Chico for Charlottesville

Mobilize group rolls out fast response to violence in Virginia

Chico activists show their support for counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Va., on Sunday (Aug. 13).

Chico activists show their support for counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Va., on Sunday (Aug. 13).

Photo by Ken Smith

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On Sunday morning (Aug. 13), about 100 people gathered at the intersection of East 20th Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway, most holding signs decorated with slogans like “Deport Nazis,” “Racism Sucks” and “Make America Compassionate Again.” Most of the protesters clustered into groups at each corner while a few marched from crosswalk to crosswalk carrying a banner that read “Unite for Love.”

The crowd consisted of both seasoned activists and first-time protesters, many of whom said they were stirred to take action by the blatant racism displayed at the “Unite the Right” rally held in Charlottesville, Va., earlier that weekend. That demonstration, a gathering of ultra-conservatives protesting the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in that city’s Emancipation Park, included the participation of the Ku Klux Klan, several neo-Nazi organizations and other self-proclaimed white nationalists. After the rally was shut down Saturday, 20-year-old James Fields Jr. of Ohio, who allegedly plowed into counterprotesters, killing one and injuring at least 19 others, was arrested and charged with second-degree murder, among other offenses.

As alt-right activists and counterprotesters clashed in the streets of Charlottesville Saturday, members of local activist group Mobilize Chico took to Facebook to discuss an appropriate response. Some suggested scheduling a meeting to plan that response or tacking anti-racism themes onto a rally scheduled for September, but others were compelled to take more immediate action.

Mobilize members Anna B. Moore and Sandra Scholten got busy immediately, drafting a press release and creating a Facebook event while reaching out to other activist groups to participate. Less than 24 hours later, at 9 a.m. Sunday (Aug. 13), the protest in Chico was in full swing.

Some local participants, like Megan Thomas Melly, expressed frustration with what she’s seen as the mainstreaming of overtly racist ideologies, and because alt-right groups haven’t been held to account for the violent acts they’ve inspired.

“We have to really look at groups like the white nationalists and Nazis that were gathered in Virginia as being terrorist groups,” said Melly. “They form the same way, by attracting young, disenfranchised people who are radicalized online and emboldened to organize in public and perpetrate violence and hatred.”

“It’s a sickness,” she continued. “Racism is a disease and we need to squash it. It’s about time we really address these things.”

Aramenta Hawkins, executive director of the Chico Peace and Justice Center, helped spread word about Sunday’s action through her organization and participated herself. She said the Charlottesville killing highlights the need for parents to have open and genuine conversations with their children about racial issues and the danger of hate groups.

“Parents aren’t doing that, and that’s the crux of the problem,” she said, referencing an interview in which Fields’ mother said she knew he was attending a rally, but didn’t know about the nature of the event. “Then they’re shocked when their children do something foul and viscous, and in this case took a human life.

“I think it’s harder for Caucasian people to talk about, because it brings up all kinds of issues and they may be afraid of being perceived as racist themselves,” continued Hawkins, who is black and recalled a conversation she had with her own mother at the age of 5 about negative treatment she would encounter by virtue of her skin color. “In minority families, parents see those discussions as necessary to keep their kids safe.

“Young people use cellphones and social media. They’ll find out about these groups on their own, so it’s important to help them understand hatred and inequality.”

“The response has been overwhelmingly positive,” Moore, of Mobilize, said at Sunday’s action, as protesters in the background sporadically cheered in response to passersby honking in support. As if on cue, she was interrupted by an incomprehensible—yet undeniably angry—shout from the driver of a passing truck, its tires squealing as it turned south onto MLK Jr. Parkway from East 20th Street. “Yeah, we’ve had a bit of that, also.”

Mobilize was formed in the wake of President Trump’s election, and is “dedicated to the defense of human rights and human dignity and to the preservation of democratic values … through political engagement, direct action and community collaboration,” according to the group’s website.

“Everyone knew in November what might be coming with Trump in the White House, and now … well, here we are.”

Moore explained that Mobilize holds a regular action called Signs for Solidarity on the first Sunday of each month, during which members gather at locations throughout Chico—usually downtown at City Plaza—to hold up signs addressing social justice issues. Since the group already had dozens of signs (though many fashioned their own specifically for Sunday) and access to a network of activists, Moore said spreading word about the protest wasn’t difficult. She said she was thrilled to see so many people—and so many new faces—present Sunday morning.

In addition to joining Mobilize or other groups and attending local actions, Moore suggested donating to organizations whose primary mission is combating racial inequality. She named Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) Butte County, members of which were also present Sunday, Black Lives Matter Sacramento and the national NAACP as examples.

“I think enough people are frightened and furious about the blatant display of hatred by the Nazis in Charlottesville, and they came out in force today,” she said.

“People showed up … and they need to keep showing up.”