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Worcester rallies against alt-right terrorism

crowd shot

WORCESTER, Mass – “Over 400,000 people from the United States died fighting the Nazis, over 400,000 people

Pety speaking

Mayor Petty welcoming the rally as a student looks on

sticking up for our rights,” Worcester Mayor Joe Petty said today, speaking in front of City Hall to a group of hundreds who showed up to protest the rise of the alt-right’s hatred and extremism across the U.S.

The 1,000 or so people who came out in Worcester joined a national outpouring of sympathy and solidarity for those injured yesterday protesting the white supremacist “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, including Heather Heyer, who was killed when a car driven by a right-wing extremist plowed into a crowd of anti-extremist protesters. Two Virginia state police officers, Pilot Lt. H. Jay Cullen and Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates, died in the line of duty. 19 others were injured in the violence.

While President Trump’s Aug. 12 statement condemned “violence from all sources and all sides,” Petty was for more direct. Worcester’s mayor extended condolences and prayers for Heyer, as well as to those injured, “for their quick recovery from the act of terrorism.”

Joyce McNickles, representing Worcester’s YWCA, argued that white people need to be involved in the struggle against racism and the alt right, saying, “Now is the time for all the white people who are sickened by white supremacy and racism to stand up and speak out.”

Attendees came from many racial and ethnic backgrounds, and included members of different faith groups, as well as non-believers. Rev. Jose Encarnacion, of the Christian Community Church, said he was motivated by his faith to come and speak against “the evil slogan of ‘making America great again.’”

“To be silent on matters of hatred and bigotry is antithetical to the gospel,” Rev. Encarncion told the crowd. “The gospel is the good news: the good news of love, the good news of hope, the good news of justice, the good news of grace, the good news of peace, and therefore tonight I stand on the mandate of my savior and the gospel to love one another as he has loved us.”

The reverend referenced the first letter of John,  quoting, “Whoever comes claims to love God but hates a brother or a sister is a liar.”

From a more secular perspective, Worcester Public Schools high school student Denazia Fahie, reading a poem she had written, said that it was necessary to fight not with hatred, but to “fight fire with all-consuming love.”

The alt-right rally in Virginia was sparked by reaction to that state’s plans to remove a statue in honor General Robert E. Lee, who led the treasonous Confederate Army during the Civil War. Consequently, what it means to be an American, as well as the meaning of American history, was part of the conversation during the Worcester demonstration, as it has been across the country.

Noting that one of the alt-right organizers stated an aim of the Charlottesville march was to defend “our history,” Tahir Ali of the Islamic Center of Worcester asked: “Which history?”

“If you want to embrace a statue, then embrace the Statue of Liberty!” he said to applause.

Rabbi Valerie Cohen of Temple Emmanuel noted that acts of racism and anti-Semitism are increasing dramatically. “We must always take sides,” she said. “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim; silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

Cohen also took issue with the term “alt-right,” arguing that it was an insult to conservatives who would never condone the Virginia violence.

Nader speaking

Estrella Nader speaks, as SURJ’s Etel Haxhiaj holds a megaphone

Estrella Nader, a Worcester Public Schools high school student called for an “organized mass movement” against right-wing extremism, saying, that “These white nationalists do not have any power over us; their only support is this racist president. We need to make ourselves a coherent movement.” She called the alt-right “incoherent,” referring to the divisions between its different, warring factions: the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and others. Nader argued the need for a political organization that could “fight for systemic changes to prevent the development and emboldening of the far right in the first place.”

Worcester’s rally was organized by the local branch of Standing up for Racial Justice, or SURJ. Etel Haxhiaj, a leader of the organization, was the MC for the event. As the event ended, participants vowed to continue to isolate the alt-right and the most extreme policies of the Trump administration. Other organizations, including religious institutions and the left-leaning Greater Worcester Our Revolution, endorsed and mobilized for the event.

clean

After the rally, the area was cleaned by organizers

Aside from Mayor Petty, others attendinging the event included City Council member Sarai Rivera, State Sen. Harriette Chandler, city manager Ed Augustus, school committee candidate Dante Comparetto, city council candidates Doug Arbetter and Ed Moynihan, as well as former Worcester Mayor Joe O’Brien. City Council member Kate Toomey, said that, had she not been recovering from surgery, she would have attended, and posted to social media, “My America has no place for hate. No man or woman, no religion, no ethnicity, no race is greater than another. We are all human beings.”

While a small group of mask-wearing anarchists reportedly attempted to disrupt the rally, the event ran smoothly. After the rally was over, SURJ members, before leaving, ensured that they left the location of the rally clean.

In a dilemma that perhaps says much about Worcester’s status as a welcoming city, many were unable to attend the rally because they had already planned to attend the Worcester World Cup, a soccer competition that celebrates Worcester immigrant communities.

6 comments

  • Hi Dan, Im a Worcester leftist who was part of the group you interpreted as trying to disrupt the rally. I organize with and consider myself a friend of many of the speakers yesterday.

    Im a bit confused about what it was exactly that you interpreted as a disruption. Was it the anti-fascist, anti-racist banners that we had? Was it the way we listed to the chants of the speakers with the megaphone amd amplified their voices? Was it the way we waited for the rally to end before peacefully taking the street?

    One of our anti-fascist anarchist comrades is dead in Charlottesville. Where do you put your solidarity, your outrage, and your body?

  • I usually stand by what you write Dan, however you did a lot to downplay the Antifa presence. There were well over 2 dozen there, they entered restricted area, blocked streets and tried to be more disruptive.
    Although a majority of the protest was peaceful, this crew came with the intention of causing a scene, something they do whenever they show up. In a time when we need unity, chanting “no justice, no peace…”goes against the mantra of a peaceful rally. We can’t whitewash the news here. The Antifa group needs to be condemned for their actions as well. I wish the mayor would condemn ALL violent protesters. Left and right.

    • There were about 1,000 people at the rally, I would say (I estimated by “subway car” logic – each car on the subway can hold about 200 people, and it looked like maybe five cars). A couple dozen fringe activists showing up at the end isn’t really a lot of people at all, and everything they did was done pretty much as the rally was over. I tried to keep it accurate, but there’s always room for interpretation.

      • A couple dozen that were loud enough to overshadow the peaceful protesters. We need to condemn Antifa as they are causing more problems to inflamed situations.
        I was planning on voting for Petty, but if he doesn’t do anything about them, then he is losing my vote.

        • Antifa is annoying, but they overshadowed the peaceful protesters only after the rally was ending, and in part because the T+G decided to focus on them.

          It’s not a sensible position to say you’ll not vote Petty because you don’t see him doing anything about them. What’s the alternative? What should he be doing? Preemptively arresting them? Locking up people who look like Antifa?

    • I’ve always interpreted “no justice, no peace” as “if there is no justice, then there is no peace”. Also, “know justice, know peace”.

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