By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
Riverwest community members held a vigil last weekend to remember and honor the victims who were injured during the white nationalist protests in Charlottesville, VA. The vigil took place on Sunday, August 13, 2017, and began with a long moment of silence.
During the silence, people were asked to remember Heather Heyer, an anti-fascist protestor who worked as a paralegal, and was hit and killed by white supremacist James Alex Field Jr.
Heyer had been among a group of anti-fascists, who were protesting the white nationalists marching through Charlottesville over the renaming of Robert E. Lee Park to Emancipation Park. The event turned deadly when Field drove his car through the group.
The vigil in Riverwest was one among many being held across the nation in honor of Heyer and the other victims.
Johnathon Fleissner, a member of Milwaukee Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), took to the megaphone first to welcome everyone who had gathered.
“We have only one option,” Fleissner said. “That is to honor the memory of yesterday’s victims by continuing to organize.” He urged the crowd to strive for organization in the workplace, schools, the community and above all among the working class. By continuing to organize, groups like IWW and the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) who arranged the vigil, they hope to create a society of justice and equality.
Several other people took to the megaphone including first generation citizens and immigrants. The underlining message in each speech was a call to stand up for what they believe and to not let fear hold them back, but most importantly they asked for continuing support and solidarity.
Among the speakers included long time Riverwest resident, Susan Bietila. Bietila recalled past tragic events, including the shooting of a Milwaukee Sikh temple. She questioned the involvement of the police in the Charlottesville’s protest and stressed the necessity for a movement against fascism.
Several others reiterated her remarks about the police and past events, a reminder how frequent protests have become. One vigil attendee, Michelle DeCo remarked that as a child from the sixties and seventies, current events remind her of what life had been like in the fifties.
Shannon Frye, a member of IWW, spoke about correlated events around America that continued to give a rise to “white power.” She fears what happened in Charlottesville will happen again unless people dare to take a stand. This includes people of privilege recognizing their position in society and using it to give others a voice.
“Do something,” she said. “And when I say do something, I mean do something other than vote.”
One protestor, Lucia Murtaugh was concerned about how white supremacy would tear the country apart.
According to her, to prevent future events like Charlottesville, vital questions concerning fair wage, the education system and the treatment of people needed to be answered.
“And we need to really start asking the people who are the victims, what they need,” Murtaugh said.
The vigil concluded with a march around the block led by Fleissner. It lasted twenty minutes during which several chants were used during the march including, “No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA” and “No hate, no fear, fascists are not welcome here.”
As they marched Riverwest residents looked on from their houses, and some joined in or recorded it on their phones. A few residents flipped off marchers, but overall the march was a peaceful one.
Despite a few disgruntled neighbors, residents hope to live in a diverse and loving country where events like Charlottesville become a thing of the past.