On Saturday, August 12, an act of domestic terrorism shattered the normally quiet, progressive town of Charlottesville, Virginia. What follows here is raw, direct, and contains frank discussion of hate speech. It is also important.
Now, a little over a week later, those directly involved in the incident at Charlottesville — as well as those preparing to head to school at the University of Virginia — scramble to try and get back to some sense of normalcy. One eyewitness, a former student at UVA, was standing only inches away from the bumper of the car that James Alex Fields Jr of Ohio chose to use as a weapon against counter-protesters to the white nationalist, Nazi rally. A bystander in an orange hat pulled her back to safety. Today, she reflects on the words that came to her, which she posted on Facebook.
Zoe Spellman’s Facebook post was shared thousands of times and reads like poetry or a diary. For those of us who will never be able to imagine what it must have been like that day, it offers a window of empathy. When asked if she would mind sharing her story with American News X, she said, “I’ve realized these last few days that the biggest obstacles I will face in the coming weeks and months are anger, bitterness, and fearfulness. I am still angry and still bitter, but because I refuse to let fear win, please do with my words what you will.”
I sat down that night to write to those I grew up with, who never left our conservative Southern town, to give a face to the anonymous ‘protestor.’ I wrote to my neighbors, who told me to stay safe and to stay home. I wrote to our president, who does not seem to understand. I do not feel like a hero; I don’t feel like a leader. I simply feel like a human being who has no choice other than to do what I feel is right. When I was very young, my mother gave me a button that said, ‘If not us, who? If not now, when?’ That seems to sum it up best.”
Here is what she had to say that night, it is a powerful, deeply emotional statement:
“Tell me, born to a Jewish mother, that I should have stayed home when Neo Nazis goose-stepped into my town. Tell me that I should have ignored them when they screamed “Jew will not replace us” on the grounds of my beloved university.
Tell me, a child of Virginia, raised, educated, and settled here, that I have no sense of heritage or pride.
Tell me, a student of history from the University of Virginia, that I don’t understand what the Civil War was about or what each side was fighting for.
Tell me about how violently I protested, with my water bottle and cardboard sign.
Tell me all about what the statues of Lee, Jackson, Davis, and Stuart should actually mean to the descendants of those bought, sold, shackled and murdered, who have no such monuments of their own.
Tell me–no, keep telling me–I’m a race traitor, a leftist cunt, a dirty Jew faggot, and a bulldyke whore.
Tell me, who missed being hit by that car by about twelve inches, who saw heads split and legs crushed and bones snapped and who heard screams of terror and saw a woman die, and who can never, ever, ever unsee it, to ‘just hear them out, because they’re afraid, too.’
Tell me I’m equally to blame for the violence in my little town.
Tell me I deserved it.”
Her words offer a glimpse into the deep heart-wrenching emotions that counter-protesters were feeling when they summoned the courage to confront the rally in their town. They came knowing that to do nothing and stay silent would be unacceptable.
Zoe Spellman reflects on where she goes from here, at a time when everyone is looking for answers:
“A week ago, my city was invaded. The supremacists have gone, the reporters packed up. Classes at UVA start Tuesday, and it seems that people are trying very hard to figure out what the new normal is. Folks have asked me about the direction moving forward; in truth, I’m just trying to figure out how to move myself forward. I know I will never forget what happened a week ago, but will America? Will our leaders? Will the everyday citizen?
I’ve been honored and humbled by the response to my little piece of writing. I hope it helps someone else.”
We thank Zoe for sharing her personal experience and feel it will help others understand what counter-protestors were feeling that day.
The violence that day ended with the death of Heather Heyer and the injury of 19 others. Heather Heyer’s cousin is another voice offering insight into that day. She asked, “Why have we been turning our heads the other way?” Why has it taken the death of a young white woman at the hands of white supremacists to get the attention of white folk?
Though Donald Trump and his supporters created the term “alt-left” to categorize the counter-protestors, in actuality, there is only one side –to stand against the rise of hate in America:
“We need to stop referring to what happened in Charlottesville as a clash between the “alt-left” and the “alt-right.” The majority of the counterprotesters were concerned residents of Charlottesville, not a fringe political group. The so-called “alt-right,” or the white nationalists, have no place in America, and they don’t deserve a place on our political spectrum, stated Heather Heyer’s cousin, Diana Ratcliff.
Featured image: Screenshot from YouTube