When torch-bearing demonstrators carrying swastikas and Confederate flags gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia, for a “Unite the Right” rally in protest of the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, the images America saw were akin to watching the civil rights movement play out in full color on modern televisions and social media streams. Amid the chaos, three lives were lost and many others were injured, prompting individuals and organizations from around the country to host vigils in solidarity with Charlottesville.
On Sunday, Aug. 13, hundreds of Hoosiers gathered on the steps of Monument Circle to call for a more unified and just country. Holding signs that declared “Together we are stronger” and “There is only one side,” gatherers listened to representatives from the local community call Indianapolis to action.
“What happened yesterday was an act of domestic terrorism, and we call on President Trump to call this what it is: radical white supremacist terrorism,” Musa Burki, a representative of Indianapolis’ Muslim community, said to the crowd on the Circle. “The hidden blessing in this has been the countless individuals from all faith traditions and Americans from all walks of life coming together and saying in one voice no to hatred, no to racism, no to bigotry and no to persecution.”
Among the diverse crowd was a white woman by the name of Meghann Ross, an Indianapolis resident who says she came out to the vigil because she wanted to use her privilege to stand against racism.
“Since our own president won’t condemn white supremacy, then we can,” said Ross.
“(The vigil) was beautiful and peaceful. It was great to see everyone come together. Everyone.”
The gathering was hosted by various local organizations, including Indy SURJ (Showing up for Racial Justice), Indy10 Black Lives Matter, Jewish Voice for Peace and The American Friends Service Committee.
Leah Humphrey from Indy10 Black Lives Matter says that in order to make a difference, Indianapolis has to do more than attend a rally after tragedy occurs. She hopes the community will stay engaged.
“For white people, they need to continue the conversation with their peers. Don’t just show up to rallies, but continually educate themselves and make sure they talk to coworkers, family members and distant cousins at Christmas. They need to show up for Black, Brown and marginalized people in a way that’s more than just a Facebook post. Volunteer, donate dollars, get in the streets, go help do some work,” said Humphrey. “For Black people, they can get involved and start their own organization, join ours or just help where they can. They can unlearn some of the oppressive behaviors that have been passed down to us. A lot of people are homophobic, transphobic, but if we are fighting for Black lives, that includes queer people of color. We have to uplift all our siblings, including the ones who are uneducated and don’t have their degree, including the ones who we might consider ratchet or ghetto, including those too busy surviving to do this work.”
Opportunities to get involved are abundant in Indiana, and many organizations are working to help strengthen the community. On Aug. 19, the CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Terre Haute, Indiana, is hosting a workshop titled “From Bystander to Upstander,” which aims to help educators discuss civic responsibility and engagement in the classroom. Indy10 Black Lives Matter is collecting school supplies for a back-to-school bash and skate party, which will take place on Aug. 19. On Sept. 8, the Indianapolis Urban League is hosting an Entrepreneur Fair and Urban Farmers Market, giving the community a chance to learn about entrepreneurship while supporting local business owners. The Kheprw Institute and the Indiana Cooperative Development Center are hosting a Cooperatives and People of Color conference on Oct. 20, where speakers from across the country will share how co-ops can provide a path toward self-sufficiency and greater economic potential.
The speakers and participants at the vigil called for an end to division and said all hands need to be on deck in the fight for justice.
“America seems to be more divided every day, but I firmly believe in my heart that the vast majority of Americans want to live in a society where we are not judged by the color of our skin, but the content of our character,” said Burki during the vigil. “We are the majority. We are the true American patriots. We represent what America stands for. We stand for justice and equality, and have no tolerance for bigotry of any kind. We will remain united and emerge victorious from this fight, no matter how long it takes.”
Ross feels that in the midst of chaos, there is still hope for the future. After the vigil, Ross spotted two young boys playing together in a field — one Black, the other white.
“People aren’t born to be racist, they are taught it. We have to stop hating and teaching others to hate,” said Ross. “I truly want to believe that people are good, though more people in power need to speak out.”
Hundreds of Hoosiers gathered on the steps of Monument Circle last Sunday evening to demonstrate solidarity with the counter protesters and victims of the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Photo/Keshia McEntire)