Interview: Eyewitness Charlottesville


A Conversation Between Two Southerners

My name is Emily McArthur, I’m an organizer with Socialist Alternative in Seattle, but I grew up in Virginia. So when Charlottesville, Virginia made the news last week for being a flash point of Neo-Nazi and Alt-Right organizers, it felt personal. A lot of my friends went together to the counterprotest, and were only a few dozen feet away when a car was intentionally crashed into the crowd. My friend who used to develop my photos took the viral photo of the black officer whose job it was to patrol the KKK rally.

I called up my best friend, Bridget Goeke to talk about her experience on the ground.

Emily McArthur: So, why did you decide to go to Charlottesville?

Bridget Goeke: I won’t pretend that I went with some grand plan to defeat fascism, or that I was looking to start a fight with some Nazis. A friend of mine had posted something on Facebook about this Unite the Right rally that was happening in my own backyard, and I immediately knew I had to go. I couldn’t let these guys spew their bigotry unchecked. I honestly hadn’t done a lot of research or preparations, I just went. Thankfully the friend I went with prepped a little better than I did!

EM: Who would you say was there? (were there any visible organizations?)

BG: There were a lot of different groups, many of which I hadn’t even heard of. But ones that I could identify included the League of the South, Traditionalist Workers Party, KKK, Identity Evropa, Oath Keepers, and Proud Boys…along with a plethora of armed militiamen.  Counter protester groups I encountered included Black Lives Matter, Democratic Socialists of America, Antifa, Workers World Party, Redneck Revolt/John Brown Gun Club, and International Workers of the World. There were also a lot of clergymen and women from all different denominations.

There were many people that I’m sure didn’t belong to or identify with any of those groups; they just showed up to show their support for whichever side.

Counter protesters were a very diverse group of people including every race, gender, sexuality, religion, and ability. The Alt-Right side was comprised of mostly white men in their 20s and 30s, but there were definitely some older men, as well as a handful of women.

EM: What was the mood among counter protesters?

BG: There were a multitude of emotions that day, and they all came in waves. There was a lot of anger and disgust that permeated throughout the entire city. A tremendous amount of fear, too.  But there were still moments of being happy, joyful, and proud. The comradery between these thousands of strangers united was palpable.

EM: What’s your reaction to what happened?

BG: I think I’m just beginning to process it fully, after several days of being legitimately in shock. Yes, heartbreak, mourning, fear. All of those things. But the one consistent feeling that has been with me since #A12 has been complete and utter rage. I am so incredibly angry at so many different people…the Nazis, their sympathizers, the police who did nothing, the lukewarm “love wins” liberals who denounce us and claim that we’re just as bad as the Nazis. I’m trying to channel all of that rage into something constructive, but that can be difficult at times.

EM: What do you think of the developments of the solidarity marches across the country? It was really inspiring to see thousands of people in Philly, Seattle, NYC coming together almost instantly to say no, fascism and hatred and violence are not ok, we’re getting out to show we’re bigger and more powerful than them.

BG: I think when we saw news of the first ones, someone in our #A12 group just sent out in a text, “I’M NOT CRYING YOU’RE CRYING.” I think that kind of sums it up. It’s really heartening to see them happen, and has really helped lift our bruised and traumatized spirits.

EM: And maybe the complete opposite of that, what do you make of Trump’s comments? Pushing the blame onto the so-called Alt-Left and really equating protesting with driving your car into a crowd of people, and equating solidarity with racism?

BG: See above comment of complete and utter rage. I wish I could say he was alone on an island with his opinions about the left being the same as these fascists, but there are a lot of people who think that way. I run out of breath arguing with them every single day.

EM: I think the next thing really has to be an escalation of protests. Now more than ever, there’s a real opening to push Trump out. He’s isolated himself by associating with fringe racists and bigots. I’m thinking like a mass day of action to feel our strength, but that it’s got to build from there. Occupations of Congress people’s offices demanding impeachment, and not just that either, right?

BG: You’re right; I don’t see this fizzling out any time soon. The American people, including many of his voters, are really done with Trump and all of these alt-right fascists that have seemingly come out of the woodwork since his campaign began. We have to keep the momentum going to make sure that he and his administration know that we aren’t just going to fade away and let his nonsense continue. I’m seeing a variety of tactics coming into play in my community, alongside the protests. I know it’s only going to continue to grow. I do think we are going to have to coordinate a mass action event to really grab their attention, and we need to do it soon. (Think Women’s March, but with less pink hats and more of those New Left kids.) I don’t pretend to have all of the answers, but I try to be involved and active where and when I can.

EM: Also pointing to the systemic racism and how the promised tax cuts for the wealthy would only worsen the living conditions for working class people, and especially communities of color. The movement should take on not just the negative demand of no to Trump and his racism, but also a demand for taxing the rich to pay for medicare for all, public transportation, and education.

BG: Precisely. This all goes beyond so much more than just the terrorist attack in Charlottesville. It’s terrible that it took Heather Heyer dying for so many people to wake the hell up and take a stand, especially since there have been so many people of color who have died fighting for the same cause that have been seemingly ignored by white Americans. But we have this nationwide energy growing now that we can harness and put towards empowering the working class and people of color, and thus the fight against racism, fascism, and elitism. Because while these issues are undoubtedly entwined in the Trump presidency, they do not begin and end with him, and they WILL continue long after he is out of office…unless we do something about it. It won’t be quick or easy. It won’t be without more losses, and it probably will be messy. But I think more people are paying attention now more than ever before, and if we’ve ever thought, “We need more people to fight the good fight,” this is it. This is our chance.