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Can a Local Workshop Fight Fascism?

After the deadly white supremacist rally last year in Charlottesville, two grad students in history at the University of Virginia are trying to bridge the divide between academia and the rest of the city by starting a monthly community conversation on far-right and fascist groups. WMRA’s Marguerite Gallorini and 10 others sat in on the first workshop of the “Far Right and (Anti-)Fascism Group.”

[CHARLES and NATASHA: Thanks for coming!]

How can we read current events such as August 12 in Charlottesville with a historical lens –more broadly, how can we create a safe and open space to talk about fascism and anti-fascism? Natasha Roth-Rowland and Charles Hamiltonare two doctoral students in history at UVa.  They have created a monthly workshop, open to all students and to the public, to discuss just that.

NATASHA ROTH-ROWLAND: It's a very common refrain that racism doesn't go away, it just adapts to the society that it's in. And I think failing to tease that out in public discourse and in education - I don't think it directly puts us where we are but it facilitates the gradual normalization of politics and social development where this kind of resurgence of fascism and authoritarianism becomes possible.

CHARLES HAMILTON: It’s certainly my hope – and I think I speak for Natasha as well – that we're providing the tools to understand this movement in a historical context. Because there are things that are new, but it's not fundamentally new: there is this history to it, and that's what we're trying to tease out, we're trying to see what, from history and from related disciplines, can we use to understand our current times and this situation better. 

Charles studies queer anti-fascism and the far right in twentieth-century Europe, with a focus on Britain, France, and Germany. He talked about the wave of fascism that hit Europe in the mid-1970s, following a lot of fear mongering aimed at immigrants and refugees – much like what they say is happening now in the U.S.

ROTH-ROWLAND: The elephant in the room which was discussed early on is what happened in Charlottesville last year, specifically: Neo-nazis bringing a tremendous amount of violence to the streets in Charlottesville, and lack of sufficient action on the part of the police.

[Far-right crowd chanting on August 12, 2017]

This inaction also rings a bell from the past. Here’s Charles talking about what came to be known as the Battle of Wood Green, in Britain, on April 23, 1977 – when fascists and anti-fascists clashed in the streets of this London suburb.

HAMILTON: 74 of the 81 people arrested are antifascists, and the police actually - similarly to what happened here - were not able to keep the groups separated. So there was just fights in the streets, and reports that the police actually defended the National Front in fights because they viewed them as the victims.

These workshops, which are funded by the Power and Violence Inequality Collective, will be held each month in various locations– either on UVa grounds or elsewhere in Charlottesville. The meetings will culminate in a conference next Spring.

HAMILTON: Soon, within the next few weeks, we're putting out a call for people who are interested in possibly being on those panels. We want to hear from them. That’ll be out soon.

ROTH-ROWLAND: I think that's also part of the emphasis in having somewhat of a public profile –is to try and open up access and visibility to what we're doing. Because you know, it can sometimes feel a little bit academic, ivory tower – but as much as we can, we want that to be able to, on some level, interface with a lot of the really, really incredible organizing and activism that's been going on here in the past year, by people of color, queer people, housing rights activists, etc, etc. So we want to try and develop contact in whatever way we can.

Marguerite Gallorini was a feelance journalist for WMRA from 2015 -2018.