The Ku Klux Klan staged a rally in Memphis, in response to the renaming of Nathan B. Forrest Park by city officials. The KKK promised to make it the largest Klan rally [Memphis] has ever seen. They secured a permit and scheduled the event for 1:30pm on March 30, 2013.
Nine Socialist Alternative members and supporters left Mobile, Alabama in three vehicles the morning of March 29, 2013 to drive to Memphis. The drive took approximately eight hours and we were able to camp on the edge of the city, located about 10 blocks from the rally area.
It was raining the morning of the 30th. We arrived downtown at 10:30am to find a heavy police presence, with squad cars sitting idle at many intersections, beacons flashing. The designated rendezvous area for the counter-rally attendants was a small park with a large gazebo. Around this area, we found entire streets cordoned off with barricades and squad cars.
At 11:00am, there were around 50 protesters under the gazebo. We talked to individuals in the crowd and sold issues of Justice and buttons. We also blanketed the crowd with the Socialist Alternative leaflets made for the event. (http://socialistalternative.org/news/article15.php?id=2091)
By 11:20am, there were about 100 hundred people under the gazebo. At 11:30am, police in riot gear, armed with assault rifles, converged on our location. They surrounded the gazebo, and a policewoman gave the ultimatum, Disperse or else.
At 11:35am, the crowd left the park, marching in the direction of the KKK rally, which was several blocks away and out of view. More riot police began appearing everywhere around us, lining the streets. They were not only wielding full riot armor, but riot shields as well. Eighty percent of them had either assault rifles or submachine guns. The other twenty percent had grenade launchers or less lethal shotguns. Snipers were watching the crowd with rifles and binoculars from all the building rooftops above us. The crowd was chanting slogans such as The cops and the Klan work hand-in-hand! and KKK go away!
The route of the march was once again diverted, this time to the south (away from the direction of the Klan rally), through an alley.
At about 12:30pm, we made it past the checkpoint and were directed through the alley, to a parking lot with a fresh chain-link fence lining the perimeter. The parking lot probably measured 250 feet in both dimensions. Outside the chain link fence was literally a wall of riot police, with their shields facing us. They stood shoulder-to-shoulder around most of the perimeter. There were other large groups of riot police within the parking lot, away from the protesters.
There were 300 to 400 people in the parking lot. Several of these people were undercover cops posing as protesters. One of our members was also forcefully removed for nothing more than wearing a shirt with Huey Newton (a Black Panther Party leader) on it.
Meanwhile, we were barely able to make out the tips of the KKKs pointed white hats, as well as KKK and neo-Nazi NSM flags, about three blocks to the west, beyond a sea of police and police vehicles and equipment. The police presence was of no concern to Klan sympathizers as they began to trickle in among the protest crowd.
During the rally, we met several contacts who showed great interest in our organization and our politics. They suggested we all meet for drinks and political discussion afterward, which turned out to be a much better an event for us than the rally. We met with about seven local socialist activists. We distributed flyers, buttons, and copies of Justice to each person.
To put the rally itself into context1,200 people passed through the security checkpoint. The vast majority was openly hostile to the Klans presence, although there were only 300 to 400 demonstrators inside the fence at any given time. Less than 5% of these were Klan sympathizers who came to heckle. In contrast, there were only 61 Klan and NSM demonstrators at their rally down the street.
Many of our members had never been to a rally, or one of this size and character. We were successful in illustrating for many members exactly what an intervention entails, as well as instilling a much more solid form of professionalism in the Alabama organization, as a result of the meeting with the other group. The trip to Memphis was extremely productive.