More than 500 hundred people gathered to fill CCB Plaza and shuffled forward inch-by-inch, squeezing in to try and better hear the speakers at a Sunday evening vigil for those affected by the violence which erupted in Charlottesville, Virginia on Saturday and to decry racism.
“Squish in!” Heather Hazelwood, of IndivisiblesNC yelled over the crowd. “Squish in!”
The general mood of the demonstrators in the heart of downtown Durham was upbeat. Many smiled in their “solidarity.”
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“We came together to put this event on with a united message. One that we can all agree on. We shall, we must, overcome white supremacy,” Hazelwood said. “We categorically reject the message of white supremacy espoused by those at the alt-right gathering in Charlottesville this weekend.”
People cheered, a little girl practiced gymnastics on top of the Major the Bull bronze statue that graces CCB Plaza as if it were a pommel horse And state Sen. Mike Woodard, D-Durham, handed out small American flags which the crowd waved.
Hazelwood introduced a guitar-toting woman and the protesters broke into a group sing-a-long to Woody Guthrie's “This Land Is Your Land.”
But, when chants from a dissenting protest group were heard nearing CCB Plaza, the mood changed.
Members of the Durham Branch of the Workers World Party, aka “The Wobblies,” approached the vigil attempting to chant their own messages over the sound of the folk song being sung, “This land is my land, from California to the New York isl …”
The Wobblies chanted statements such as “The cops and the Klan are the same thing.”
Local activist Greg Williams led The Wobblies in a call and response, “Come with us / and learn / or you can stay f------ here / congratulating yourselves / for supporting the machine.”
Vigil-goers started singing the Guthrie tune louder, tying to drown out The Wobblies, and some vigil-goers approached certain Wobblies and began to argue. Curses were spoken by both sides.
“We're here to include the voices of the people who were actually in Charlottesville,” said Williams, who was in Charlottesville on Saturday.
Williams said that several organizations which co-sponsored Sunday's vigil are Democratic Party organizations.
“This isn't a problem with the Democratic Party. The problem is the Democratic Party didn't fight fascists in Charlottesville yesterday,” Williams said. “Cornel West said that AntiFa (anti-fascists) fought the Nazis … the clergy of Charlottesville, who organized the event, said AntiFa fought the Nazis …
“Therefore we think that solidarity with the victims of Charlottesville should be solidarity with the people who actually, who like me, were actually six feet away from f------ Nazis murdering our comrades,” Williams said.
Williams was referring to national political activist and professor Cornel West, a prominent voice in the political party Democratic Socialists of America.
The Wobblies marched away after Williams’ statements, the general tensions in the air lessened and the vigil continued.
Gerald Givens Jr., vice president of the Raleigh-Apex branch of the NAACP, then spoke, not on behalf of the NAACP but as a community member, he said. Gerald Givens Jr. gave a rousing speech.
Givens told the demonstrators they were gathered to honor Heather Heyer, who died after James A. Fields Jr. rammed a Dodge Charger into a crowd of protesters, and all those injured in the violence in Charlottesville.
Also, Givens sent his “thoughts and prayers” out to the two Virginia State troopers killed in a helicopter crash outside of Charlottesville Saturday evening while monitoring the event for security purposes.
Givens pointed to America’s diversity, reiterating that President Barack Obama did not win two terms in the White House just on the votes of African Americans.
“When the scholars … dug just a little bit deeper,” Givens said. “What they found was a multicultural, multiracial, multi-ethnic, cross-class coalition, made up of African Americans, Latinos, women, young people, professionals ... blue collar whites, supporting an agenda to expand economic opportunities for everybody in America.”
Givens stressed that diversity is America's strength and said “Here's another truth that is going to hurt their feelings. White people have never been superior to all of the races. I'm living proof of it.”
“So my friends, regardless of our different faiths, the one thing we can all agree on, is that God created a colorful world.”
The vigil concluded with the distribution and lighting of candles and the singing of “We Shall Overcome.”