After ten days and 111 miles, the march from Charlottesville, Virginia, to Washington, D.C., on Wednesday crossed the Key Bridge and arrived at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.
But it’s not quite over.
The march was organized in response to the August 12 white supremacist rally and subsequent riot in Charlottesville, during which an anti-fascist protester, Heather Heyer, was killed. Organizers and marchers cited demands for action by the federal government against hate crimes and white supremacy as their major reasons for marching. During the final days of the march, a new purpose was added following the White House’s announcement that the DACA program would be terminated.
The marchers’ ranks varied at different stages, from a few dozen to around 200. They were joined by figures including former NAACP head Cornell Brooks and actor Mark Ruffalo. They faced rain, cold, heat, and hate.
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“I identify as a transgender man of color,” said Mateo Guerrero, an immigrant from Colombia who joined the march around its midway point. “And white supremacy has directly impacted my gender experience. Because through colonization there was the implementation of a binary. Either male or female. There is no dichotomy or any possibilities for fluid gender. So one way in which I decolonize my existence is by saying out loud that I am transgender. And I’m fighting against that colonial system that is led by white supremacy.”
Guerrero and many other marchers changed their plans for the afternoon on Labor Day after hearing the news about DACA, which protects around 800,000 young immigrants from deportation. They stopped miles short of their original goal for the day and were bused to the local office of Rep. Barbara Comstock, a Republican who consistently votes in support of President Trump’s agenda while occasionally offering words of criticism for the president.
“We’ve gotten focused on DACA,” said Ben Doernberg, a marcher from Charlottesville. “We went to Representative Barbara Comstock’s office… She’s refused to meet with the DACA people in her district. Won’t take a meeting with them.”
While the marchers chanted and held up signs outside of her office, Comstock did not appear or publicly comment.
“I’m here as part of a group called If Not Now, which is a group of Jews,” Doernberg said, “and the synagogue where I went to Sunday school growing up was a block and a half from [Emancipation Park], and there were Nazis walking by sieg-heiling with swastikas. People were threatening to burn down the synagogue. The police were asked to send somebody out to protect the synagogue, they didn’t do that. … When there are Nazis in the street and white supremacists with guns, I thought, ‘There’s no way that we can put up with another 300 years of white supremacy.'”
The march culminated with a rally in the rain in front of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial.
“There’s a couple of things that are next,” said Nelini Stamp, who nursed a swollen Achilles tendon and walked with a limp. “Next weekend is part of the reason why we chose to land in D.C. It’s when Congress is back in session and we need to do everything to hold them accountable. … They want to put money into a border wall, they want to put money into more prison beds. … We have to stop them. We want to make sure that nothing white supremacist gets into that budget. … We want to put a spotlight on equality.”
Along their route from Charlottesville, the march moved from friendly territory to open hostility and then back again. A man carrying a gun waited for them at a McDonald’s, where the group was scheduled to stop one day and start the next. Pickup trucks displaying confederate flags circled and stalked them. Stamp said some drivers revved their engines alongside the marchers, pouring smoke into their faces. At one point the police tried to halt the march for a day.
“We had to end early one day because they told us there’s too much rain and too much traffic,” Doernberg said. “It wasn’t raining and there wasn’t any traffic but I think we were able to make it clear that this is a march that a lot of people are watching.”
Advocates for the march contacted the staff of Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), and the problem went away.
Even in the most hostile areas the group passed through, most people appeared to be supportive. And the further north they went, the more support and the less hostility they encountered.
“The love has been coming through so much,” said Guerrero. “It’s so beautiful … as we come up north, people were waiting for us and chanting as we came in. … What I’ve experienced has been so much love coming from different folks.”
Some of the marchers will be occupying Farragut Park to stage a constant rally through the end of September.
“The next step, resisting, is a matter of day by day,” Guerrero said. “Waking up and just looking for a job. After the march we’re going to do an action and then take this energy into our local communities.”