“Not Here, Not in My Town”: Charlottesville Black Lives Matter on Why We Must All Resist Fascism

A member of Black Lives Matter argues we must not ignore white supremacy: We must actively oppose it.

Sarah Lazare August 14, 2017

Hundreds of people gather at an informal memorial on the spot where 32-year-old Heather Heyer was killed when a car plowed into a crowd of people protesting against the white supremacist Unite the Right rally August 13, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Com­mu­ni­ties in Char­lottesville, Va., are reel­ing from a mur­der­ous Nazi and white suprema­cist march on their town — one that stole the life of anti-Nazi pro­test­er Heather Hey­er and wound­ed many more. I spoke with Lisa Wool­fork, a mem­ber of Charlottesville’s Black Lives Mat­ter chap­ter, about what sol­i­dar­i­ty and anti-racist orga­niz­ing looks like in this moment. 

I am of the belief that everyone out there in the spirit of community defense was acting in robust and muscular love.

She explained that Char­lottesville’s Black Lives Mat­ter chap­ter formed in June as com­mit­ted Black folks com­ing togeth­er from a vari­ety of walks of lives, to stand up for preser­va­tion of Black lives, to stand up and make sure Black issues are not for­got­ten.” Wool­fork, who is an asso­ciate pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Vir­ginia (UVA), under­scored that she is proud of every­one in her com­mu­ni­ty who ral­lied togeth­er to resist orga­nized white suprema­cists. This is what com­mu­ni­ty defense looks like,” she said. You say, Not here, not in my town.’”

Sarah Lazare: How are you, your com­mu­ni­ty and Black Lives Mat­ter hold­ing up after a har­row­ing few days?

Lisa Wool­fork: I believe we are resilient. The rea­son we came out in the first place was for com­mu­ni­ty defense. All the actions that took place that day were about defend­ing Char­lottesville as a com­mu­ni­ty, stand­ing up for our city, and say­ing no to the racists who want­ed to invade and take over. I feel we did that very suc­cess­ful­ly. It was won­der­ful to stand shoul­der to shoul­der in sol­i­dar­i­ty with a vari­ety of peo­ple. It was Black folks join­ing in with folks from many dif­fer­ent walks of life. I was moved by that.

At the vig­il last night for Heather Hey­er, the woman who was mur­dered, I saw it again. The same resolve for Black self-deter­mi­na­tion. For what Black Lives Mat­ter stands for. To stand up and to say, You might come armed — our com­mu­ni­ty is will­ing to stand up against that.” The alt-right comes armed with assault weapons. They came to do dam­age. This was about the lib­er­a­tion of Black lives as well as crit­i­ciz­ing white supremacy.

White suprema­cists are not just march­ing in the street, but they seem to be endorsed at the high­est lev­els. The White House now has Stephen Ban­non as a spe­cial advis­er to the pres­i­dent. In some ways, he is the god­fa­ther of the alt-right.

What Char­lottesville let the world see is that there is a con­nec­tion between racist ideas and racist action. The rea­son the alt-right came to Char­lottesville is that they were ter­ri­fied to lose their Civ­il War par­tic­i­pa­tion tro­phy, their con­fed­er­ate mon­u­ment to Robert E. Lee — who fought to main­tain a white-suprema­cist repub­lic. That’s why the alt-right was here. Prin­ci­ples of white suprema­cy and Black sub­jec­tion still appeal to them.

Sarah: How can peo­ple across the coun­try and the world show sol­i­dar­i­ty right now?

Lisa: There are a vari­ety of ways peo­ple can stand up. Sup­port Black Lives Mat­ter — not just in Char­lottesville, but all around the coun­try. Get tapped into local orga­ni­za­tions. Have uncom­fort­able and dif­fi­cult con­ver­sa­tions that can open the door to greater under­stand­ing. Be will­ing to be uncom­fort­able. Don’t just go along with racism and casu­al white suprema­cy. That just nor­mal­izes white supremacy.

There is a rea­son white suprema­cy is the air we breathe in this coun­try. White suprema­cy is not just the Nazis and alt-right. It’s also very casu­al and sub­tle. It’s say­ing things like, You’re pret­ty for a Black girl.”

Trump can­not rep­ri­mand that alt-right, because they are his base. There were a lot of peo­ple out there with Make Amer­i­ca Great Again” hats. The rise of Trump has coin­cid­ed with a spike in hate crimes dur­ing the first months of his pres­i­den­cy. After he was con­firmed by elec­toral col­lege, there were tons of acts and inci­dents that very day. This is some­thing we might want to think about.

I’ve nev­er heard of a sore win­ner. They won [the elec­tion], and they are act­ing as if they lost. They are beat­ing peo­ple in the streets. If you won, why are you beat­ing up Mus­lims and immi­grants? They are the par­ty of the aggriev­ed white peo­ple, and we saw them march­ing through our streets and our city, throw­ing up Nazi gang signs. They were right near the library where I take my kids, right across the street where my son gets his hair cut.

