Clergy in Charlottesville Were Trapped by Torch-Wielding Nazis

Cornel West & Rev. Traci Blackmon: Clergy in Charlottesville Were Trapped by Torch-Wielding Nazis

We continue our roundtable discussion on violence that erupted in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend as thousands of neo-Nazis, KKK members and other white nationalists began descending on the city to participate in the “Unite the Right” rally. Thousands of counterprotesters met in Charlottesville, including clergy, students, Black Lives Matter activists, and protesters with the anti-fascist movement known as “antifa.” We are joined by two clergy members and a local Black Lives Matter activist who helped organize the demonstration. Rev. Traci Blackmon is executive minister of Justice and Witness Ministries of the United Church of Christ. During a live interview with MSNBC at the march on Saturday, she was forced to flee as counterprotesters were attacked around her. Cornel West was also on site and describes the scene. We also speak with Jalane Schmidt, an associate professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking about the terror in Charlottesville. The white supremacist violence there began Friday night as hundreds of neo-Nazis, KKK members and other white nationalists descended on the city and participated in a torch march. Yes, burning torches, in a surprise march across the University of Virginia campus, surrounded the statue of Thomas Jefferson on Friday night. They were chanting “Blood not soil” [sic], a well-known Nazi—”Blood and soil,” a well-known Nazi phrase, “You will not replace us” and “Jew will not replace us” and “White lives matter.”
We continue our hour-long discussion. We’re joined in Charlottesville by Virginia—Jalane Schmidt, an organizer with the local Black Lives Matter movement and associate professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia. Here in New York, we’re joined by Dr. Cornel West, professor of the practice of public philosophy at Harvard University, who was in Charlottesville. And in St. Louis, we’re joined by Reverend Traci Blackmon, executive minister of Justice and Witness Ministries of the United Church of Christ, who was also in Charlottesville this weekend.
Cornel West, talk about what you saw Friday night. You were there at—in a church. You were speaking along with others. Did you expect to see what you saw outside?
CORNEL WEST: No, no. I knew I was going to hear a powerful sermon by my dear sister Reverend Dr. Traci Blackmon, and we heard one. We heard poignant words by Professor Jalane Schmidt. And I had a few things to say. It was a beautiful moment—all colors, all religious traditions, Muslims, Jews, Christians, black, white, red, indigenous peoples. And we should never downplay the vicious attack on gay brothers, lesbian sisters, bisexuals and trans folk, that was part of the chanting that took place the next day.
But what happened was, they held us hostage in the church. We could not leave after the service, because the torch march threatening the people who were there. And so, in that sense, I said, “Hmmm, boy, these neofascists, they’re out of control. Where are the police?” And who would think that our dear sister Heather, my dear comrade, who also was with IWW—you know, that’s very important. She was an organizer. She stood with us on Saturday. She paid the ultimate price. And many of us may have to pay that ultimate price.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to Reverend Traci Blackmon, but first to your MSNBC interview on Saturday, when you were in [Charlottesville], when you were rushed off the live shot as people around you were attacked. Let’s go to that.
REV. TRACI BLACKMON: The schedule for the Nazi and fascist example was supposed to be today and not last night. So we gathered in a standing room-only, maximum-capacity crowd to give a word of encouragement. I was invited in to give a speech to that regard. And as we were closing down—I’ve got to go! I’ve got to go! Got to go!
JOY-ANN REID: Oh, my goodness! I don’t know what is happening here. I don’t know what just happened there with our guest.
AMY GOODMAN: That was—that was Joy Reid of MSNBC, as [Traci] Blackmon was whisked away by an ally right there on the set. Reverend Blackmon, what happened then?
REV. TRACI BLACKMON: Well, I was giving the interview for Joy Reid—and thank you for having me here. And I also want to echo my condolences, my deepest sympathy to the family of Heather and to the family of the law enforcement officers who also lost their lives in this unnecessary, tragic event. Joy Reid had invited me on her show to talk about what had happened at the church the night before. And they were not aware of what was happening in Charlottesville until I began to make some calls to let people know that Charlottesville was under attack. They immediately sent a team out to cover. And their news team was stationed inside the perimeter of the events that were happening Saturday. And so, I was asked to come and do an interview. And with the permission of local people on the scene, the community organizers from Charlottesville—I asked them first—I was given permission to do that interview. And in the midst of the interview, we began to hear pops. And I didn’t know what those pops were. I still don’t know what those pops were. But the security that was there rushed me off from the camera. I really didn’t know what was happening in that moment.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Reverend Traci Blackmon, who’s speaking to us now from St. Louis, who was in Charlottesville this weekend, on Friday night addressing people in the church, and on Saturday on the street. Professor Jalane Schmidt is also with us. And you’re with Black Lives Matter. You were very involved with the organizing around what took place. Can you tell us what happened this weekend, what you understood was going to happen, how people organized, and the kind of response by all of the authorities? Jalane Schmidt is just being seated right now, so let me go to Cornel West. I heard—well, The Guardian reported that people that night, who were responding to the torch march, were actually attacked with swung torches, pepper spray and lighter fluid.
CORNEL WEST: Absolutely. You had a number of the courageous students, of all colors, at the University of Virginia who were protesting against the neofascists themselves. The neofascists had their own ammunition. And this is very important to keep in mind, because the police, for the most part, pulled back. The next day, for example, those 20 of us who were standing, many of them clergy, we would have been crushed like cockroaches if it were not for the anarchists and the anti-fascists who approached, over 300, 350 anti-fascists. We just had 20. And we’re singing “This Little light of Mine,” you know what I mean? So that the—
AMY GOODMAN: “Antifa” meaning anti-fascist.
CORNEL WEST: The anti-fascists, and then, crucial, the anarchists, because they saved our lives, actually. We would have been completely crushed, and I’ll never forget that. Meaning what? Meaning that you had the police holding back, on the one hand, so we couldn’t even get arrested. We were there to get arrested. We couldn’t get arrested, because the police had pulled back, and just allowing fellow citizens to go at each other, you see, and with all of the consequences that would follow therefrom.
So, in that sense, you know, I think what we’re really seeing, though, Sister Amy, is the American empire in decay, with the rule of big money, with massive militarism, facilitated by the scapegoating of the most vulnerable, of immigrants, Muslims, Jews, Arabs, gay, lesbians, trans and bisexuals, and black folk. The white supremacy was so intense. I’ve never seen that kind of hatred in my life. We stood there, and nine units went by, and looking right in our eyes. And they’re cussing me out, and so forth and so on. They’re lucky I didn’t lose my holy ghost, to tell you the truth, because I wanted to start swinging myself. I’m a Christian, but not a pacifist, you know. But I held back. But that kind of hatred—but that is just the theater. It’s big money. It’s big military. And it’s the way in which this capitalist civilization is leading us toward unbelievable darkness and bleakness. And the beautiful thing is the fightback. It was a beautiful thing to see all the people coming back. But they had more fascists than anarchists, more fascists than fightback.
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2017. Draft transcript of interview featuring first-hand accounts of clergy confronted by armed neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia.

