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Charlottesville solidarity: Undeterred protesters march in Oakland to tune of Strange Fruit

August 13, 2017

by Nevin Long

Photo: Nik Wojcik

Marchers snaked through the streets of Downtown Oakland toward the Grand Lake neighborhood to the sounds of a booming portable sound system which blared tunes as disparate as YG and Nipsey Hussle’s “FDT (Fuck Donald Trump)” and Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit,” a mournful 1939 ballad lamenting the lynchings of Southern Black men.

The mass of roughly 1,000 protesters, which included representatives of the Black Panthers, Antifa and Black Lives Matter Bay Area, gathered in Oakland’s Latham Square at approximately 7 p.m. Saturday evening before taking to the streets. Demonstrators were angered over events in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Aug. 12 where James Alex Fields Jr. allegedly mowed down protesters with his car in an incident similar to recent terrorist attacks in London and Nice, France. One person was killed and 19 others were injured in Charlottesville.  Two others were killed after police helicopters monitoring the event collided.

According to CNN, Fields is currently being held by Charlottesville authorities on suspicion of several charges, including second-degree murder.

Reports and photos on the white supremacist website The Daily Stormer identified Fields as a member of the neo-Nazi organization American Vanguard.

“I was watching some of the footage and I was like, you know what? Fuck this shit. These fucking Nazis, they need to quit,” said a young man who identified himself simply as Joker. “It’s like yeah, y’all have freedom of speech, but when it all boils down to it and y’all start threatening people, it’s no longer your First Amendment right.”

The victims of the collision were counter-demonstrators protesting a far-right rally dubbed “Unite the Right,” which was organized by self-avowed Nazi Richard Spencer and attended by members of the Ku Klux Klan, including former Klan Grand Wizard David Duke. 

Photo: Betty Rose Livingston

The Oakland protest was initially slated to take place at Frank Ogawa Plaza, known locally as Oscar Grant Plaza, but had to be moved as the result of the park’s cordoning earlier that day. Rounds of impassioned speeches and chants took place over the course of an hour before the crowd moved into the center of Broadway.

Gloria La Riva, the 2016 presidential candidate for the Party for Socialism and Liberation, was on hand to lend her voice to the proceedings at Latham Square.

“It’s a natural thing to come out and protest and denounce what took place in Charlottesville, which is fascism that has been given the green light by Trump,” La Riva said.

The sentiment was echoed by Cole “Kong” Dorsey, a member of the Industrial Workers of the World labor union and a veteran of earlier anti-racism efforts, who believes the U.S. is entering a new era of fascism.

Photo: Nik Wojcik

“Working people collectively, and their unions respectively, need to be standing up to these right-wing fascists wherever they show themselves or whatever they call themselves,” Dorsey said.

By the time the marchers, chanting “Unite, unite, Black, Latino, Arab, Asian and White” arrived at Grand Avenue, officers and patrolmen from the Oakland Police Department and California Highway Patrol had barricaded several Highway 580 on-ramps.

Protestors were undeterred, however, preferring instead to march between cars on the Grand Avenue off-ramp, scaling the barricade and entering the freeway. As they did, a chorus of “Black lives matter” could be heard amid the detonation of fireworks and wail of police sirens. Ultimately, marchers managed to shut down all eight lanes of the freeway.

Tensions between police and protesters escalated briefly. But ended when marchers voluntarily made their way off the freeway.

There was a heavy police presence throughout the entirety of the march. However, neither OPD nor the CHP made any moves to arrest or otherwise interfere with the progression of the protest.

Photo: Betty Rose Livingston

The motivation of many of the protestors was summed up by Gerald Smith, an activist and organizer who formerly co-hosted the “Slave Revolt” radio show. Smith believes that recent speeches by the president have encouraged violence against members of the political left and that it was important that people made a public show of unity.

“Isolation is the enemy with this stuff,” Smith said, “If you’re isolated, you’re afraid. If you’re afraid, you won’t fight back.”

Nevin Long, a San Francisco State University journalism student, is an intern with the Bay View working with Editor Troy Williams. Additional reporting by Nik Wojcik. Troy Williams can be reached via troy@sfbayview.com

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