From Comedy to Tragedy: what I saw at the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville

20708406_1686411514766643_3696740697917868792_nThe first thing I saw when I approached the Unite the Right rally on Saturday, August 12 here in Charlottesville was a guy across from Market Street Market selling bottled water for $2 out of his car, saying, “I figured I had to make the most of it.” The next thing I saw were a group of Unite the Right protesters gathered on the corner of Market Street and 3rd Street NE, dressed like middle-schoolers going to a war games-themed birthday party, with make-shift helmets, shields, and batons. All this was at first quite comical. The group paused on the corner for a moment, issued an obscure kind of war cry, and marched fast toward the park with various photographers running backwards quickly trying to capture the action.

At the park, the Unite the Right protesters had already gathered in a double fenced off section of the park, and you could stand and view them like exotic animals in a zoo. They all faced outward, pressing against the steel fencing, and harassed and verbally abused onlookers, many of whom returned the favor. There was a lot of vulgar harassment of women from the group, and I heard one guy say to a woman, “You’re a little chubby around the edges, but I’d f##k you, Bitch.” There were women with them, too, and I noticed how they had no expressions on their faces as the men they were with said this stuff. Still, it all seemed comical. Were these guys serious? Meanwhile, I spotted what appeared to be self-styled, bearded militiamen walking around in fatigues and assault rifles with odd assortments of insignia on their “uniforms.” They all looked very serious, and no one I spoke to could tell me exactly why they were there, but at that point their inscrutable countenance seemed comical, too. Were they expecting some kind of armed ambush from some opposing guerrilla army? Meanwhile, various public officials and notable citizens milled about, seeming a little amused by this particular circus that came to town. They could stand safely at the edge of the fencing around the park and observe various white supremacists and neo-nazis spewing slogans and insulting people. I saw friends and colleagues and we had time to chat. A couple of local guys had thought to put loud speakers on the top of a nearby building, and they had the words of James Baldwin playing in a continuous loop. Nearby a guy had set up an easel and he was painting comic book-style portraits of Robert E. Lee and Donald Trump.

20708191_1686411471433314_8139878792168219992_nOn the steps to the Market Street entrance to the park a group of clergy, including Harvard scholar Dr. Cornell West, blocked the entrance and quietly demanded that the Unite the Right protesters gathered below them “stand down” and not enter the park. this standoff went of for a few moments, until the Unite the Right protesters finally walked up the steps and pushed them violently aside.

That’s when things seemed to shift, that’s when it started not to be so comical. Fights in the street broke out shortly after that between Unite the Right protesters and counter-protesters. And over the next 45 minutes or so that intensified. At one point I was standing beside one of Charlottesville’s city councilors as he tried to film the scene, and had to nudge him aside as a smoke bomb canister came hurling toward us. Rocks, tear gas, bottles filled with bleach, and balloons filled with urine would follow. I saw bloodied heads and faces. I saw scared people running past me, other who looked like they would gladly smash you in the face if you looked them. A saw a TV crew flee the tent they had set up under across the park. I watched as an African-American TV camera man tried to put his camera on a tripod, but was having trouble because his hands were shaking so much. I heard someone say, “The cops have vanished.” And sure enough, I looked around and the state police who had been standing along the fencing earlier were gone.

20728279_1686410811433380_2776422500373341158_nI then looked up and a screaming, angry mob of white supremacists and neo-nazis had totally taken over the park, ringing its edges with their home-made riot gear. Not only was this not comical anymore, it was frightening. Why weren’t police stepping in now? At that point, you knew something bad was about to happen, that people were going to get hurt, that a surge of violent energy had been let loose on our town. Within the hour, three people would be dead, and dozens injured.

Pond Scum or Dog Poop? Daily Show segment visits the DTM

Priceless segment on the Daily Show about the gubernatorial race between Cuccinelli and Mcauliffe, featuring our own Larry Sabato and folks on the DTM. Sabato calls the two candidates “some of the worst I’ve ever seen,” and reveals that one voter he talked to compared them to a choice between “cancer and a heart attack.” Daily Show correspondent Al Madrigal then prepared two horrible Cuccinelli and Mcauliffe drinks and offered them to people on the DTM. “Which one would you like to drink for the next fours years?” he asked. Gagging ensued. Then he deducted that the choice was like a choice between “pond scum” and “dog poop.” Oh, priceless, check out the little kid at the end.
See anyone you know in this segment?

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Bruce on the DTM

The Hook — At an event that was a political rally and a concert, rock superstar Bruce Springsteen fired up the mostly pro-Obama crowd with acoustic versions of “No Surrender,” “The Promised Land,” a funny Obama campaign song he wrote, “We Take Care of Our Own,” and “Thunder Road.”

Democratic candidate for senate Tim Kaine introduced the Boss, saying “Thunder Road” by this “guy from New Jersey” was the best song he’d ever heard when he was a 17-year old kid growing up in the Midwest. Springsteen would sing the song for Kaine at the end of the show, and wish him good luck. READ MORE

Stuff to know about Obama visit

Admission is free, but you’ll need a ticket. You can get them at the Charlottesville and Albemarle, and Palmyra OFA field offices and at 1325 West Main, on the Corner.

Charlottesville will shut school down mid-day, and Albemarle Countyis saying that it will close some schools early Wednesday to beat the presidential traffic.

Expect some protesting.

This is a big deal for little Charlottesville.

From the City: Parking, Traffic and City Office Hours Information for Presidential Visit on August 29th:

The City Hall Annex Building will close at 11:00 am. This closure will affect the following City offices:

Parks and Recreation
Social Services
Voter Registrar
Information Technology

City Hall will remain open; however access to the building will only be available via the Market Street entrance or the 6th Street entrance. The main entrance to the building located on the Downtown Mall and the 7th Street entrance will be closed all day.

The Key Recreation Center will be closed all day Wednesday.

The Downtown Transit Center and the Charlottesville/Albemarle Convention and Visitors Bureau Visitors Center will close at 11:00 am.

Charlottesville Area Transit (CAT) service will be detoured as follows:

The Downtown Transit Center will close at 11:00 am and will reopen once the event is over and roads are open to traffic.
All stops on Market Street between Ridge/McIntire and 9th Street NE will not be serviced beginning at noon.
All stops on Water Street between Ridge/McIntire and 10th Street NE will not be serviced beginning at noon with the exception of the Omni Hotel stop on Water Street.
Routes affected will be the FREE TROLLEY, 1A, 1B, 2A, 2B, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10.
Due to heavy traffic, delays are expected.

Road closures will begin at noon and are as follows:

Water Street at 4th Street SE
Water Street at 10th Street NE
9th Street SE at Graves Street
9th Street SE at Levy Street
East Market Street at 9th Street NE
The 700 Block of East Market Street at 7th Street NE

The Market Street and Water Street Parking Garages will operate as normal. Visitors are encouraged to park in the garages as street parking will be limited.

City Schools will be closing early on Wednesday to avoid conflicts with the street closures due to the visit.

We will update this information as necessary.

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Mrs. President to visit the DTM on Friday

First lady Michelle Obama will be at the Main Street Arena in Charlottesville this Friday afternoon at 1:40pm, doing some stumping for her husband. Tickets are being distributed on a first come, first serve basis at the Organizing for America office, also on the DTM at 407 East Main Street.