The Lawn was illuminated in soft white candlelight last night as thousands of community members retraced the steps of the August 11 white nationalist tiki torch march from the University of Virginia’s Nameless Field to the Rotunda. Their message was of love and peace, and taking back what belongs to them.
“I think it’s important after what happened,” says UVA fourth-year nursing student Talia Sion. “It’s a message of positivity, light and hope. We love Charlottesville, we love our community and we’re reclaiming our Grounds.”
Sion wasn’t in town for the alt-right’s August 12 Unite the Right rally, but she says she was “horrified” as she watched the violent scenes playing out in her college town in the national spotlight. “It’ll definitely affect our community, but as students, we take it and it makes us stronger. We grow from it.”
Sion, a Jewish student, marched with third-year Truman Brody-Boyd, who also practices Judaism.
Brody-Boyd, who usually wears a kippah, says he helped facilitate first-year orientation this summer, and no more than three weeks ago, he recalls telling a group of incoming students how welcoming the Charlottesville community is.
“I’ve never felt uncomfortable,” he says. “I’ve never felt unsafe. To see all of that come crashing down last weekend was an incredible wakeup call.”
Watching from Williamsburg as the “terrifying” events unfolded last weekend, Brody-Boyd says he felt “powerless” and marching the same steps hate took less than a week ago was the first step of “repairing and rebuilding.”
He’s been in town since Monday, but says he planned to move into his Jewish fraternity house last Sunday until the national chapter of Alpha Epsilon Pi decided to close it for the weekend. Yesterday morning, he says his fraternity brothers met with a security advisor who showed them which windows and doors to reinforce.
“It made me feel more confident, but it’s sad that it needs to occur,” he says. “I feel safe and secure again.”
On the backside of the Rotunda, people sang, “lean on me when you’re not strong, and I’ll be your friend,” while some continued to march around to the front, where hundreds of white nationalists surrounded and beat down approximately two dozen protesters who linked arms around the Thomas Jefferson statue last Friday.
Last night’s marchers placed their dripping candles at the foot of the statue, where a poster featuring Tyler Magill—the Alderman Library employee who feared for the students’ safety and joined them and suffered a stroke August 15—sat among the flames.
Only one word was written on the sign. “Resist.”