On Aug. 12, white nationalists, fascists and their sympathizers will descend on Washington, D.C., for a “white civil rights” rally intended to terrorize black and brown residents. This rally is coming from the same white nationalists responsible for the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., where Heather Heyer was killed and dozens of anti-racist protestors were brutalized.
By now, we should all know that “white civil rights” are not a thing. White people’s civil liberties have never been in danger because they are white. In fact, the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution and the United States itself, were all erected upon the fundamental belief that only white (land-owning) men were “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among [them] are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The rest of us—including the 53 percent of white women who voted for Donald Trump—weren’t even a blip on their radar.
The upcoming “white civil rights” rally isn’t an aberration of outdated hatred. On its face, it’s a grand example of Trump supporters’ desire to make America return to Jim Crow-era white nationalism. The implicit aim of the “alt-right” groups sponsoring the rally is to increase harassment and state-sanctioned violence against black, Native, Latinx, Asian, queer, trans, gender non-conforming, disabled and undocumented people while advocating against policies that would actually strengthen the social safety net for all people—including the poor and middle-income whites who make up the majority of people receiving public assistance.
The current White House occupant notwithstanding, this is not the first time D.C. has been under direct threat from white supremacists. Thirty-six years ago, District residents saw a grassroots victory that, to many, signaled racial progress. In November 1982, the Ku Klux Klan attempted to hold a rally in Lafayette Square Park. Klansmen planned to march down H Street N.W. to the park under the protection of nearly 1,000 police officers.
A group of black youth—supported by Native, Latinx, Asian, and white youth—organized a counter-protest to drive the Klansmen out of the city. The number of counter-protestors grew to over 5,000. This organized resistance to actual white terrorism and the violation of black people’s civil rights lasted for hours, but the counter-protestors successfully interrupted and ended the Klan assembly.
Unfortunately, the Klan wasn’t done trying to rally in the District. In September 1990, the Ku Klux Klan returned to D.C. to march and spread bigotry. Over 3,000 counter-protestors gathered at 15th and Constitution Avenue N.W., to stop the white supremacist rally from proceeding. Despite the presence of 2,000 officers protecting the Klansmen, the counter-protestors won and the Klansmen did not march. This resistance demonstrated the power of people who come together for what is right.
Organizers in D.C. and the surrounding areas will build upon this history as they rise up and fight back in response to the “white civil rights” rally being held on the same day. Black and brown organizers from Black Lives Matter, Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100), Black Leaders Organizing For Change (BLOC) and HU Resist have vowed to come together through the Rise Up, Fight Back Counter-Protest to defend D.C. from white supremacist rhetoric and violence and to uplift the humanity of our people.
We believe we have the power to build mass movements and broad coalitions of people committed to justice. We know that when we work together against hate, bigotry and violence, we move forward towards justice and liberation for all people. Those landmark victories against the KKK in 1982 and 1990 in Washington proved that a multiracial coalition—led by black people and those committed to anti-racist organizing—can fight against white supremacy and win.
At Rise Up, Fight Back, we will embody the world we want to live in: one that is rooted in justice and love, committed to the betterment and livelihood of all people and free from violence. This world is possible when we unite against white supremacy and commit to fighting for justice for all oppressed people. And with the increasingly emboldened attitudes of white supremacists, it’s as important as ever that we all take on this fight.
While the belief in white racial and cultural superiority ignites the hearts of the white nationalists, fascists, neo-Nazis and their sympathizers, we should not be intimidated into silence when white supremacists gather in our neighborhoods or the nation’s capital.
We must call on the National Park Service to stop granting permits to Unite the Right organizers. They have shown that their goals are to harm people wherever they go, and this dangerous and racist endeavor should not be accepted.
We must call on public transportation companies to not even consider accommodating white supremacists under the guise of “public safety.” The special care and protection that the state provides to white supremacists reinforce and reward their notion that oppression and discrimination are acceptable.
We must empower our communities with safety and self-defense plans in case white supremacists jump buck in their hoods. We know that “white civil rights” rallies intend to intimidate and harm us, and we deserve support in our efforts to protect and uplift ourselves during these times.
Finally, we must build long-term people power to shift laws, people’s material conditions, and entire administrations. This includes investing in things that actually keep us safe—like accessible housing, education, clean water, healthy food, and community bonds—and divesting from things that harm us and threaten our communities, like policing, prisons, detainments and deportations, and other forms of state violence.
We will be here and we will not back down. After all, our liberation is bound to one another’s. In the words of Assata Shakur, “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
Jordan N. DeLoach is a Maryland born-and-bred artist, writer, organizer with BYP100 and comic book lover. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram at j.n.deloach and learn more about MelaNation Zine at melanationzine.com.