Chanting antifascist and pro-diversity slogans, more than 300 people gathered on Boston Common on Saturday evening for an impromptu rally in the wake of the white supremacist demonstration in Charlottesville, Va., where a car plowed into peaceful counterprotesters.
The local crowd, mostly young and including people of widely varied backgrounds, formed a crescent alongside the Parkman Bandstand to hear a series of passionate speakers who emerged from the throng to share their outrage and sorrow over the violent clashes in Charlottesville.
Joey Hsu, who graduated from the University of Virginia this year, told the crowd that this weekend’s events don’t represent the Charlottesville he knows.
“I’m just appalled at what I’m seeing in the news,” said Hsu, who moved to Cambridge two weeks ago.
He said that during the day he has heard accounts of events there from friends entering their senior year at the university. “I just can’t imagine how down they are, how frustrated they are, to see this violence, this senseless violence and hatred that’s just claimed lives today, sent people to the hospital,” he said.
Many speakers at the rally evoked civil rights leaders such as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, and denounced President Trump for using rhetoric that some believe has emboldened racists.
Protesters held signs reading, “It’s up to white people to stop fascism,” and, “Destroy fascism. White pride is terrorism.”
One man briefly tried to disrupt the rally, yelling “USA! USA!” as a speaker addressed the crowd. A group of protesters approached the man and tried to calm him, but then a young man in a studded jacket walked over and shoved the man, who fell to the ground. The man lay still for a couple of minutes, as though unconscious, but then rose, yelled, “USA! USA!” a few more times, and left.
The 90-minute rally, called Boston Stands with Charlottesville, was organized by Boston Feminists for Liberation.
It included representatives of the Democratic Party, Socialist Alternative, the International Socialist Organization, and other progressive and leftist groups.
R.J. Cross, chairman of the Greater Boston Young Democrats, said in an interview that he was horrified by the events in Charlottesville but wanted to seek common ground with disaffected white Americans who have been drawn into far-right ideologies.
“I find it to be a very blatant, vicious attack on minorities for any group to come out and say, ‘We’re supreme,’ ” said Cross, referring to white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville.
Still, he said, he can understand why racism and other forms of bigotry have taken on a more public face in recent years.
He said racists have been emboldened by Trump’s years of questioning the birthplace of former president Barack Obama, the anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric of the Trump campaign, and Trump’s policies as president.
“I think that for a while we felt we were really addressing the issues of racism and division in our country,” Cross said. “I think that what we’re seeing is that it didn’t go away. It went underground.”
The rally at the University of Virginia — believed to be the largest gathering of white supremacists in a decade — followed a call from a right-wing blogger for a “pro-white” rally in Charlottesville to protest the city’s decision to remove a statue of confederate General Robert E. Lee.
Oren Segal, who directs the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, said multiple white power groups gathered in Charlottesville, including members of neo-Nazi organizations, racist skinhead groups, and Ku Klux Klan factions.
After hours of silence on growing violence in Charlottesville, Trump tweeted early Saturday afternoon, “We ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Lets come together as one!”
But Trump drew swift criticism for failing in his public statements to openly rebuke the white supremacists’ racist ideology, instead saying in a speech Saturday afternoon, “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence on many sides. On many sides.”
On Boston Common, Ifé Franklin, 57, exhorted the crowd to prepare for a prolonged — but ultimately successful — battle against the forces of racism.
“You’d better pull up your socks and you’d better get ready because it’s a fight out here,” said Franklin, an African-American artist whose work includes replicas of slave cabins.
“We’re being nice and we’re being sweet right now, but you’d better get mad. You’d better get mad, and you’d better get ready to fight,” continued Franklin, who grew up in Washington, D.C., and spent some of her childhood summers in Virginia.
An alt-right rally is planned for Boston next Saturday, according to a Twitter post from Proud Boys USA, a group that opposes multiculturalism.