Friday, August 18, 2017

Report Back From A Medic On The Scene In Charlottesville


Report from the streets of Charlottesville via a friend, Xan Joi, on facebook:

This is a first hand account of Charlottesville from a medic who was on the ground through the weekend. 
I rarely post politics or anything else on Facebook .... But let me be clear. I was acting as a medic in Charlottesville. "Both sides"-ing about it is absolutely unacceptable. Content note: I'm going to get quite graphic here, because while I understand that there's quite a range of political viewpoints among my Facebook friends, I want to *get this point through to everyone whatever your politics*. 
In the run-up to that weekend, some local counterprotest organizers' families were forced to flee their homes because of violent threats. Some of them had "bodyguards" - friends escorting them everywhere they went that week, even to the grocery store, work, all the mundane places that people go in their normal lives. 
On Friday night, a torch-wielding mob chanting Nazi and other racist slogans (e.g. "blood and soil," "Jews will not replace us"), some doing Nazi salutes, surrounded, screamed "White lives matter" and "anti-white" at, a small group of college student counterprotesters who had linked arms around a statue and had a banner. They then threw fuel at them, beat them with lit torches, pepper-sprayed them, and punched them (including pepper-spraying a girl in a wheelchair). 
The police mostly stood by until the nazis were gone. A medic who was wearing a kippah (a Jewish skullcap) was followed in the dark by one of the nazis, and took it off after that so as not to be targeted. A university librarian who joined the students to try to protect them has now had a stroke. At some point that evening, the torch-wielders also surrounded a black church while chanting racist slogans. All of this not only hurt people that night but set expectations for how the white nationalists would behave the next day. 
On Saturday morning, a line of clergy, along with a gradually growing group of other protesters, showed up outside the nazi rally (given the iconography, including swastikas, the Black Sun, and fasces, and the chants, of involved groups, I don't have a problem using that word, don't let anyone fool you into thinking these were mainstream conservative groups that are being described hyperbolically), facing militia movement members who were carrying assault rifles. There was shouting back and forth, and a small early fistfight where a nazi punched a nearby counterprotester who spilled coffee on him. Nazis were screaming antisemitic things at rabbis in the clergy line, and chanting "blood and soil" in response to the clergy singing "This little light of mine." 
At one point, some clergy did a peaceful blockade of one of the park entrances, which was forcibly broken by an incoming white nationalist group with skulls painted on their shields. The heavy bidirectional fighting, though, mostly got going after a group of counterprotesters nonviolently blocked the way of an oncoming group of white nationalists, who broke through the blockade with clubs and heavy shields. 
Some people defended themselves as the white nationalists kept charging and swinging clubs. After that, there were fistfights and club-fights breaking out all around, nazis pepper-spraying and tear-gassing counterprotest crowds, plastic water bottles thrown in both directions. A nazi group that didn't know where the entrance to the park was added to the street fights. Some clergy ran to shield vulnerable people with their bodies, and those clergy were protected by antifa-associated counterprotesters - multiple clergy/theologians have said that they would have been "crushed" and maybe killed if antifa had not protected them.
This went on for a long time. For most of this, the police stood around. Eventually, they cleared both sides out of the area. 
The town's synagogue is a short distance from the park. Throughout the day, nazis paraded by it doing the Nazi salute and shouting antisemitic slurs. The police had refused to provide a guard to the synagogue for some reason, so it had hired its own armed guard. There were threats of burning it down coming in. It had to cancel a havdalah service at a congregant's house that evening out of fear of attack. 
The march that was attacked with a car by James Fields was that afternoon. What street fighting had happened was long-since over by then. It was a happy march, it was not fighting anyone. The car attack came out of nowhere and the aftermath looked like a war zone. It hit the front of the march as the march was going around a corner, and many people weren't sure what had happened at first, people were screaming about a bomb. In addition to the woman who died, many people had serious injuries. A medic who was hit had to have emergency surgery to not lose her leg. A 13 year-old girl and her mom were among the injured. The street was covered in blood. The firefighters and paramedics were great. The police, on the other hand, rolled in an armored vehicle and threatened the crowd of survivors with a tear gas launcher. Police officers ordered the medics who were performing CPR on the woman who died to leave her and clear the area. They refused, and bystanders negotiated with the police to leave them alone. 
There were several other incidents throughout the afternoon where white nationalists/nazis/whatever were menacing small groups of wandering counterprotesters with their cars, swerving toward them on the sidewalk like they were going to hit them, that kind of thing, including after the car attack. At one point my medic buddy and I were about 50 feet ahead of such a group and heard screeching car sounds and screams, and ran back, thinking for a second that there had been another terrorist attack and that this time we were the only medics on site, but fortunately it was just a scare - the driver then "rolled coal" (intentionally emitting a dark cloud of exhaust) at the people on the sidewalk before driving away. There was also an incident at some point where a young black man was badly beaten by white nationalists in a parking garage. 
There is no "both sides" here. I mean, first of all, there is no moral both sides because antifascists and nazis aren't morally the same, period. Disrupting nazis isn't the same as being one, period. But there was also no "both sides" even beyond that. Mutual street fighting primarily kicked off by an attack from the opposing side, doesn't compare to mowing people down with a car, to threatening a synagogue and a black church, to stalking someone for being visibly Jewish, to being part of a Nazi-slogan-screaming mob that surrounds and attacks peaceful college kids and could have easily killed one of them if the fuel thrown on a couple of them had been lit by one of the many thrown or swung torches.
Don't let anyone fool you into thinking the Saturday rally was starting out just a rally like others, but with racist assholes. The people organizing counterprotests, whose families had to flee town, would probably take issue with that. The black church and the synagogue, the synagogue congregant who had to cancel a religious/cultural ceremony out of fear, and the ones who had to leave the building in groups out the back entrance to avoid attack, would probably take issue with that. The people who were physically attacked, on Friday night, by those in town for the Saturday rally, would probably take issue with that. 
Don't elide the difference in the questions of whether hate speech should be criminalized, and how communities and their supporters should protect themselves when people who are already threatening to kill them roll into town to rally and then physically attack community members before their rally while the police don't stop it. Don't invoke the Civil Rights Movement to elide it, or tsk-tsk people who were on the ground in Cville. The Civil Rights Movement had its Deacons for Defense and Justice, and similar groups. Just as importantly, many of the leading lights of the Civil Rights Movement were murdered. If you think the only valid kind of activism in response to racist hate is martyrdom, you need to at least think through the implications of that belief. 
I did not have a good weekend and I have no interest in hearing comments about how, despite everything I saw and everything I said here, you think this is a "both sides" thing. If you find my activism unacceptable you are welcome to unfriend me.
To see some of the events described above, check out this documentary from a Vice reporter in Charlottesville (direct link here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P54sP0Nlngg).