Sarah: What do you want peo­ple to know about what hap­pened in Char­lottesville over the weekend?

Lisa: This is what com­mu­ni­ty defense looks like. You say, Not here, not in my town.” You come out, speak out. That’s what Char­lottesville Black Lives Mat­ter came out to do. We are pleased we were able to do that and for­ti­fy our com­mu­ni­ty, for­ti­fy our­selves, stand up against this vio­lent tide of white hatred that should not be allowed to go unchecked.

I believe that can hap­pen in overt and covert ways. All across the coun­try, there were sol­i­dar­i­ty ral­lies: in New York, Atlanta. Peo­ple all over the coun­try stood in sol­i­dar­i­ty with Char­lottesville. This is the oppor­tu­ni­ty and this is the time. If not now, when?

Sarah: What is your response to peo­ple who say we should just ignore fascists?

Lisa: I believe that the claim that we should just ignore them is prob­lem­at­ic. The alt-right is not out there because they want atten­tion; they are out there because they want to pro­mote white suprema­cy. They have tons of fol­low­ers on Insta­gram, Face­book, Red­dit. They have a strong social media pres­ence. They have a glob­al fol­low­ing. They are every­where. They are try­ing to main­tain white suprema­cy. That’s what they’re fight­ing for. To say they are out there for atten­tion is to treat them like they’re naughty tod­dlers, not dan­ger­ous terrorists.

It’s a tac­it and silent endorse­ment of white suprema­cy to say it can be tol­er­at­ed or that every­one has a right to their opin­ions. It belies the fact that racist thought and racist action are con­nect­ed. The sym­bol of Lee is a mag­net for racists and white suprema­cists. We are invit­ing them by main­tain­ing that neg­a­tive hatred at the cen­ter of our city. We cre­ate hos­pitable con­di­tions for them. 

Sarah: Is there any­thing you want our read­ers to know about what local orga­niz­ing looks like from here?

Lisa: As we move for­ward, we have a lot of issues we are work­ing to pro­mote. We want aware­ness of some of the inequities and issues of injus­tice in our city. Near­ly 80 per­cent of stop-and-frisks in Char­lottesville are of African Amer­i­cans, even though we only com­prise 19 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion. We want peo­ple to pay atten­tion to the court case about the Con­fed­er­ate mon­u­ment. We call on Char­lottesville city coun­cil to fight to remove con­fed­er­ate mon­u­ments from pub­lic spaces, so we’re a less hos­pitable place for Nazis, white suprema­cists and racists. There is the case of a miss­ing trans­gen­der women, whose dis­ap­pear­ances are over­looked nationally.

I would advise peo­ple to look for­ward, look with­in, and look local­ly. What can you do to chal­lenge white suprema­cy in your dai­ly life? We have to stop believ­ing white suprema­cy is some­one else’s prob­lem. Because we live in Amer­i­ca, which has white suprema­cy at its base, it lurks in all of us. Chal­lenge things, ask ques­tions, inter­vene if you see some­one harmed.

Look local­ly. See what’s hap­pen­ing right in your town where you can help. What is the pover­ty rate in your city? How is pub­lic edu­ca­tion? Do you have a pub­lic edu­ca­tion sys­tem that fails Black and Brown stu­dents? What kind of steps can you take to rem­e­dy that? What about hunger? How does that work in your town? The prob­lems with Char­lottesville are prob­lems with every city in America.

Sarah: What is your response to politi­cians and pun­dits who are demo­niz­ing peo­ple who are resist­ing fascism?

Lisa: I believe there should be a diver­si­ty of tac­tics in order to fight white suprema­cy. I believe that these fas­cists came to invade our town and to ter­ror­ize. They came with weapons, with bats. They cre­ate a false equiv­a­len­cy when they say Nazis are equal to anti-racist activists. That is an unbal­anced equa­tion. By demo­niz­ing the anti-fas­cists, it makes fas­cism look as if it’s a viable social posi­tion. There were peo­ple out there Sat­ur­day in kha­ki pants and white polo shirts who marched to where I teach at UVA and shout­ed, Death to the Jews, we will not be replaced.”

I rec­og­nize that there is a diver­si­ty of tac­tics, and I am of the belief that every­one out there in the spir­it of com­mu­ni­ty defense was act­ing in robust and mus­cu­lar love. Love for human­i­ty and jus­tice, against the tide of white suprema­cy and all sorts of things being normalized.

Sarah Lazare is web edi­tor at In These Times. She comes from a back­ground in inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ism for pub­li­ca­tions includ­ing The Inter­cept, The Nation, and Tom Dis­patch. She tweets at @sarahlazare.

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