Bloomington Rabbi Brian Besser had a simple message for the people of Charlottesville, Virginia.
“You are us,” he said. “Bloomington is Charlottesville. We are very, very similar communities. Your pain is our pain. Your struggle is our struggle, and we stand together against violent speech and violent deeds which have no place in either of our towns.”
Besser, a rabbi at the Beth Shalom Congregation, stood on a corner of the Monroe County Courthouse on Sunday and spoke out to the crowd of more than 100 people.
The Bloomington rally comes after two protests in Charlottesville, home of the University of Virginia. Friday night brought demonstrators to the Virginia campus chanting “White lives matter,” and, “You will not replace us.” Protesters could be seen parading with lit tiki torches at the protest, which was intended to condemn the removal of the town’s statue of confederate General Robert E. Lee.
On Saturday, more protests took place at Charlottesville’s Emancipation Park where white supremacists and counter-protesters clashed at the Unite the Right rally. Officials declared it to be an unlawful assembly and ordered all protesters to leave the park. But afterward, a car plowed into the crowd and killed one woman later identified as 32-year-old Heather D. Heyer.
Besser was one of around 12 speakers from Bloomington organizations including the NAACP Monroe County, Showing Up for Racial Justice and Planned Parenthood Advocates of Indiana and Kentucky who were there to comfort and call to action people who gathered at the Charlottesville protest and vigil.
Bloomington’s response protests saw a brief tense moment when a smaller group broke off and began marching in the street. Circling around the courthouse square, they made their way down College Avenue and stopped near the justice center and blocked traffic.
“No hope, no fear,” they said, chanting, and halting one sedan from leaving. “The time to fight is here.”
Bloomington resident Katherine Devich got in her car to leave the vigil an hour and a half after it started. As she drove down College Avenue, she said she was one of around eight cars stopped in the traffic created by the protesters.
Devich called the police when she heard metal banging. She said she thought one of the protesters was punching a car.
“I had my windows up for sure,” Devich said.
But despite the moment of confrontation, the vigil was focused on condemning the hatred seen in Charlottesville and promoting love. Many families with young children came to show support.
Melanie Davis, a Bloomington resident, wanted to show her daughter Katrina the importance of community engagement and support. Melanie, who said she is LGBT-affiliated, said while she and Katrina have friends who are people of color, they don’t often enough hear about their struggles.
“We as white people can do more,” Melanie said. “We can be supportive. It’s more than just what you learn at school or through fun PBS programming.”
Katrina, 12, who marches with her Project School class on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, said she was scared when she heard about the violence at the protests in Charlottesville.
“It made me really angry because the Nazis are back,” she said.
Bloomington mom Mary Beth O’Brien came to the vigil with her two children after she heard about it at church. She said she was very upset about what happened in Virginia and wanted her kids to see people in the community standing up for what they believe in.
Her son, 11-year-old Auggie, said while he really came to the rally to see his friends, he also wanted to offer support. He stood at a white folding table near the gathering and made a poster that read “Equality 4 All” in black marker with a pink heart on the side.
“Everybody should be treated equally and love all,” Auggie said.
He said he was very sad about the violence.
“The car accident was really annoying for me to hear,” Auggie said.
His younger sister, Marina, 7, worked on a poster that said “Love More” and was retracing the letters with her pink marker to make them extra bold. She gave a simple explanation for why she wrote what she did.
“To love more so people don’t get sad,” she said.