Now is the best time to take down racism

August 24, 2017

Juan Miranda reports on the shows of solidarity in in a North Carolina city after some residents decided not to wait for the city to take down a Confederate statue.

ACTIVISTS IN Durham, North Carolina, responded to the tragic events in Charlottesville, Virginia, with solidarity--and action, marching to the Old County Courthouse and pulling down a Confederate statue.

Two days after a white supremacist plowed his car into anti-racists counterdemonstrating against a far-right rally in support of a Confederate statue in Charlottesville, hundreds of people gathered at a Confederate statue in Durham, tied a yellow rope around it and pulled it down. The statue fell to the ground and was crushed by its own weight, as the crowd cheered.

Days later, solidarity was on display again, when hundreds of people gathered at the Durham County Jail to turn themselves in along with those who were facing warrants for their arrest.

The message was clear: "If fighting white supremacy is a crime, arrest us all."

The statue was gifted to the city in 1924 "in memory of the boys who wore gray," referring to soldiers who fought on the side of the "Confederate States of America." The tearing down of the Durham statue inspired the removal of other Confederate monuments--like Baltimore, where city officials were so eager to remove their statues to slavery that they did it in the middle of night.

Protesters destroy a confederate statue in Durham, North Carolina
Protesters destroy a confederate statue in Durham, North Carolina (Rodney Dunning | flickr)

The Durham action even prompted North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper to argue for the removal of all Confederate monuments across the state--a symbolic but powerful step considering that only two years ago, the North Carolina legislature passed a law making it virtually impossible to remove Confederate monuments.

But if Cooper really wanted to show what side he was on, he could have spoken in defense of the activists who made it happen.

Instead, police raided the homes of several activists in Durham, and at least eight people were arrested for taking part in the protest, including Black, queer North Carolina Central University student Takiyah Thompson and other members of the Workers World Party (WWP).

LAW ENFORCEMENT wasn't the only group to target anti-racist activists, however. Several of those involved in the action received threats via e-mail and social media, and in some instances were doxxed (their pictures posted online, along with addresses and other personal information). In a clear act of intimidation, armed white supremacists showed up for the court dates of those arrested.

Yet the community made it clear that those charged for the statue protest aren't alone when hundreds of people turned out on August 18 after rumors spread that the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacists were planning on having a rally outside the Old County Courthouse.

Within a few hours, over a thousand people had already gathered, determined to hold the ground, confront the Klan and show solidarity with the earlier action to take down the statue. The multiracial and multigenerational demonstration felt a lot like block party, with people dancing to drums, passing around water and snacks, and joining in chants like "Not today, no KKK."

The crowd erupted in cheers at 2 p.m., two hours before the time the Klan was expected to rally, when one of the organizers announced that the city had not granted any permits, and that, aside from a few stragglers, there was no sign of the Klan anywhere. As organizer Manju Rajendran said:

We are fighting for those who came before us and we are fighting for those who are yet to come. Today, I know that my daughter will not have to walk by a statue that celebrates the oppression of her ancestors. I know Durham will be better place for all those to come because of what we did here today.

STATUES IN honor of Confederates and slave owners were largely built during the implementation of Jim Crow laws and the rise of terrorist organizations like the KKK, with the direct intention of spreading fear among Black residents and rewriting American history around the idea of the "Lost Cause."

In an interview with the Herald Sun,, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill history professor James Leloudis explained how these were "forward-looking monuments rather than backward-looking ones":

The monuments that went up in the teens and '20s had a far more overtly political purpose. If you look at the dedication addresses, speaker after speaker is very clear that those monuments are aimed at the rising generation of young North Carolinians who were coming of age, and who were born after the white supremacy struggles at the end of the 19th century...The funders and backers of these monuments are very explicit that they are requiring a political education and a legitimacy for the Jim Crow era and the right of white men to rule.

And as we know, these monuments continue to be rallying points for the hatred, violence and bigotry.

In Charlottesville, a statue of Confederate general and slave owner Robert E. Lee was the flashpoint for the white supremacist "Unite the Right" rally that resulted in the beating of counterprotesters, terrorizing of parishioners at a historically Black church, and a white supremacist driving his car into a crowd of protesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others.

While the city of Charlottesville voted to remove such statues from the city, the process has been slowed by the courts and the backlash from far-right organizations, leaving in place the focal point of the horrors of August 12.

This is an example of why we cannot rely on the state to fight against racism, hatred and bigotry for us. It must be a collective struggle.

The actions in Durham offer several lessons for activists across the country on how to organize moving forward, the most important being the necessity of broad collaboration, organization and mass direct action in fighting and defeating white supremacy.

The successful actions in the "Bull City" depended on the collaboration of groups including Durham Beyond Policing (DBP), WWP, Black Young Project 100 (BYP100), Southerners on New Ground and Industrial Workers of the World, among others.

These organizations brought together a wide array of experiences and quickly mobilized large groups of people while ensuring a certain degree of safety. This was key in creating an environment where many people felt comfortable and empowered to join in.

They were able to accomplish this due in great part to the history of grassroots organizing and collaboration between some of them, in which relationships and trust have been built, allowing them to put differences aside and join in linked arms to take n the Klan.

A great example is Durham Beyond Policing, which formed last spring after members of BYP100, Black Workers for Justice, United Electrical Workers Local 150 and other community organizations called for weekly pickets to protest city officials' plans to build a new police station. Instead, the protesters demanded a "People's Budget" that guaranteed fully funded schools, quality housing and healthy food, among other needs.

Groups like DBP have been mobilizing folks in the community to fight against other aspects of white supremacy such as police brutality and prisons. As WWP member Dante Strobino put it, "It's important we bring these monuments down but it is organizing around these real aspects of white supremacy that people experience everyday that we can engage and continue moving people toward fighting against racism and capitalism."

As we organize around concrete demands for universal health care, living wages, clean water, against police brutality and more, we can link this to a broader fight to transform society and free it of racism and all oppression.

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