David McNair

Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

The Lee Statue in Charlottesville: from Tulips to Terror in a few short years

In Activism, History, People, Politics on October 16, 2017 at 2:48 pm

Occupy Charlottesville protesters occupied Lee Park in 2011, and while that created a lot of local controversy, the Lee statue loomed quietly over the affair. photo: Dave McNair/The Hook

By David McNair

Now that the symbolism of the statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia has literally exploded into our consciousness, it’s easy to forget how blind we were to it just a short time ago. The truth is, only a few years before the idea of removing the Lee statue became an issue, you’d have been hard pressed to find many people in town, especially white people, who thought of the statue as being even remotely controversial. In fact, if you’d of made an argument that it was controversial you’d have likely been causally dismissed. Eugene Williams, a local civil rights activist and icon, argued for years that the statues, and other monuments like the slave block plaque at Court Square, needed to be historically repurposed to better commemorate the dark past associated with them.  And while there were certainly thoughtful people here who agreed with him, there was neither the political will or popular concern to do anything about it.

Remember when Occupy Charlottesville, our local version of the Occupy Wall Street movement, occupied Lee Park in 2011? Right beneath the Lee statue I remember talking to people who were as mad as hell about the widening gap between rich and poor, and with the predatory practices of the government bailed-out banking industry, but I don’t remember hearing even a casual reference to the symbolism of the Lee statue.

Likewise, in 2009, the City responded to concerns that Sacajawea’s representation on the Lewis & Clark monument, crouched beneath the two men in bronze, underplayed her importance to the expedition, by commissioning a special plaque to her, and invited two of Sacajawea’s descendent to author the text. The city also invited several of Sacajawea’s descendants from Idaho to an afternoon dedication ceremony for the plaque. But I don’t recall anyone expressing any concern about the Lee statue just a few blocks away.

On an April day in 2012, The Hook’s only concern about the Lee statue was that the tulips planted around it were coming up earlier: “When we photographed General Robert E. Lee two years ago at tulip time, that picture was taken on April 20,” said a Snap-o-the-Day feature. “ This year, General Lee’s tulips are at peak April 2, lending some credence to observations that blooms are about three weeks earlier this spring.”

Seriously, the absence of any kind of controversy surrounding the statue, just five years ago, was profound and deeply rooted. Indeed, so deeply rooted that there are people who still don’t understand what all the fuss is about it now.

But what a fuss there has been. Events already detailed by The DTM inflamed what had been a pretty civil debate about what to do about our Confederate statues, once a 15-year old African-American student and a 30-year old African-American Vice Mayor made the idea of removing or repurposing the statues and issue — nearly 100 years after they went up, we might add. But by the time the weekend of August 12, 2017 rolled around the tensions surrounding the decision by City Council to remove the Lee statue had already reached a fever pitch.

How —when just five years ago our only concern about the Lee statue was the fact that the tulips planted around it had come up early — did we get to a point where people would be killed over it?

Ira Bashkow, an Associate Professor of Anthropology at UVA, recently wrote a smart analysis of what happened in Charlottesville on August 11 and 12, and what we might learn from it.

“And to many Charlottesville locals, the statue they were defending is itself a relic of racial intimidation,” he writes. “It was erected in a year, 1924, when the Ku Klux Klan held open parades in Charlottesville and burned at least 10 crosses, some near historically black neighborhoods, and when Virginia enacted its infamous Racial Integrity Act, prohibiting interracial marriage by the “one drop rule.” The statue is in fact an artifact of that resurgent white supremacy movement, which invented the idealized vision of the Confederate “lost cause” while subjecting blacks to tightened Jim Crow legal restrictions, segregation, disenfranchisement, and racial terror.”

All true about the origins of the statue, but as we already mentioned, “many Charlottesville locals” had not bothered to really see the statue for what it was, to feel what it was, and instead intellectualized its history and meaning. However, the effort to have it removed lifted the veil on what was right in front of us all along, and it wasn’t pretty.

“Although life has outwardly returned to normal, many who reside here remain deeply troubled by the intense racially motivated violence that took place in spaces and streets we traverse every day,” Bashkow writes. “ The overtness of the racism has exposed old wounds and pressurized old fissures. We are not only feeling the effects of the explicit trauma, we are also experiencing moral trauma: Many in the community are troubled by our own internal conflicts and by the shortcomings—grasped only in hindsight—of our collective response to the extraordinary challenges of those two days.”

Again, all true, but how can we be suddenly surprised and troubled by the “racially motivated violence” that takes place in the “spaces and streets we traverse everyday” when embedded in one of those streets we traverse everyday, just blocks from the Lee statue, is a plaque marking the spot of a slave auction block, and that just blocks in the other direction is an entire African-American neighborhood that was demolished without a trace?

This has been a long-time coming, and we’re finally feeling the pain, which is perhaps why we chose not to see it for so long. And the hard part now? There’s no going back.

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Why Charlottesville? How a Facebook comment, an unknown blogger, and some old tweets inflamed a debate about race and monuments

In Activism, History, People, Politics, UVA on August 25, 2017 at 11:53 am

By David McNair

On October 4 last year the Paramount Theater in Charlottesville, Virginia hosted a free event featuring Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza, for which local best-selling author John Grisham was the emcee. There was a packed house for the event, “Rooting Out Injustice: Poverty, Race and the Role of Legal Aid,” and Garza got the kind of welcome you’d expect in a liberal town like Charlottesville. She spoke about combating the concept of white supremacy and how institutional racism affects people of color in our justice and educational systems.

At the time, if you told people in Charlottesville that hundreds of angry white supremacists and neo-nazis would rally in a park just steps away from the theater the following summer, they’d have thought you were crazy. Read the rest of this entry »

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

In Activism, Crime, Events, People, Politics, Safety, Uncategorized on August 17, 2017 at 1:57 pm

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By David McNair

The 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.

Nazis invade Charlottesvillle, DTM

In Activism, Crime, Events, Politics, UVA, Video on August 15, 2017 at 9:15 am

This Vice report pretty much tells you all you need to know about what happened in Charlottesville on August 12, 2017.

 

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

In Politics on November 5, 2013 at 1:31 pm

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

In Events, Music, Politics on October 23, 2012 at 5:12 pm

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

In Events, Politics on August 28, 2012 at 11:49 am

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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UVA says no to Obama, Pavilion visit planned

In Events, People, Politics on August 24, 2012 at 10:18 pm

Looks like UVA turned President Obama away, so he’ll now be at the Pavilion on the DTM on Wednesday, August 29. Gates open at 1pm.

Mrs. President to visit the DTM on Friday

In Events, People, Politics on July 18, 2012 at 1:15 am

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.

Does the Mall need a stronger police presence?

In Crime, Politics on April 2, 2012 at 3:42 am

From the DP: The mall, widely touted as the epicenter of city life, marked its 35th anniversary last summer, but there has been an uptick in disorderly activity, according to a statement accompanying the proposal on a list of unfunded city projects.

“The city has seen an increase in pedestrian traffic, unruly juveniles, crimes associated with homelessness and aggressive panhandling. Without this plan, the department will be forced to continue to spend overtime and other resources to address these problems and miss an opportunity to improve public safety on and around the Downtown Mall,” the statement reads. “… Merchant and citizen stakeholders have also voiced concerns that the Downtown Mall is an unsafe environment and that change can only be achieved through the leveraging of technology and additional resources.”

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