On Saturday, August 12, a “Unite the Right” protest in Charlottesville, Va., took over mainstream news outlets. Adorned with swastikas and carrying torches, the protesters made their way to the University of Virginia, where they were met with counter protesters. While there were physical altercations throughout the night, the violence hit a peak when a 20-year-old man rammed his car through a group of counter protesters.
The attack left dozens injured and took the life of 32-year-old Heather Heyer.
On Sunday, vigils were organized around the country to remember the lives lost, as well as to call attention to the surprising lack of response from the White House. In Indianapolis, Monument Circle housed the Sit-in Vigil in Solidarity with Charlottesville.
As people gathered with signs promoting peace and candles to remember the victims in Charlottesville, the scene in Indianapolis was a stark contrast to the events that took place in Virginia. With no accidents reported and no counter protesters, the hour-long vigil went off without a hitch.
However, organizers and volunteers were prepared for just about anything. AJ Sinha, a member of Central Indiana’s Democratic Socialist chapter, as well as a medical professional, volunteered to be a safety captain. Upon arriving at the vigil, demonstrators were given a list of instructions about how to avoid and handle conflict.
Beyond that, leaders at Christ Church Cathedral, located on the Circle, were ready to help out if needed. Rev. Lee Curtis has seen the church’s involvement in community events several times throughout his two years with the church.
“We try to make ourselves as available as we can for the circle,” Curtis said. “The Circle is our backyard, and we feel a need to be that safe space for downtown, regardless of what it’s for.”
While cheers of “You can’t stop the revolution” echoed through the Circle, the members of the diverse crowd all had different reasons to be there.
For Natalie Pipkin, a mother of two, joining the vigil helped share a message of love and hope with her young sons.
“History has shown us that if we don’t stand, things fall apart,” Pipkin said. “They [her two sons] know history, and I want them to see that we’re not going to let it repeat itself, so that’s why it was important for me to come out here tonight. They asked me ‘Are we going back to the 1960s?’ and I said ‘No, not on mommy’s watch.’”
For Pipkin, hope for a brighter future is what keeps her fighting.
“Hope is the anchor of it all. If I didn’t have hope, I wouldn’t be here. And I tell my kids that even if they’re my age and still fighting, they still have to keep hope.”
Many at the vigil shared Pipkin’s hope for the future, as well as the belief that hope and love overpowers fear.
Mark Smith, a volunteer with the Marion County Democratic Party, hopes to send the message of love and tolerance across the nation.
“We’re here to show that love wins. We’re here for Heather [Heyer] and for each other,” Smith said. “For those who think hate will win, this is a reminder that, in the end, hate will not win. Love will always win.”
For Smith, one of the solutions to the rise in hate crimes and politically-motivated violence is for the Democratic Party to regain control of the House and Senate in 2018. While Smith volunteered with the Bernie Sanders campaign, he sees unity between centrist Democrats and the further left as being the key to winning elections in the future.
“We have to unite at some point, or we will continue to lose to the likes of Donald Trump,” Smith said. “We have to start acting like Democrats again. Some of us are too timid and don’t speak up like we should.”
“Of course, I don’t have that problem,” Smith added with a laugh.
While politics was a point of conversation throughout the night, Smith ended on a note of hope for the country.
“I’m hopeful that what happened in Charlottesville will wake a lot of people up that didn’t realize that we have this problem in our country. It’s been kind of behind the scenes, but it’s out in the open now. Trump has made bigotry, racism, and misogyny in vogue. We need equality and fairness, brotherhood and sisterhood. Those things have to win, and I think they will.”
For Maxine Wallace and Wendy Becher, two friends who joined the vigil together, open dialogue and events like the vigil are the key to making social change.
“This is what America is today, but it doesn’t have to be,” Wallace said. “We have to show the other half of America that we’re not going to take this. There are more of us than there is of them, and this is not a time to be afraid.
“There is no acceptable form of racism,” Wallace continued. Wallace urges anyone who overhears friends or coworkers making insensitive comments to speak up.
“When we stay silent, it sends the message that those comments are okay, and it normalizes racism and violence. There is a lot of power in our words, so having those conversations with our friends is important,” Wallace said.
“There is no time to be passive anymore,” Becher added. “I’m 55, and I’ll go down kicking and screaming if that’s what it takes to keep those around me safe.”
Despite the tragedy in Charlottesville, Wallace found hope in the crowd here in Indianapolis.
“Did you see everybody here? All of these people came together because we believe that fascism and racism are terrible things. As long as we can keep coming together for that, I have hope for the country.”
The vigil on Monument Circle came to an end with a chant of “We have nothing to lose but our chains.” As the candles were blown out and the crowd dispersed, Hoosiers left Monument Circle on the same note on which they entered: peacefully.