An Open Letter to Trump About DACA

An Open Letter to Trump About DACA, from a Dreamer

Dear President Trump,

My name is Juan Escalante. I am a long time Florida resident, the oldest of three brothers, and a two-time graduate of Florida State University. I am also an undocumented immigrant who considers myself American in all ways but one — on paper.

My family and I came to the United States in 2000, shortly after Hugo Chavez became president of Venezuela. My parents had the foresight to predict the current chaos engulfing the oil-rich nation, which is why they left their family, belongings, and home in exchange for a chance to pursue the American Dream.

However, my family’s hopes of eventually becoming U.S. citizens were dashed in 2006, when we discovered that our immigration attorney mishandled our case. Nevermind that my family spent six years and thousands of dollars waiting in the infamous “line” immigrants are often told to get in — a line which does not actually exist.

Nor did it matter that my parents had started to build a business of their own, paid taxes, and sent me and my younger brothers to public school in Miami-Dade and Broward County. No. The only thing that mattered to the government was that my family could face deportation due to our lack of a couple of papers.

In 2007, after watching my mother cry inside an admissions office at Florida International University when she discovered that our immigration status meant a paralyzing financial burden when it came to paying for my college education, I became an immigration advocate.

For the past ten years, I have fearlessly and unapologetically advocated for the rights of the immigrant community. I have helped organize sit-ins inside congressional offices in support of the Dream Act, a piece of legislation that would allow young immigrants like myself to adjust our status. I have collected hundreds of thousands of signatures denouncing your stance on immigration, a clear expression of my First Amendment right of free speech. And I have lobbied for in-state tuition for undocumented students in Florida, an effort that earned Florida Governor Scott’s personal recognition back in 2014.

I am proud of my work as an immigration advocate, mainly because it has allowed me to overcome my fear of being deported, but also because it has allowed me to help families across the United States deal with the anxiety and depression that comes with being undocumented.

However, I am even prouder of the obstacles I have been able to overcome as an undocumented immigrant.

The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA), which was announced by President Obama in 2012, provided nearly 800,000 young immigrants with the opportunity to live free from the fear of deportation. It also gave to them a sense of freedom, thanks to the work permits and driver’s licenses it led to.

