Despite the heavy mist, more than a hundred activists rallied in front of and later shrouded the statue of Thomas Jefferson at the Rotunda in Charlottesville on Sept. 13 evening. Students, faculty, staff and community activists demanded the University of Virginia acknowledge and correct its inaction by during the attacks by white supremacists in Charlottesville on August 11 and 12.
The evening started with the occupation of the backyard of UVA President Theresa Sullivan and the “Across the Street” Cookout led by UVA Students United.
This action was prompted by the events of August 11, when on just four hour’s notice, a group of students, faculty and community members surrounded the same statue to confront torch-wielding white supremacists. The University police stood by while the racists brutalized the students with pepper spray and torches. When questioned about the complicity of the college administration, Sullivan later claimed that she was “across the street” and that the administration “didn’t know [the white supremacists] were coming.”
“This fight isn’t over,” a student organizer remarked. “There are still blatant shows of how white supremacy is still here,” noting how a UVA fraternity, Delta Psi, recently held a “Cops & Robbers” themed party that was shut down by student-led protests.
Students marched from Sullivan’s lawn to the statue, chanting “No Nazis, no KKK, no fascist UVA;” “Black Lives Matter;” “No justice, no peace.” They held signs reading: “White supremacy still plagues this university;” “No Nazis; “Hoos Against White Supremacy;” “No human being is illegal.” Upon reaching the rallying point, three activists climbed the statue of the slave-holder and covered the figure in a black shroud, draping signs proclaiming “Black Lives Matter;” and “TJ [Thomas Jefferson] is a racist rapist.”
One organizer listed the terrors inflicted on the community by white supremacy in the past year with full protection by the police department, and continued: “But with every new horror that arises each month, each day there has been an unparalleled resistance of the people who say no to white supremacy, no to fascism, no to all forms of oppression. We recognize and honor the fact that this resistance has lived for many years. Communities of Color have been fighting for affordable housing, a living wage, an end to police brutality and state-sanctioned violence, and for education for all.
“The same moderates who condemn the hate that come to Charlottesville one month ago fetishize the legacy of Jefferson and imagine him as our collective moral compass. We cannot create a hierarchy within white supremacy, we can and must condemn the violence of one month ago, and simultaneously recognize Jefferson as a rapist, racist and slave owner.
“The visibility of physical violence from white supremacy should not take our attention away from condemning and disrupting more ‘respectable’ racists that continue to control the structures that perpetuate institutional racism. We mourn the tragedy of August 11th & 12th, we honor Heather Heyer, we uplift our community that has been injured and traumatized by white supremacy.
“Today we reflect on our trauma to transform it into growth. We take action to propagate the demands made by students who march to reclaim our Grounds. Our community deserves justice, we will not rest until it has been achieved. Fuck white supremacy! Black Lives Matter!”
Students read out a list of demands written by a broad coalition: Black Student Alliance, Minority Rights Coalition, UVA Students United, United for Socioeconomic Diversity, Latinx Student Association, Queer Student Union, Asian Leaders Council, Middle Eastern Leadership Council, Memorial for Enslaved Laborers, Native American Student Union, Muslim Students Association, Feminism is for Everyone, Asian Student Union, National Organization for the Association of Colored People, Sigma Omicron Rho, DREAMers on Grounds.
Demands included the removal of Confederate plaques in the Rotunda; representation of African American students and faculty in proportion to state demographics; required education for all students on white supremacy, colonization, and slavery; a living wage paid to all UVA workers; continued enrollment of undocumented students; and acknowledgment of the $1,000 gift to the University by the KKK in 1921 and reinvestment of the amount into existing multicultural organizations.
Other activists spoke out on the importance of continuing work in the struggle, and linking the movements to fighting for a living wage, protecting undocumented immigrants, and demands for racial justice, increased funding to support Trans and gender non-conforming students, and removing the statues of Jefferson from campus altogether.
“As we continue to marinate here in the Charlottesville summer of hatred, let’s not forget this is America’s season of hate,” one activist said. “We’ve still got a lot of work to do, and it starts here. We need to work on fairness, equality, whatever it takes to make sure those unwanted folks never decide to descend here again. And as the wise Malcolm X said: That means by any means necessary.”
UVA administrators need to enact these demands, UVASU organizer Kevin explained, “Or we will occupy every space in this university.”