Editors’ note: This piece has been updated to reflect that BAMN is not an organizer of the Aug. 27 “Bay Area Rally Against Hate.”
Demonstrators temporarily shut down eastbound traffic on Highway 580 as part of a Saturday night demonstration in response to white supremacist protests in Charlottesville, Virginia on Friday and Saturday morning.
As fireworks exploded overhead near the Grand/Lakeshore exit and off-ramp of Highway 580, officers issued dispersal orders to protesters, but the crowd remained on the highway until about 9:55 p.m.
About 450 protesters held a rally at Latham Square on 16th Street and Broadway in Downtown Oakland beginning about 7 p.m. Saturday as part of an impromptu event titled “Charlottesville We Got Your Back, Bay Area United Against White Supremacy.”
On Friday night, several dozen protesters holding tiki-torches aggressively chanted and marched through Charlottesville, home to the University of Virginia, against the removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. Led by prominent white nationalist Richard Spencer, the protesters then encircled the statue chanting “we will not be replaced” and “blood and soil,” a Nazi-era slogan.
On Saturday, the confrontation in Charlottesville turned fatal. A car plowed into a crowd in the city’s downtown area, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring 19 more. 15 others were injured at other points of the day. The driver, identified as James Alex Fields, has been charged with second-degree murder by local officials.
More than 50 student body presidents across the nation, including ASUC President Zaynab Abdul-Qadir Morris, signed an emailed statement proclaiming college campuses as “spaces that students should be able to call home, not places of violence, hatred, or racism” in response to the events in Charlottesville.
“As the voice of our students, we collective call on one another to speak up in the face of injustice, as silence reduces us to bystanders in oppression,” the statement read. “We will continue to support students and universities in their peaceful resistance to violence, racism, white supremacy, bigotry, and acts of terrorism on our own campuses and beyond.”
The first hour of the rally featuring a rotating set of speakers from a number of local activist organizations, including the East Bay Democratic Socialists of America and the Anti-Police Terror Project.
Afterwards, the demonstrators began marching through Downtown Oakland and eventually — after a brief detour onto Highway 580 — circled the length of Lake Merritt.
“I’m here standing in solidarity with the left in Charlottesville, who were attacked viciously,” said Berkeley Law student Mukund Rathi at the Oakland rally. “The history of free speech is it’s the right wing that responds with violence … while the left uses free speech to fight for social justice.”
The march was both a “direct mass action and very militant action … that harkened back to movements against police brutality and justice for Mike Brown,” according to Yvette Felarca, an activist with By Any Means Necessary.
Felarca, who was arrested last month on charges of assault and rioting related to her participation in a face-off between white nationalist groups and counter-protesters in Sacramento last June, added that “Oakland, the East Bay and whole Bay Area united to provide leadership for the country.”
By 10:45 p.m., the crowd had mostly dispersed, more than three and a half hours into the protest, with Oakland Police Department reopening streets to car traffic. There were no reports of vandalism, injuries or arrests made as a result of the Oakland protest, according to an OPD Nixle alert issued Sunday morning.
Another rally, titled “Bay Area Rally Against Hate,” is set to take place August 27 blocks away from the UC Berkeley campus. The goal of the August 27 rally is “to also organize and mobilize to shut down the neo-fascists coming to Berkeley,” according to Felarca. BAMN, however, is not an official organizer of the event.
In an emailed statement, Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín called on others to join him “in speaking out against violent extremism masquerading as free speech, adding that “we cannot stand by and watch while neo-Nazis, the Klan and alt-right, who have been emboldened by our president, take over U.S. cities.”
“This is a movement declaring a state of emergency for the nation.” Felarca said. “We have the right to defend our communities and defend our future.”