More than 1,500 people gathered at the Erb Memorial Union Amphitheater at the University of Oregon to begin a “Hate Is Not Welcome in Lane County” march to downtown Eugene on Monday.
The grass-roots event was organized in two days by six Eugene residents, most of them former or current UO students: Anthony Samperio, Charlie Landeros, Philip Carrasco, Jaki Salgado, Manuel Gonzalez and David Pinsonneault. They organized the march to the Lane County Courthouse in response to the deadly aftermath of a neo-Nazi rally Saturday in Charlottesville, Va. held in protest of a plan to remove a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee.
Heather Heyer, 32, a native of Charlottesville, was killed when a car plowed into a group of anti-Nazi counter-protesters. James Alex Fields Jr., 20, of Ohio was arrested a short time later and has been charged with second-degree murder for driving his Dodge Challenger into the crowd of anti-Nazi protesters. Also on Saturday, two Virginia State Police troopers who had been working the protest were killed when their helicopter crashed.
Organizers of Monday’s anti-hate rally in Eugene fended off rumors that the event also would be the site of violence and counter protest, and the 5:30 p.m. went off peacefully.
Pinsonneault said that the organizers had been prepared.
Representatives from Civil Liberties Defense Center came out to observe the protest, taking note of law enforcement’s interaction with protesters, which was peaceful.
Lane Community Defense Network managed security, backed by members of the Portland chapter of Redneck Revolt, whose members wore black and red bandanas around their faces.
The security teams blocked off streets with bicycles and assisted Eugene Police in diverting traffic away from the march.
The only visible counter protest came from a man who threaded his way backward through the marchers, shouting “Trump! Pence!”
Speakers at the event focused on diversity and what it means to be an ally in a city like Eugene, that is predominantly liberal but also predominantly white.
Carrasco emphasized to the crowd that all of the speakers at the event were people of color because “We don’t want to put our action within the parameters of white comfort.”
Speakers at the rally emphasized that while the events on Charlottesville were far away, the root of such violence — racism — also happens in Eugene.
Seela Sankei, a recent UO graduate, said she has noticed a difference in the way she is treated as a person of color in Eugene since the election of President Trump. “When I came here, all my discrimination was, ’Oh, your skin is blah, blah … Oh, tell me about your accent,” Sankei said. “But now, it’s someone pulling another person’s hair. It’s someone spitting on your face. It’s someone calling you a word that you’ve never heard someone call anyone and you’re like wait, why the sudden hostility?”
The rally was diverse, with protesters of all ages and all races. A young girl was riding her bike ahead of the crowd with her parents. Other young children held signs that said “Love Trumps Hate.”
At one point, Carrasco yelled to the large crowd, “What kind of community do you want?” A young girl’s voice replied with “Inclusive!”
“That should have been the 45th president of our country,” he said.