Standing in the blistering Saturday morning heat, East Austin activist Richard Franklin challenged hundreds of protesters to combat all forms of white supremacy, even in individuals Americans normally hail as heroes.
“You talk about Robert E. Lee, I got that,” Franklin said. “You talk about Jefferson Davis, I got that. But you didn't say anything about Thomas Jefferson, who wrote a paper that you all live by that doesn't even have me included as a human being.”
Hundreds arrived at City Hall for the Rally Against White Supremacy to protest white supremacy and converge in support of the victims of the recent attack in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Austin residents Bryan Register and Glenda McKinney organized the rally after noticing there wasn’t one planned for Austin despite similar events occurring in other cities across the U.S.
When he posted the Facebook event Tuesday afternoon, Register said he didn’t have any expectations for how big it would get. Nevertheless, he and McKinney were overwhelmed by the enormous amount of interest it received.
“It’s worth every bit of bother to give this opportunity for so many different kinds of people to come together,” McKinney said. “The only people who benefit from us being divided are the white nationalists, and why should I let them win?”
The Charlottesville attack partially spurred Register’s and McKinney’s desires to arrange the rally. Register said he shouldn’t be surprised by the attacks people witnessed last weekend, but he is. The attack in Charlottesville left one, Heather Heyer, dead and 19 injured after a car rammed into a crowd of counter-protesters at a rally to prevent the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue from a city park.
“The idea that someone is going to take a car and drive it down an American street to murder a crowd of people in the name of a radically anti-American ideology of pure hatred and evil still manages to shock me,” Register said.
Studio art senior Macaulie Gabe said the events in Charlottesville and the last presidential election were a wake-up call about the prevalence of white supremacism.
“We need all white people to dismantle racism,” Gabe said. “I feel like it is never going to end unless we all make it happen.”
At the end of the rally, Mayor Steve Adler spoke of the city’s struggle with segregation amidst shouts of “less talk more action.”
“We have an interstate highway that was built to divide us as a city,” Adler said. “We remain today as the most geographically segregated city in the country.”
More than half a dozen people spoke at the rally, including Latina activist Cristina Tzintzun who called on the crowd to oppose “monuments of bigotry and hate” and challenge all instances of white supremacy.
“Where they seek to instill fear, we find courage, and where they seek to instill hate, we find love,” Tzintzun said. “Let's take down images of Robert Lee and instead let images of Harriet Tubman rise.”
The University itself experienced controversies surrounding statues of former Confederate leaders in the past. Two years ago, following repeated vandalism and protest against a statue of Jefferson Davis on the Main Mall, the statue was removed, restored and placed inside the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. Statues of Robert E. Lee and Albert Sidney Johnston were also defaced at the time.
A petition started by a UT 2016 graduate, and former Daily Texan sports writer, has gathered over 1,700 signatures in support of removing the remaining Confederate statues on campus. The petition needs 2,500 signatures before it is sent to President Gregory Fenves’ office.
On Wednesday, Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia called for the removal of all Confederate statues. The city of Baltimore also removed all of the its Confederate statues early the same morning. Over 18,000 people have also signed a Change.org petition to support the renaming of Robert E. Lee Road near Zilker Park. Once the petition has gathered 25,000 signatures, it will be sent to the City of Austin.
Register said he hopes to inspire people to engage more in the political process in order to address the issue directly by attending city council meetings, voting, registering people to vote and calling their representatives.
“Systemic white supremacy is not going to go anywhere until we actually do something about it,” Register said. “What I want people to do is take from this rally concrete, tangible information on how they can work on the problems of white supremacy.”
Next month, the Texas Confederate Militia will host the Dixie Freedom Rally to “promote the true Confederate heritage that most of America is unaware of” on Sept. 23 at Wooldridge Square, according to a Facebook event the group created. A counter-protest hosted by over a dozen groups including the Austin chapter of Black Lives Matter will also occur at the same time and location.