Last month marked the one-year anniversary of the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. Between the overwhelming images of riot police and confederate flag insignias, it’s easy to get downtrodden and feel like no progress has been made.
However, after talking to a local activist, who goes by Goad Gatsby, and remembering that only 20 came in support for this year’s Washington, DC repeat of the Unite the Right rally (as opposed to the 400 that Jason Kessler pulled from his ass), it’s clear that anti-fascist activists have had success.
The small showing at Kessler’s rally suggests that something has changed since last year’s gathering. Gatsby pointed to the willingness of activists to name and shame racist activists, even telling their employers about participation in rallies like Unite the Right. When you tell your boss, Gatsby said, “You’ve given a very good case for this person to no longer be working alongside with you. They have to reevaluate their resources if they’re going to continue what they’ve done.”
After acknowledging the success of deplatforming, Gatsby pivoted quickly to what he sees as the next battleground: police reform.
“When counter-demonstrations show up, the police are always going to have their weapons out, looking at the counter-demonstrations instead of the white nationalists,” Gatsby said. “[Those who] have come out to say they are going to commit violence, who have a violent ideology who are just waiting for the opportunity. There is a huge disconnect within the police system.”
Gatsby said the important question was who the police are there to protect; who do they see as needing their support? As a recent parade of police lip sync challenges, including local forces, have spread over social media, Gatsby noted that the timing coincided with the death of Marcus-David Peters.
“It is absolutely no coincidence that the lip sync videos came out at the same time as the Marcus Peters investigation,” Gatsby said. “They are a PR department, of course, this is something they would intentionally want to do. Richmond Police [Department] has always done something to make them look like the good guy.”
Gatsby recalled public meetings he attended where members of the community would raise issues they’d thought the police department was working to address, only to find out that nothing had happened. “That’s the problem with the Richmond Police Department,” Gatsby said, adding, “No matter how well-meaning your intentions may be, they’re always dodging what the community really wants.”
While deplatforming has removed neo-Nazis and retrograde racists from public speaking positions, such as former Trump adviser and Richmonder Steve Bannon, Gatsby maintained that there is much more to do. He said part of the problem was generational, pointing to a sharp divide between younger and older people.
“What can we do for a generation that isn’t listening?” Gatsby “There’s one side, we’ve looked at the facts, we’re willing to make a compromise. Then there is another side that says ‘Fake news, not going to listen to you.’ It’s an older generation that has decided to believe a conspiracy theorist over the lived experiences of children. That’s just where we’re at.”
From the activist side, there isn’t any one answer, but rather a series of steps in the ongoing fight for the safety and dignity of people who are targeted for oppression. While deplatforming counts as a success, the role of law enforcement remains a serious challenge to people who push back against marginalization and oppression.