Hundreds stood together in solidarity with Charlottesville, Virginia after a white supremacist rally turned violent. The St. Catharines counter-rally, which was organized by Zanab Jafry, a fourth year medical student of Brock University and current supervisor for the Brock Student Justice Centre, took place on Wednesday, August 16, accumulating in a crowd of over 300 allies.
The event was held outside of St. Catharines City Hall, and was host to a variety of people who came to pay their respects to the victims of a violent assault committed by a white supremacist who steered his car into a group of counter-protesters, killing 32 year old Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others in the process. Many also came out to show their support in actively denouncing racism, fascism, white-supremacy, and neo-nazism.
Heyer’s cousin, Diana Ratcliff, a political science graduate of the University of Michigan, wrote for CNN discussing the shortcoming of white people in the fight against racism and white-supremacy until now.
“Why is it that the death of a white woman at the hands of a white supremacist group has finally gotten the attention of white folk?” wrote Ratcliff. “Why have we been turning our heads the other way for so long?”
Though the rally in St. Catharines was organized around the violent events that took place in Charlottesville, the intent was to look deeper into the systems and policies within Canada, and even within the Niagara region itself.
“The reason that it’s possible in 2017 even in Canada is because systemically we have not yet addressed the structures that allow such rally’s to take place,” Jafry says. “Even in Canada we have Soldiers of Odin, we have our own brand of Neo-Nazism, we have our own brand of white nationalism that’s very alive and well today.”
The events that took place in Charlottesville, specifically the Neo-nazi protests defending white supremacy, were legal, notes Jafry.
“What I think most people don’t understand is the organizational fibre of the United States actually very easily allows and promotes white nationalists, and Neo-Nazi’s, and ultra-right conservatives to air these views,” Jafry says. The American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU, commonly a voice for the people played a part in helping the demonstrators acquire the necessary licensing, she says.
Canada and our own Niagara region are not exempt from white supremacy and racism.
“We have a soldier’s of Odin faction in St Catharines,” Jafry says. “The very steps that I spoke on at the rally were very recently occupied by Soldiers of Odin, by Neo-Nazis, that were protesting laws which would protect muslims. We don’t have to look very far to see the violent white nationalism with our own home town.”
Jafry says it’s important for these far right groups to see just how many people are willing to stand against them.
Additionally, Jafry marked the event’s facebook page as being family-friendly, which she says is important for the fight against hate groups. “It’s actually not just a good thing, it’s almost, I would say, a civic duty for parents to involve themselves. If you are a parent and you are against white supremacy, you need to expose your children to this kind of education. You need to expose your children to these kinds of demonstrations. You’ve got to show up.”
But demonstrations and counter-protests are not a solution to the problem. Instead, Jafry says, real change has to be made to policy in Canada and internationally.
“Without direct action, without calling for policy reform, without taking down statues of people that have called for genocide of indigenous people of this country, without truly resisting and fighting, without enforcing these policy changes we will never not have white supremacy in this country,” says Jafry. “We can have 100 rallies but until we are demanding that the people in office who represent us make policy level changes, we will always live in a non-post-racial society. We will never get to that place that we already think we’re at.”