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
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
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.
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
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
Supporters: 30 to 40 at the group’s first public meeting February 15
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.”
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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
Event: Held second meeting February 27 to find and support candidates to run for office
Supporters: About 150 showed up at first meeting
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.
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
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.