Rally focuses on love, unity after violence in Charlottesville

Community members gathered near the post office in downtown Marquette yesterday to rally in solidarity for the victims of the Charlottesville protest on Saturday morning, after a man described as a Nazi sympathizer drove a car into a group of anti-white supremicist protesters in Virginia. His actions resulted in one death and 19 hospitalizaions for their injuries. LOCATION, Charles Bastian of Marquette promotes peace through his signage. (Journal photos by Rachel Oakley)

MARQUETTE — With signs, candles, songs, drums, speeches and moments of silence, about 200 people participated Sunday evening in a “Stop the Hate” rally in front of the U.S. Post Office in Marquette to express solidarity with a community 1,000 miles away that has become the latest face of division and violence in America.

A woman and two police officers were killed Saturday afternoon in Charlottesville, Virginia, in violence stemming from a white nationalist “Unite the Right” march that was protesting the removal of a confederate statue in the college town of 47,000 people.

Clashes between counter-protesters and members of neo-Nazi groups like the Ku Klux Klan reportedly reached a fever pitch Saturday afternoon when a car accelerated into a group of counter-protesters, injuring 19 and killing 32-year-old Charlottesville resident Heather Heyer.

Two state troopers, Pilot Lt. H. Jay Cullen and Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates, also died Saturday, when their helicopter crashed en route to the scene of the violence. Dozens of other people were treated for injuries throughout the day, according to media reports. In total, at least 34 people were wounded in the clashes, and Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia declared a state of emergency.

Marquette rally organizer Jenn Hill said the event, which she started planning late Saturday night, was intended to honor the country’s diversity in the face of white supremacist violence.

Jayme Siet of Charlottesville, Virg. arrived in the U.P. on Friday, the day before the protest in Charlottesville. She says she is grateful for those who gathered in Marquette on Sunday in recognition of those who were harmed.

“We are all Americans here,” Hill said. “We come from different histories, we come from different countries, and we have had very different paths in terms of our ability to access the opportunities in this country. And we are being forced, uncomfortably sometimes, to see how maybe some of our paths are more different than we would’ve liked. People are actually intentionally discriminated against and we need to combat that.”

Jayme Siet of Charlottesville was at the rally at the corner of Third and West Washington streets because she was visiting a friend in Marquette this weekend. She said she works at a hospital in Charlottesville, where people were working around the clock for the rally, as were police.

“It’s a sweet, liberal, beautiful town, a kind, loving place for a horrible, hateful thing to happen,” Siet said, her voice breaking. “So thank you for, while I’m visiting, being able to feel like I’m still part of this and a part of a community, even though I’m not with my own. That’s just beautiful, so that’s how we trump these kinds of things, with love and community and connection and speaking out.”

She said similar events in Charlottesville were planned for Sunday and throughout the week, but authorities asked people not to hold public events following the violence.

“So thank you for coming out and saying what we can’t say out loud right now,” Siet said.

The rally started and ended with music from Spirit Ridge, a drum with native singers from the Cherokee Nation and the Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians.

“We’re thinking about all those warriors that have died and are fighting right now so we can be here to do this,” said Dan Dakota of the Cherokee Nation after the opening flag song. “That’s a prayer for us, … and it also acknowledges the freedoms that we have.”

Rally participants also sang “This Land is Your Land,” and about a dozen people spoke, with moments of silence held for all the victims.

Many vehicles passing the rally honked in support, and some expressed disapproval.

One man walking on Third Street shouted, “You guys are retarded. … (President Donald) Trump’s done more than (President Barack) Obama will ever do.”

People in the crowd responded with, “We love you.”

Leora Lancaster, Anishinaabe language instructor at Northern Michigan University’s Native American Studies program, spoke to the man and said he didn’t seem to know what the rally was for.

“When I asked him if he knew what was going on, he said it was ‘a bunch of liberals,’ and a bunch of other words I don’t want to say,” Lancaster said. “Bottom line, he was just angry.”

Marquette County Democratic Party Chairman Jason Chapman at the rally asked that everyone try to dedicate at least one act of kindness to Heyer’s memory this week.

Candidate for the Michigan House of Representatives 109th District Sara Cambensy (D-Marquette) spoke about finding common political ground.

“At a time when we might not agree with the opposite side, we have to try, we have to keep trying,” Cambensy said. “If we persevere, we can make sure that we heal the gap, because I really think that what I’m seeing right now is I’m seeing that people really don’t want to be divided anymore.”

Republican candidate for the 109th Rich Rossway of Marquette said in a phone interview that he didn’t know about the rally, but condemned the violence.

“What happened in Charlottesville and the monsters, and I’ll call them monsters, and what they did, they’re the worst part of humanity, and I denounce everything that they stand for. I found what happened to be just disgusting, despicable,” Rossway said. “As a Yooper and as an American, I think we all agree that there’s no place for hate in our country, … and I think we have to find ways to focus on what really unites us rather than what divides us.”

Marquette County GOP Chairman Brendan Biolo called the violence stupid, terrible and tragic.

“Those people are idiots, and they should be — well, you can’t print what I was going to say,” Biolo said in a phone interview. “They’re idiots and I condemn it, especially the KKK. … Those kind of people are nuts.”

John Taylor of Marquette said at the rally that only the courage to oppose hatred will bring the nation forward.

“Today we stand here in the wake of a tragedy and in the shadow of the threat of war unlike anything we’ve seen in our lifetimes, but we stand here courageously to say we will not live in fear of hatred, of bigotry and of fascism. Hatred is the product of fear and not of courage,” Taylor said.

Shevawn MacDonald of Gwinn said she is a lifelong Democrat and believes Trump has “set us back.”

“It doesn’t matter if you’re a Democrat or Republican, I hate to hear Republican bashing,” MacDonald said. “That man is not a Republican, he’s a Trump, that’s all he is, that’s all he’ll ever be, so don’t hate your neighbors and don’t badmouth people who vote differently than you. Just try to strive for unity and love and acceptance.”

It ended with a candlelight vigil organized by the Marquette area chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America.

DSA organizer Zach Jay said many injured Saturday were members of the DSA, including Heyer, “who put their bodies and lives on the line to protest racism and bigotry in all its forms.”

Jay said it was an act of terrorism, and that Heyer is a martyr and hero.

“These hateful and ignorant people, these bigots, are fearful of losing white supremacy. They should be, with dedicated and passionate people like Heather Heyer doing everything they can to dismantle it,” Jay said.

Mary Wardell can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is mwardell@miningjournal.net.