That freedom that young undocumented immigrants have enjoyed for the past five years has yielded significant gains for the United States. Thanks to DACA young immigrants have been able to pursue higher education, have started their own business, while others continue to work and contribute back to their communities. All of these young people are aspiring Americans, who are working day and night to ensure that they make use of their temporary deportation protection to give back to, not take from, the country they call home.

Ending DACA means disrupting the lives of almost a million people. Some of these young people may be your critics, myself included. Others may be working on their degrees or helping create jobs for American citizens. However, the truth is that, politics aside, all of them want to give back to this great country.

Mr. President, just as your parents wanted you to succeed, and just as you want your children to succeed, my parents took a great risk for my future. It’s what families do. My family and I do not have a pathway towards citizenship, not today, tomorrow, or ever. That is why DACA is so important.

Right now, DACA beneficiaries, often known as Dreamers, enrich this country with their talents, culture, and determination. All they want is for you to allow them to work and study without using them as targets for deportation or prey for the white supremacists who wish to see them sent back to a country that they do not know.

Written in 2017. Author: Juan Escalante. Immigrant. Coffee Drinker. NPR Fan. Media and Tech Enthusiast.

Not Here

Martín Espada

Not Here

for Raúl Zurita
Santiago de Chile, July 2004

The other poets tell me he tried to blind himself,
taped his eyelids and splashed his face with ammonia.

What Zurita saw gnawed like a parasite at the muscles in his eyes: Chile’s warships invaded the harbor of Valparaíso
and subversives staggered at gunpoint
through the city of hills down to the dock.
Only the water knows how many
faded away like black boots tossed into a black sea,
or dangled from the masts, beaten by knuckles and rain
into scarecrows the seagulls would pluck.

September 11, 1973: Zurita’s heart
crashed deep in the ribs of a Navy ship.
The officer in charge of interrogation
shook the poet’s papers and fumed: This is not poetry.
The other poets tell me: Electricity was involved.

Seven years later, Zurita blinked
to save his eyes, and wrote:
In the name of our love let even
the steel-toed boots
that kicked us be loved,
and those who mocking us said
“Do a little dance for us” and put out their cigarettes
on our arms so we would dance for them,
for our love’s sake, for that alone
let them now dance.

Today we walk through the courtyard
of the presidential palace.
The fountain speaks in the water’s tongue;
the fountain of smoke is gone.
The bombers that boomed across this sky
left no fingerprints in the clouds
when they dropped their rockets,
twisting the rails of the balcony like licorice.
Today Allende is white marble outside the palace,
mute as a martyr, without a hand free to wave
from the balcony, without a voice to crackle
his last words in the radio air.

Zurita says: After the bombing, after the coup,
no one could stand here to look at the ruins.
If you did, you were suspect. Did you grieve for Allende?
They grieved, heads down, hands in pockets, moving along,
glancing up, a blackened balcony in the corner of the eye.
Zurita knows what the water knows,
what the sky will not confess even to the gods
who switch the electricity on, off, then on again.
Zurita’s beard is forged in gray, the steel of a Navy ship.
He lights a cigarette for those who would see the ruins
where the ruins have been swept away.

I am the one navigating the night without stars.
On or around the night of September 11, 1973,
at the age of sixteen,
I was vandalizing a golf course in the rain,
fishtailing my car through the mud on the ninth hole
as beer cans rolled under my feet.
Ten miles away, at the White House,
the plotters were pleased; the coup
was a world in miniature they painted by hand,
a train with real smoke and bells
circling the track in the basement.
The rest of us drank too much, drove too fast,
as the radio told us what happened
on the other side of the world
and the windshield wipers said
not here, not here, not here.

Copyright 2006 by Martín Espada.

The Republic of Poetry

Martín Espada

The Republic of Poetry
For Chile

In the republic of poetry,
a train full of poets
rolls south in the rain
as plum trees rock
and horses kick the air,
and village bands
parade down the aisle
with trumpets, with bowler hats,
followed by the president
of the republic, shaking every hand.

In the republic of poetry,
monks print verses about the night
on boxes of monastery chocolate,
kitchens in restaurants
use odes for recipes
from eel to artichoke,
and poets eat for free.

In the republic of poetry,
poets read to the baboons
at the zoo, and all the primates,
poets and baboons alike, scream for joy.

In the republic of poetry,
poets rent a helicopter
to bombard the national palace
with poems on bookmarks,
and everyone in the courtyard
rushes to grab a poem
fluttering from the sky,
blinded by weeping.