Thursday, August 17, 2017

War -- Whether Civil Or The War On Terror -- Fueled By Racism

Charlotte resident Cory Long, an elder care worker, practices self-defense by turning a white supremacist weapon against white supremacists.
All my blogging plans for summer are out the window. Describing the environmental harm caused by giving the Pentagon more than half the federal budget each year was my planned focus. Highlighting specific U.S. military bases abroad for the harm they do to the people and other life forms around them has also now moved to the back burner.

Because. Charlottesville.


"White Supremacists Rally Against Lee Statue Removal" by Emily Leahman, Patch May 15, 2017 

It's not the first time white supremacists marched on Charlottesville recently. May and July both saw them gathering their forces. Then this now infamous NRA video stoked the false narrative of violence on both sides. It essentially called on followers to "cut down the tall trees" a la Rwanda, and the convergence of heavily armed white supremacy forces August 11 and 12 in Virginia took things to a whole new level.

This month is not the first time that our corporate government made false claims about violence originating from anti-racist and Black Lives Matter folks.

But, it might be the first time that police were told to stand down in the face of white supremacist forces armed with torches, assault rifles and body armor terrorizing residents of a U.S. city. (Have police departments nationwide been infiltrated by white supremacists? You be the judge.)

It's certainly the first time that a U.S. president has deliberately stoked and fanned the flames of civil war.

It makes me think about all the racist wars I've opposed over the course of 60 years, and how the millions like me have slowly stood down  so that now the peace movement in the U.S. mostly looks elderly. And dwindling.


The Intercept "Why Do North Koreans Hate Us? One Reason -- They Remember The Korean War" by Mehdi Hassan
Photo: Bert Hardy/Picture Post/Getty Images
The Korean war my father volunteered for to begin six decades of occupation? He certainly experienced it as racist. And he came home a "n___ lover" according to his fellow soldiers stationed at Fort Benning in Georgia in 1955, where black people were still being forced to use separate drinking fountains and bathrooms.


Vice: "Vietnam had good food and beautiful women" Photo: Tim Page  

The Vietnam war I demonstrated against in high school? Super racist. (I could illustrate every one of these wars with political cartoons intended to dehumanize the targets of U.S. military aggression. But my goal is not to spread hate speech by repeating it.)


