Lundberg, a member of the Martinsburg-Berkeley County NAACP, read an official press release from the National NAACP.
“It’s hard to believe, that in 2017, we are still plagued by so much race-based hatred. The NAACP will always stand against hate and any persons who threaten the moral right of our community,” Lundberg read. “We will continue to be steadfast in the removal of racism, prejudice and hatred.”
While the events of last Saturday stirred a nationwide response, it was clear Monday that the residents of Shepherdstown are committed to making their voices heard when it comes to the fight against racism and hatred, Pipes said.
“Each person who came out to the vigil is fighting for others, and their rights. Hate has no place in this world or in our lives,” she concluded.