In the republic of poetry,
the guard at the airport
will not allow you to leave the country
until you declaim a poem for her
and she says Ah! Beautiful.

Copyright 2006 by Martín Espada.

How We Could Have Lived or Died This Way

Martín Espada

How We Could Have Lived or Died This Way

Not songs of loyalty alone are these,
But songs of insurrection also,
For I am the sworn poet of every dauntless rebel the world over.
Walt Whitman

I see the dark-skinned bodies falling in the street as their ancestors fell before the whip and steel, the last blood pooling, the last breath spitting. I see the immigrant street vendor flashing his wallet to the cops,
shot so many times there are bullet holes in the soles of his feet.
I see the deaf woodcarver and his pocketknife, crossing the street
in front of a cop who yells, then fires. I see the drug raid, the wrong
door kicked in, the minister’s heart seizing up. I see the man hawking
a fistful of cigarettes, the cop’s chokehold that makes his wheezing lungs stop wheezing forever. I am in the crowd, at the window,
kneeling beside the body left on the asphalt for hours, covered in a sheet.
I see the suicides: the conga player handcuffed for drumming on the subway, hanged in the jail cell with his hands cuffed behind him; the suspect leaking blood from his chest in the back seat of the squad car; the 300-pound boy said to stampede barehanded into the bullets drilling his forehead.
I see the coroner nodding, the words he types in his report burrowing
into the skin like more bullets. I see the government investigations stacking, words buzzing on the page, then suffocated as bees suffocate in a jar. I see the next Black man, fleeing as the fugitive slave once fled the slave-catcher, shot in the back for a broken tail light. I see the cop handcuff the corpse.
I see the rebels marching, hands upraised before the riot squads,
faces in bandannas against the tear gas, and I walk beside them unseen.
I see the poets, who will write the songs of insurrection generations unborn will read or hear a century from now, words that make them wonder
how we could have lived or died this way, how the descendants of slaves still fled and the descendants of slave-catchers still shot them, how we awoke every morning without the blood of the dead sweating from every pore.

Copyright 2016 by Martín Espada

Border Report

Bus of marigolds.
Caravan of peace.
Thousands of families divided
blow kisses.
Who is desperate to cross over.
Who must see his father’s grave.
And painted right across the bus,
I broke the swords and made of them sickles,
from one of their poets, who
—you’ve heard this before, I’m sure—
is also one of our poets.

Originally published in IMAGE Journal, number 59, Fall 2008. The phrase, "I broke the swords and made of them sickles" appears in italics.

Urchin Childeren of Gaza

Oh, urchin children of Gaza
who constantly disturbed me
with your yelling under my window.
You who filled every morning
with turbulence and chaos,
who broke my vase and stole
the lonely flower on my balcony,
come back! Scream all you want
and break all the vases.
Steal all the flowers. Come back.
Just come back.

Excerpt from “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action”

“Your silence will not protect you.”

“I was going to die, sooner or later, whether or not I had even spoken myself. My silences had not protected me. Your silences will not protect you…. What are the words you do not yet have? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence? We have been socialized to respect fear more than our own need for language.”

I began to ask each time: “What’s the worst that could happen to me if I tell this truth?” Unlike women in other countries, our breaking silence is unlikely to have us jailed, “disappeared” or run off the road at night. Our speaking out will irritate some people, get us called bitchy or hypersensitive and disrupt some dinner parties. And then our speaking out will permit other women to speak, until laws are changed and lives are saved and the world is altered forever.

Next time, ask: What’s the worst that will happen? Then push yourself a little further than you dare. Once you start to speak, people will yell at you. They will interrupt you, put you down and suggest it’s personal. And the world won’t end.

And the speaking will get easier and easier. And you will find you have fallen in love with your own vision, which you may never have realized you had. And you will lose some friends and lovers, and realize you don’t miss them. And new ones will find you and cherish you. And you will still flirt and paint your nails, dress up and party, because, as I think Emma Goldman said, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.” And at last you’ll know with surpassing certainty that only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth. And that is not speaking.”

Excerpt from “Survival in Auschwitz”

You who live safe
In your warm houses,
You who find warm food
And friendly faces when you return home.
Consider if this is a man
Who works in mud,
Who knows no peace,
Who fights for a crust of bread,
Who dies by a yes or no.
Consider if this is a woman
Without hair, without name,
Without the strength to remember,
Empty are her eyes, cold her womb,
Like a frog in winter.
Never forget that this has happened.
Remember these words.
Engrave them in your hearts,
When at home or in the street,
When lying down, when getting up.
Repeat them to your children.
Or may your houses be destroyed,
May illness strike you down,
May your offspring turn their faces from you.”