An estimated 1,000 people came together Wednesday evening in San Luis Obispo’s Mission Plaza to stand in solidarity with those affected by the violent protests last weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The lively and engaged crowd held signs and peacefully promoted unity while listening to a panel of community speakers.
It was exactly the sort of turnout event organizer Heather Gray, president of the Democrats of San Luis Obispo, hoped for as she reached out to community groups over the last three days.
“With Charlottesville, it was right in our face,” Gray said. “It was taking all of this dialogue that’s happening online, and it was bringing in the real world, it was bringing it out for everyone to see. And I think a lot of us naively thought that part of our country and that part of our history wasn’t quite as loud as it is.
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“It’s loud and it’s here and it’s building. We need to be building a resistance of unity.”
A “Unite the Right” rally in the Virginia college town — organized by white nationalists to protest the removal of a Robert E. Lee sculpture — turned violent when clashes with counter protesters erupted on Saturday.
The lasting image from a dark weekend in American history came when a man drove his car into a crowded group of people, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring dozens more.
The tepid response from President Donald Trump in the days after the protests also has drawn widespread criticism. On Saturday, he decried the “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides” without directly singling out white nationalists or neo-Nazis. On Monday, he offered a more strident condemnation of white supremacists, only to slide back into language blaming both sides for the violence, in a news conference on Tuesday.
Erica Reyes, who spoke on behalf of Congressman Salud Carbajal, a Democrat who represents California’s 24th congressional district, said it’s “appalling that racism, bigotry, intolerance, hate and absolute domestic terror are on the rise.”
“The truth is a horrifying reality, and we’re all gathered here tonight because we know this is not the reality that we want to live in,” Reyes continued. “We know it is inexcusable to have the leader of our nation fail to place blame where blame is due.”
Other speakers at the event included Courtney Haile of Race Matters SLO, the Rev. Ian Delinger of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, the Rev. Jason Sisk, Dr. Faysal Kolkailah, Steven Vines of NAACP SLO, Rabbi Janice Mehring and Dawn Addis of Women’s March SLO.
Ellen Goodwin, who works with Together We Will SLO, said being silent is no longer an option and noted the recent study that ranked California No. 1 in the nation with 79 active hate groups.
“It happened 2,000 miles away,” Goodwin said, “and it’s about to happen here, too.”
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated Ellen Goodwin’s organization. She works with Together We Will SLO.