Colleen Sharp was there in Charlottesville on Saturday and saw it all—the car out of nowhere crashing into more vehicles, then into a crowd, sending bodies hurtling. Finally, Sharp said Tuesday, she saw the dying body of Heather Heyer on the ground.
Sharp, a Duke University student from Raleigh, was one of several witnesses to Saturday’s race-driven conflict in Charlottesville who spoke at a Tuesday with Tillis event at the Terry Sanford Federal Building on New Bern Avenue. An Ohio man has been charged with murder in the death of Heyer, thirty-two, whose courage and activism drove much of the rhetoric of the protest by about seventy people.
“The reason he could attack is the recent rise of white nationalism,” Sharp said of the driver. “We could have done more to prevent this. We know that white supremacy is not just in Charlottesville; it’s also in state-sponsored attacks against black and brown people.”
The Tuesday with Tillis events, designed to gain the attention of Senator Thom Tillis, have been aimed at a number of different social-action causes in recent months. Tuesday’s was directed squarely at the march by as many as a thousand white nationalists in Charlottesville, in protest of the city’s move to take a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
They were countered by groups including forces generally known as the antifa, or anti-fascists. Among them was Raleigh resident Be
ñat Quartararo. A member of the Democratic Socialists of America, Quartararo told the crowd that a revamping of the economic system would be needed to prevent the continuing rise of white nationalists like the ones he saw in Charlottesville.
“It’s been an emotionally exhausting week for anyone who’s not a Nazi,” he said.
The meeting showed that the movement can experience internal differences. Sharp said a person who accompanied her to Virginia had been disrespected by the larger group on the trip home. And David Freeman, of Chatham County, recounted his experience as the atheist representative with a group of clergy who who stood in the path of a group he described as “heavily armed Nazis.” Harvard University professor and activist Cornel West was among the ecumenical group of ministers.
“The antifa demonstrators moved forward to protect us, and the ministers asked the antifa to stand down,” Freeman said. “There was no room for hate.”
However, the presence of counter-demonstrators kept the delegation safe in the end, Freeman said.
“I may disagree with them on some tactics, but I can’t criticize them for saving our lives.”