Vigil for Charlottesville

A few weeks ago, I was asked to give part of today’s Sunday morning address at my Sunday morning activity. The topic would be one of my favorites: my love of pets. I was daunted by the request, both the public speaking part and the preparation part, which would be adding something else to my plate. (My plate might not objectively have a lot on it, but it’s about as full as I can take. It’s really more like a little saucer.)

I apologetically declined, and in the end, my words wouldn’t have fit the bill anyway, as the talk was described as consisting of people speaking about “what (not whom) they love.”

Tonight, at a vigil/rally held in response to the white nationalist march in Charlottesville, Virginia and the deaths of one counter-protester (intentionally rammed into by a white supremacist’s car; many others were injured in this act of terrorism) and two police officers, I marveled at how quickly this gathering and other events around the country came together. A few of the speakers, with gratitude to the organizers and attendees, mentioned this fast response. Having recently said no to giving a very brief address that I would have had weeks to write, I was all the more impressed.

People had about 24 hours to plan the vigils, spread the word, prepare remarks, and make signs. (Some of the signs I saw may have witnessed many marches and rallies over the last months and years. Others, making specific reference to Charlottesville and Heather Heyer, could not have been made before yesterday.) When two young women faced the crowd to sing “America the Beautiful,” another vigil attendee spontaneously joined them and accompanied them on guitar. Organizers of this Vigil for Justice not only brought everyone together, but also brought flowers and bottled water to give to the crowd.

We had gathered next to the World War II Memorial, surrounded by monuments. One man who spoke noted what I’d been thinking: the location, a memorial to those who died fighting Nazis, was a fitting place to denounce a new generation of Nazis. Several speakers and sign-holders alluded to relatives who had fought in World War II.


World War II Memorial, with Vigil for Justice taking place on the far side of the Reflecting Pool

When I was younger and I had grandparents who lived in South Carolina, my family often drove down to visit in summer or over the holidays, with stops for sightseeing along the way. I would get Charlottesville (Virginia), Charlotte (North Carolina), and Charleston (South Carolina) mixed up. These days we know these cities by the tragedies they’ve sustained in recent days and years.

This post has been full of personal reflections. Heather Heyer, who was killed by the car that slammed into the crowd of counter-protesters, was three years younger than me and had the same job title I have. I struggle mightily with reproof against people “centering themselves” in conversations on these issues, because everything I was taught in my training to be an educator indicated that making personal connections is a huge component of how humans learn.

That said, my own post processing my own thoughts on my own blog is a beginning, not an end. There are and will continue to be so many other voices for me to hear and read and learn from. There will be more statements condemning white supremacy from writers and religious organizations and museums and everyday people and elected officials, even if not from the president himself. There will be more events to attend, donations to make, and articles to share. There will be at least one million pieces of writing more worthy of being read than this post. (I welcome any recommendations for what to read.)

And there will, without a doubt, be more tragedies that demand our response and action. We can all hope there will be no more white nationalism, but pretending we have already achieved such a world doesn’t do us any good.



About Laura

Paralegal with Master of Arts in Teaching in Museum Education, frequent museum visitor, based in Washington, DC. I care about what museums can do, both in terms of public offerings and internal practices, to make the world a better place. I blog about museum education ("informed"), the social work of museums ("humane"), and visitor experience ("citizenry").
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