What Charlottesville Was Really Like Will Help Me Keep Protesting: “I Can’t Be Passive”
On Saturday, Aug. 12, a "Unite the Right" white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, turned violent. White supremacists and counter-protesters clashed, protesters and people of color were assaulted, and the day ended in death when a car barreled into a crowd of protesters, killing a 32-year-old woman. Selima Dougadir, 25, was one of the counter-protesters who stood against white supremacy in Charlottesville. This is what she saw that day and why she'll keep standing strong, as told to Elite Daily's News Editor Lilli Petersen.
I was supposed to be out of town the weekend of Aug. 12, and I had really mixed feelings about it. I'm actually really happy that I ended up being in town, because it would have felt wrong to be inactive [at] such a monumental time. The entire town of Charlottesville had been gearing up for this Aug. 12 rally for a long time and I'd been hearing about it through talk, [and] I'd been seeing things about it through my friends posting online. I mean, if I'm gonna be a small-town gal — it was the talk of the town.
That morning, I went down to support the businesses that were open in protest of the rally. I was going down to support Splendora's Gelato, specifically. They have an ethnic business owner, and I knew she felt a little intimidated by this, but she was staying open to protest it and be a safe space for people who are out resisting. So I went down to keep her company.
I was with my mom and one of her friends. It was a straight shot up to the park where the rally was happening, and I could see straight through to a huge crowd of people. They were yelling and gathering, and I thought, “Well I have to go see what's being said.” At that point, it was 10:30 a.m., and from what I heard they'd already been gathering since 9 a.m.
It was so — ridiculous. At first I thought, "This can't be real. This is a joke.”
The park was sectioned off so that basically all of the white supremacists could barricade themselves inside of a police barrier and be protected. I thought, "This is a zoo. They've put themselves in a zoo, and I have to go see this."
They were having arguments with protesters on the other side of the barricade. The things that they were saying were so insane that I laughed out loud. I remember hearing a white supremacist yelling, “You think you get more p*ssy than I do?” And I was like, noooo! It's like, they want to take themselves so seriously.
They were all there doing what they thought was right, which was just horrifying to me. That — I guess that's when I stopped thinking of it as a joke and I thought about it as a tragedy.
But I was never angry. I wasn't angry at anyone, I just felt so bad for them.
When I was there, and before I was coughing up mace, it was a joke.
Everybody got maced. Legit, everybody got maced. When things got too aggressive, when people decided to throw too many water bottles from the other side, the white supremacists would periodically spray bear mace into the crowd. It wasn't the police; it was the white supremacists spraying bear mace into protesters' faces.
When I was in it, it really didn't feel like what was happening was happening. It felt like I was in a game. I was on my team and they were on their team. You know that adrenaline rush that you get when you're playing? When you're hiding from the other team, or running, and you're thinking, "Oh my god, I hope my team does well!"? That's what it felt like. It's never, like, something extremely serious, not until a few days later.
My mom and her friends were on the steps of the public library, next to the park. They were watching it. I would periodically run up there and say hi. It didn't feel serious. Protesting together, getting maced together.
But I wasn't even feeling angry until I heard Donald Trump's statement.
I watched the statement Trump made on Saturday as it happened on CNN. And then I was like, OK. Now I'm angry. Now I'm angry. Because now the white supremacists have the support of the federal government, and now they feel way more empowered than they did before.
I was like, is this real? I'd say what else was going through my head, but it's unpublishable.
But here's what I saw that day that will help me keep protesting:
I saw one of my wonderful, brilliant, black friends dance on a Confederate flag. Literally dance. I saw people helping the other side when they didn't need to. I saw my mom, her friends, my community members — and I saw what the other side looks like. And it sucks.
What we're protesting is a historical inequality in Charlottesville, which erected that statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, which was supposedly the focus of the protest, because it wanted to break up a black community. So to say that this is about a statue, or that I'm protesting a statue, is so wrong. I'm protesting everything that was compiled to erect that statue and the systems in place that protect the people [who] came out to support that statue.
And it's not that I love protesting, because I would much rather be watching Game of Thrones. But I can't be passive in a situation where they're being so blatantly aggressive towards what I believe in. I don't have kids, but if I did, I wouldn't want to tell them that I didn't go to this. I wouldn't want to tell them that I couldn't be here to fight for human rights.
No one should feel like their body or their mind or their status is in question because the majority decides they don't like the color of your skin. That's such an arbitrary thing.
Never once during that rally did I worry about myself.
When you're in there, you don't worry about yourself. I was worried about my boyfriend, who I saw getting maced; I was worried about my friends, who were dodging rocks; I was worried about my mom, who wasn't even in any of it! But you don't worry about yourself, because you're not there for you. You're there for other people.
So go and be there for other people.