White supremacists are beginning to come out of the shadows again—and people are taking to the streets to fight back. Last week, after a white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, ended in the death of 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuries to dozens more, activists and organizers in Durham, North Carolina, came together to take a stand against overt racism and violence. Two days after the KKK and neo-Nazi groups in Charlottesville sought to assert their racist and anti-Semitic values by rallying around the statue of former Confederate leader and slaveholder Robert E. Lee, Durham organizers gathered around one of their city’s Confederate monuments to pull down one of the many remaining symbols of the South’s resistance to the abolition of slavery and to the end of white supremacy. The video of the action went viral. Just four days later, it spurred a large protest when people came together to proactively rally after hearing rumors that the KKK was planning to gather at the site of the destroyed monument.
The counter-protest was attended by thousands of people, with no sightings of the KKK around. But while some are hailing this and the destruction of the monument as “victories,” Durham activists are facing serious criminal charges for their involvement in the removal of a sign of white supremacy their local government was unlikely to touch. A law passed by the state legislature in 2015 ensured that existing statues and monuments could not be altered or removed by the city without approval from the North Carolina Historical Commission, which virtually closed off any hopes of using formal processes to get the monument removed.
Those responsible for the destruction of the Confederate monument, who happen to mainly be black activists, have had their homes raided, and were ultimately arrested. Takiyah Thompson, a member of the Workers World Party, was one of the first. Thompson and at least three other activists involved are facing a barrage of felony and misdemeanor charges, which could result in heavy fines and prison time.
Though out on bail, the activists’ legal battle against the city of Durham has only just begun. While they wait for their next court date on September 12, here’s what you can do to support them:
1. Show up. Incarcerating activists is a common strategy used to subdue civic organizing and social movements. This is why the importance of solidarity in moments like these cannot be understated—and so far, the people of Durham are doing it right. Durham residents have shown their commitment to solidarity by turning themselves into the local sheriff’s office by the hundreds to show Thompson and others that they are not alone. According to Elena Everett, director of the Southern Vision Alliance, there is now widespread speculation that the KKK is planning to rally at the Durham courthouse during the activists’ first court date. If you live in Durham, don’t hesitate to show up and let them know that they are not welcome.
2. Demand that all charges be dropped. It is quite clear that the authorities in Durham are more than willing to make an example out of the organizers who pulled down the Confederate monument. Let them know that we are watching, and that their targeting of young black activists makes them complicit in white supremacy too. Call the Durham County District Attorney’s office at 919-808-3010, and demand that prosecutors drop all charges made against the organizers.
3. Contribute to the funds dedicated to covering the bail and legal fees for those involved. Though many of the organizers and activists behind the monument removal are out on bail, they will need thousands of dollars more to help cover legal costs and other expenses associated with their arrests. Chip in what you can to ensure that they can afford a legal team that will properly represent them in their impending trials.
4. Support local groups that are organizing against racism. Many of the activists involved in removing the monument are members of local activist groups, like BYP100, Black Lives Matter Durham, and Southerners Organizing on New Ground (SONG.) Whether organizing against racist criminal-justice policies or police brutality, these groups have long been resisting white supremacy in its many forms. You can also donate to the Durham Solidarity Center to support local anti-racist activism.
5. Demand that lawmakers in North Carolina and five other states reject legislation that would allow people to run over protesters. Republicans in North Carolina, North Dakota, Tennessee, Rhode Island, Texas, and Florida have introduced legislation to protect drivers who plow through protesters from civil liability. Although Heather Heyer was run over and killed by a white nationalist barely a week ago, the bill’s sponsors are still defending it. This would have damaging effects on activists, organizers, and protesters not only in Durham, but around the state as well. Sign this petition to let North Carolina officials know that this bill will only lead to more violence and death.
6. Finally, take up the charge in your own city or state by locating the Confederate statues in your vicinity (thanks to the Daughters of the Confederacy, there are likely many) and demanding that your elected officials and local representatives remove them once and for all. To get you started, the Southern Poverty Law Center has a map of Confederate monuments around the country and ColorofChange has a petition that demands the removal of all of them.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the law preventing the removal of statues and monuments was passed by the Durham City Council, and that removal required legislative approval. In fact, the law was passed by the North Carolina legislature and removal requires approval by the state Historical Commission. The article also stated that the proposed legislation regarding protesters run over by drivers would protect those drivers from criminal liability. It protects them from civil liability. The article has been updated with these corrections.