Unprecedented activism galvanizes Charlottesville

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More than 2,000 turned out for Charlottesville’s rally to support the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., January 21. Photo by Ryan Jones More than 2,000 turned out for Charlottesville’s rally to support the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., January 21. Photo by Ryan Jones

Charlottesville is no stranger to protests. The city’s Free Speech Wall is a testament to the First Amendment and a frequent gathering spot for citizens exercising their right to assemble.

That said, we’ve never seen anything like this.

Since the election of Donald Trump as president, at least seven new groups have sprung up, and a couple of more were formed during 2016. Mayor Mike Signer declared Charlottesville the “capital of the resistance” at a January 31 rally, and it’s hard to keep up with the ongoing protests.

“I see resistance as a broad spectrum, ranging from making donations to organizations that stand for American values to joining a protest to calling a congressman to changing a friend’s mind to supporting a lawsuit to embracing a member of a vulnerable and victimized population,” says Signer.  “What’s happening in Charlottesville at this very moment encompasses this whole spectrum,” he says.

From women’s rights to immigrant rights to racial justice to health care, there’s one or more groups focusing on the issue and they’ve all come to a boil since Trump’s inauguration. And that’s on top of longstanding, local re-energized groups like Charlottesville NOW, Virginia Organizing and Legal Aid Justice Center.

The left has the bulk of the new groups, but there’s also resistance from the far, so-called “alt-right,” which many local activists call white nationalists.

“Of course this is unprecedented,” says the Center for Politics’ Larry Sabato. “But, then again, we’ve never had a president like Trump.”

Sabato says it usually takes years for opposition to build to a significant level, as it did for President Herbert Hoover once America had suffered through years of the Great Depression, or LBJ because of the Vietnam War. President Richard Nixon, who took office in January 1969, didn’t see a big anti-war rally until October of that year.

“The largest demonstrations were for civil rights in the 1960s,” says Sabato, and were not directed against any president. Also huge were the anti-war demonstrations following Nixon’s invasion of Cambodia in May 1970, he says.

“I expect that these activities will evolve as the threats evolve,” says Signer. “I’m incredibly proud to be a member of a community with so much resistance happening on so many levels.”

Who’s protesting what? Here’s C-VILLE Weekly’s guide to the resistance.—with additional reporting by Samantha Baars


Together Cville has weekly potlucks at IX Art Park. Photo by Eze Amos
Together Cville has weekly potlucks at IX Art Park. Photo by Eze Amos

Together Cville

Issue: Make sure the vulnerable in our community are safe with access to resources

Motto: Keep strong and fight together

Event: Weekly potluck on Sundays from 5:30-7pm at IX Art Park

Supporters: 670 on e-mail list; 60 to 100 at potlucks

Info: togethercville.net

Quote: “Our goal is to resist the current regime’s agenda. The promise of America is the freedom to pursue flourishing lives.”—Nathan Moore

Together Cville started the day after the election as a way of “channeling the anger and disappointment into something useful,” says Moore. The group takes a multipronged approach, he says, and is in touch with other groups. It also has produced a calendar of local activist events. And the Sunday potlucks, he says, are “rejuvenating.”


Together Cville Women’s Group

Origin: Pantsuit Nation

Issue: Meeting place to gather volunteers,
learn about protests

Event: Monthly first Saturday meeting from 4-6pm at the Friends Quaker Meeting House, 1104 Forest St.

Supporters: 200 followers on Facebook; works with other groups such as Together Cville

Quote: “I think a lot of us got to the point it was overwhelming, there were so many issues, so now we help find your passion.”—Dianne Bearinger

Bearinger, who grew up in the ’60s and has been an activist all her life, says, “I’ve never seen anything like this.” Activism “hasn’t felt like a choice to me because so much I care about is threatened.” She lists the environment and seeing rising sea levels where she grew up in New Jersey, friends in the Islamic community who feel threatened, friends
raising black sons and feeling vulnerable, and the Affordable Care Act, which Bearinger depends on for health care.


Indivisible Charlottesville members are weekly regulars at the Berkmar Crossing office of Congressman Tom Garrett. Photo by Eze Amos
Indivisible Charlottesville members are weekly regulars at the Berkmar Crossing office of Congressman Tom Garrett. Photo by Eze Amos

Indivisible Charlottesville

Origin: Indivisible Guide written by former congressional staffers

Issue: Get Congress to listen to a vocal minority

Strategy: Protest style borrows from the
Tea Party playbook

Event: Weekly Tuesday protests from noon-1:30pm at U.S. Representative Tom Garrett’s office at Berkmar Crossing, and the group held a town hall meeting February 26 without Garrett, who was in Germany

Supporters: 3,500 on Facebook; 1,600 on e-mail list; 200-250 people at weekly protests

Info: facebook.com/indivisiblecharlottesville

Quote: “We had a lot of people at the beginning who can organize and people who can volunteer 10 hours a week. We’re figuring out how to channel that volunteer energy.”—David Singerman

Indivisible Charlottesville reserved a room at the Central Library January 28, expecting 100 people might show up, says Singerman. Instead, about 500 showed up, the event moved to The Haven and “the roller coaster began,” he says. While Garrett has been a vocal Trump supporter, he isn’t the only one in Congress the group is pressuring. Virginia’s two Democratic senators have also heard from Indivisible, says Singerman. “Trump has thrown unexpected curveballs,” he says. “There won’t be any shortage of issues.”


