by Love and Rage Team / Love and Rage – NY
UTICA – Almost a week after the murder of Heather Heyer in during the Unite the Right rally, a cohort of activists held another of several rallies in Utica to show solidarity with Heyer and the activists who engaged throngs of neo-Nazis and other white nationalists in the parks and streets of Charlottesville, Virginia.
Put together by the Utica IWW, an up and coming local of the Industrial Workers of the World labor union, the rally was co-sponsored by the Green Party of Oneida and Herkimer Counties and InterFaith Matters.
A crowd of approximately 80 people, congregated at the Christopher Columbus statue on the corner of Mohawk Street and the Memorial Parkway in East Utica. The location caused some consternation among members of more liberal political groups in the Utica area. Organizers wanted to highlight the controversy over statues dedicated to icons of chattel slavery throughout the South as well as statues dedicated to others who contributed to injustices which span the history of conquest and colonization in the Americas.
The line of protesters held signs critical of the far-right, statues dedicated to racists, and President Donald Trump, whose condemnation of hate groups involved in the violence and murder in Charlottesville has been received as tepid at best by many throughout the political spectrum.
Tinny chants of “No Trump! No KKK! No fascist USA!” and “Black Lives Matter” amplified by megaphone and received well by passers by who honked horns and flashed thumbs up in support of the general message against allowing hate groups and fascists to gain a platform in American political discourse.
Some of the organizers delivered speeches on the necessity of resisting both the Trump administration and advances by hate groups to increase their influence.
Still, not all attendees were fully behind the rally. A small group of three men, who later identified themselves as members of the same militia which turned out for Act for America’s June anti-sharia rally in Syracuse, mingled with the crowd. Unarmed, they engaged some in discussions about antifascist protesters in Charlottesville, the Black Lives Matter movement, and even immigration and refugees.
An argument broke out when a woman with the militia members asked a Bosnian refugee participating in the rally why the latter came to the United States. Rebuked by the telling of a first-hand experience in witnessing a civil war, tempers receded somewhat.
Another rallygoer, when the crowd would chant in support of Black Lives Matter, could be heard saying “All Lives Matter” simultaneously. A more conservative-minded attendee who while not supportive of BLM, came out to voice displeasure with the president.
Further conversation with another militia member featured a much more limited debate on whether or not Black Lives Matter actually kills police officers, which is a consistent viewpoint of militia members, along with whether or not antifa is an actual terrorist organization. Explanations given about BLM being very moderate, preferring things like police reform and charter schools, as well as antifa being a political position and not an actual group, were taken with grains of salt, though they seemed to agree with criticisms about militia aiding law enforcement in arrests, and the perception of protecting neo-Nazis.
The crowd emptied out rapidly at first upon the rally’s end, though a couple of protesters remained to continue a few chants, one being the conservative man previously mentioned. As some organizers lingered to talk amongst themselves farther back from the street, a black pick-up truck passing by made sure to accelerate to the point that a thick, black cloud of exhaust lingered in front of the remaining protesters. Laughing at the wasted gesture, the last of the attendees headed to their cars.