Uncensored History "Rape and abuse of Japanese women by American soldiers WW2"
Ongoing occupation of Japan I experienced as a young mother living in Tokyo? Racist against the Japanese (who I found to be, ironically, quite racist themselves against the Koreans they conscripted into labor and sex, and who remained in Japan as perpetual non-citizens).



Bombing and sometimes occupation of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Phillipines? Racist wars on brown children and their families trying to get to school or grow food or get married.

Threatening to drop atomic bombs on North Korea, which would also result in the devastation of South Korea (two countries created by white people partitioning the ancient kingdom of Korea at the end of WWII)? Racist.


Haaretz "Palestinian workers from Hebron at Tarqumiya Checkpoint"

Military "aid" to Israel to occupy and terrorize the indigenous population in Palestine? Uber racist.

A few of our imperial moves have been against white people, though. You can read here about the U.S. supporting neo-Nazis in Ukraine in 2014, and police there standing idle while militias chased trade unionists into a building and then set fire to it.

But why confine the list to my lifetime?

The original sin of the U.S. founders was not enslaving African people. What preceded that stain on our collective karma was the slaughter of Native people of North America. Genocide based on race was the first step to white Europeans occupying and plundering a rich continent.

The U.S. Army still refers to enemy territory in whatever part of the globe they've brought their weapons to as "in country" which is short for "Indian country."

Slavery -- which continues to this day in conscripted prison labor that exploits people of color -- involves a lot of violence, including sexual violence (Thomas Jefferson first raped his slave Sally Hemings when she was 14 years old).

The first U.S. civil war was fought over slavery and other economic power struggles.


Reuters "A Sheriff's deputy stands near the toppled statue of a Confederate soldier in front of the old Durham County Courthouse in Durham, North Carolina"


The second will apparently be fought over whether or not to remove symbolic statues of the generals who fought to keep overt enslavement of Africans and their descendants as the law of the land. And the symbolic Confederate flag that flew over the slave states.

On August 19 we'll probably see the next battle, in Boston, a northern city with a long history of both vicious racism and resistance to it. 

Lots of white supremacists in and around Boston -- I'll include Maine here, once part of Massachusetts -- fly the Confederate flag.

I drive past the flag every day on my way to teach school in impoverished central Maine. I've attempted to get school administration to address students who fly the flag from their pickup trucks and, when I failed, I've addressed the students about this myself. Their response: just following family tradition, my grandpappy had the Confederate flag on his semi. It means we're rebels, not racists. Right.


http://racismscale.weebly.com/

A local business in the town where I do a weekly peace vigil was seen in the past displaying support for the racist "Indian" mascot of Skowhegan High School, and then recently had a truck parked outside all day flying the Confederate flag.

A sign of the times is that Charlottesville represents a turning point for many people, forcing them to pick a side on the notion of overt, violent white supremacy. (The polite kind that stayed quiet will now be consigned to the dustbin of history). Here's what the owner of Al's Pizza in Skowhegan sent as a response to my objection to flying the Confederate flag:
We did have a female employee who has had a confederate flag on her truck for several weeks, since buying the truck with her hard earned money. As owners and as a business we don’t support everything that the flag stands for and certainly don’t agree with how it’s been used recently throughout the country. That being said, we did support her right to display it. Given the tragic events in Virginia this weekend and the increasing turmoil around the entire country, we did make the decision, last night, to ask this employee to take down her flag while she’s at work.  
Let me further reiterate and clarify a couple of things. She had this flag on her truck for several weeks, it was not in response at anything that happened in Charlottesville this past weekend. She is not a white supremacist, she had chosen to display the flag as a tribute to her families Southern roots.  
As a long standing business and supporter of the Skowhegan community, we are not looking to put ourselves in the middle of a political debate. We prefer to focus on making really good food! We’re looking forward to continuing to do that for many years to come. Finally, our thoughts are with all of those affected in Charlottesville.  
Regards,Chad Partridge - Owner
I am not surprised by people who will continue to insist that they not be put in the middle of a political debate. White people in the U.S. have long hidden behind an amoral, valueless kind of "politeness" that precludes their discussing racism or wars on brown people. 

When my husband had the courage to announce a next day opportunity to stand with Charlottesville at a gathering of liberals celebrating political satire from years gone by, it was received with about the same reaction as a turd in the punchbowl: quickly averted gaze followed by rapid departure.

Waterville Morning Sentinel "Protesters on bridge in Skowhegan decry white nationalism" by Doug Harlow  Aug. 13, 2017

That's ok. My man knows the importance of being brave enough to take a stand at this point in U.S. history.