Charlottesville Democratic Socialists of America

Inspired by: The Bern

Issues: Living wage, affordable housing,
universal health care

Strategy: Going to public meetings and
voicing opinions

Supporters: 30 to 40 at the group’s first public meeting February 15

Info: facebook.com/CvilleDSA

Quote: “It’s a political ideology focusing on the importance of social and economic equities,
collective decision-making and ownership.”—Lewis Savarese

The national Democratic Socialists of America organization started in 1982, but the socialist tradition in the U.S. goes back to the early 20th century, when Eugene Debs ran for president five times. More recently, Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign reignited interest in democratic socialism and the local group hopes to tap into that energy. “Currently the system panders to certain interest groups, like corporations,” says Savarese. “We believe we can bring more people into the political process.”


A demonstration got loud February 11 when candidate for governor Corey Stewart showed up to denounce City Council’s vote to remove the state of General Robert E. Lee from Lee Park, and members of SURJ showed up in counterprotest. Photo by Eze Amos
A demonstration got loud February 11 when candidate for governor Corey Stewart showed up to denounce City Council’s vote to remove the state of General Robert E. Lee from Lee Park, and members of SURJ showed up in counterprotest. Photo by Eze Amos

Showing Up for Racial Justice

Inspired by: Last July’s police shootings of unarmed black men Philando Castile and Alton Sterling

Issue: Getting more white people to focus on racial justice

Strategy: Mobilize quickly and use a diversity of tactics to show zero-tolerance for white supremacists

Event: SURJ members were in former Trump campaign Virginia chair/GOP gubernatorial candidate Corey Stewart’s face when he came to Charlottesville February 11 to denounce City Council’s vote to remove the General Robert E. Lee statue.

Supporters: 980 Facebook followers; 350 on e-mail list

Info: facebook.com/surjcville

Quote: “It’s white people’s job to undermine white supremacists.”—Pam Starsia

Protests are not SURJ’s only way of combating racism. The group co-sponsored a February 21 workshop on gentrification, zoning and form-based code with the local NAACP, Legal Aid Justice Center and Public Housing Association of Residents. And SURJ admonished the local media not to normalize fringe racist groups who call themselves “alt-right” without defining them as white supremacists or white nationalists.


heARTful Action

Issue: How to do the activism thing and do it in a healthy way

Event: Monthly workshops on aspects of activism and self-care on the last Saturday of the month from 3-5pm at Friends Quaker Meeting House

Supporters: 200 on Facebook; connected to Together Cville, Together Cville Women’s Group and Indivisible Charlottesville

Info: focuspocusnow.com/category/heartful-action

Quote: “It feels like this time we can’t think our way out of it. We need to feel in our bones what we want to create and that requires integration of body and mind.”—Susan McCulley

McCulley and two friends were already thinking about small workshops on art and mindfulness. “Then the election happened,” she says. HeARTful Action wants to help people navigate the new landscape in a way that is creative and mindful.


Charlottesville Gathers

Issue: Active bystander intervention

Event: Rally to support the Women’s March on Washington January 21 at IX Art Park

Supporters: The rally brought more than 2,000 pussy cap-wearing attendees

Info: facebook.com/CharlottesvilleGathers

Quote: “We intend to be a convener of training and inspirational events to equip Charlottesville and its citizens to be the capital of the resistance.”—Gail Hyder Wiley

Wiley joined up with teacher Jill Williams to organize the rally. At this point, she says it’s pretty much just her, but she’s ready to provide support to other groups.


Cville Rising

Issue: Clean energy implementation, pipelines

Current action: Working closely with Buckingham County’s Union Hill community and activist group Friends of Buckingham to prevent the construction of a noisy compressor station, which is being proposed in tandem with the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

Allies: Friends of Nelson, Friends
of Buckingham, Friends of
Augusta, EPIC, Together Cville

Supporters: 30 frequent volunteers; 300-person e-mail list

Info: cvillerising.com

Though the group didn’t officially form until the end of last year—after the
presidential election of a man who
supports the construction of major fracked gas pipelines, though a spokesperson says it was unrelated—Cville Rising has been operating under the radar for a year and a half. Its mission is to bring awareness and connect Charlottesville to the environmental woes in surrounding counties.


Equity and Progress in Charlottesville

Inspired by: Again, Bernie

Issue: Elect local candidates to make bold changes to eliminate racial and economic
disparities

Event: Held second meeting February 27 to find and support candidates to run for office

Supporters: About 150 showed up at first meeting

Info: epiccville.org

Quote: “We aimed exclusively at local issues and changing the power relationship.”—Jeff Fogel

EPIC was already in the works before the election, but “I think the response we’ve gotten is in large part a function of the election,” says Fogel, who is the group’s first candidate and is running for commonwealth’s attorney. EPIC boasts former city officials, including former mayor Dave Norris and former councilor Dede Smith, who are ready to support candidates who traditionally haven’t been part of the political process.


Mayor Mike Signer held a rally January 31 and declared Charlottesville the capital of the resistance. Unity and Security for America’s Jason Kessler held his own vocal counter-demonstration at the same event. Photo by Eze Amos
Mayor Mike Signer held a rally January 31 and declared Charlottesville the capital of the resistance. Unity and Security for America’s Jason Kessler held his own vocal counter-demonstration at the same event. Photo by Eze Amos

Unity and Security for America

Issue: Defending Western civilization while dismantling cultural Marxism

Events: Meetings every Wednesday at 7pm at the Central Library

Supporters: At least two [Its president, Jason Kessler, did not respond to requests for information.]

Mascot: Pepe the frog

Info: usactionpac.org

Quote: “[Wes Bellamy] then proceeded to attack the Robert E. Lee monument, which is of ethnic significance to Southern white people.”—Jason Kessler

Kessler, whose claim to fame is unearthing Bellamy’s vulgar tweets and petitioning to have him removed from office because of the tweets and his call to relocate Confederate statues, has attracted statewide white heritage protectors, including former Trump state campaign manager and candidate for governor Corey Stewart.

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