Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

College Democrats, Socialsts counter KKK cries

As the clock hands neared 1:30 p.m., fathers raised children onto their shoulders. Those who had not already reached higher ground strained on tip-toe to catch a glimpse of the Klansmen.

“Mommy says that they look like ghosts,” piped a young Caucasian girl seated on her fathers’ shoulders. weather

Only an even row of dull, gray-brown helmets was visible from within the swelling crowd. The sullen sun peeked through the clouds and reflected off a riot shield, sending off an intermittent glimmer.

The tension in the air was almost palpable. An old war was about to begin again.

In this battle, the peace keepers were equipped with guns and gas masks; the combatants were armed with bullhorns and ideologies. It could have been 1968, at the height of the civil rights movement.

But it wasn’t.

Braving the frigid cold to “unite and fight,” as one sign read, almost 50 GW students took part in Saturday’s Ku Klux Klan counter-protest in Annapolis. The students said they wanted to counter the pejorative ideology of the white supremacist group.

According to some media estimates, more than 1,000 people turned out to counter a nationwide Klan protest of Black History Month. Klan attendance was gauged at about 40.

“Overall, the most important thing was us being there at the rally,” counter-protest organizer Caitlin Connolly said. “Not the fact that there was a Klan meeting, but that there were more than 1,000 people there to say to the Klan that they’re not welcome.”

At 11 a.m. Saturday, two yellow school buses parked in front of Funger Hall. Students climbed aboard, and the group set out for Annapolis. In the bus, discussions of free speech, revolution and the possibility of being arrested were the only indicators the students were headed for something other than a high school field trip.

The GW group included members of the College Democrats and the International Socialist Organization, and others who wanted to lend support to the cause.

“I didn’t come with an agenda,” said Megan Sullivan, 19. “I came as a human being.”

“Hopefully this will not just be a one-day event.” ISO member Barak Epstein, 19, said. Epstein said that his organization wants to link the counter-protest to larger issues like racism, affirmative action and poverty. The group is scheduled to present “Can We Ever Get Rid of Racism?” Feb. 11.

In Annapolis, shivering from the frigid morning air and excitement, GW students joined the steadily growing crowd.

Maryland state troopers in black riot gear stood at rigid attention along Main Street, their impassive faces revealing little as a group of protesters chanted, “Cops and Klan go hand in hand. Cops and Klan go hand in hand.”

A slew of signs with slogans like “R.I.P. KKK,” “Unite and Fight” and “Down with the Klan by any means necessary,” were raised high as the march began.

Photographers, TV cameras and reporters swarmed along the sidelines of the protest. GW student and ISO organizer Heather Saslovsky led the chant, which echoed down quaint streets lined with upscale brick real estate offices, banks and churches.

“Hey hey ho ho,” shouted Saslovsky over a bullhorn. The crowd responded with an enthusiastic, “KKK has got to go.”

Protesters were as different as their songs, the color of their faces and the ideas of their generations, but all marched against the racism they attach to the Ku Klux Klan.

“Gay, straight, black, white, all unite and fight the right,” was the battle cry of the moment.

A spirit possessed the crowd – a sense of doing right, rectifying old wrongs and fighting against racial injustice.

But as the GW protesters approached the barricaded block where the counter-protest was to take place, some remembered what College Democrat Ed DiMarzio had said earlier in the day.

“We’re not anticipating anything dangerous happening, but we have to think of our safety,” DiMarzio warned.

Passing through the wall of metal detectors and onto the protest ground was like passing through a portal in time, back 30 years.

The scene resembled a black-and-white photograph in a history book, evoking images of what Alabama or Mississippi might have looked like in the 60s. Police with attack dogs formed a human barricade, tempering some of the crowd’s excitement.

A clipped voice barked orders over a walkie-talkie. A German shepherd barked. A police helicopter hovered overhead, competing with half a dozen bullhorns. After standing shoulder-to-shoulder for more than 30 minutes, the crowd tensed and a stillness settled as the hour grew later. The group had an appointment with the Klan.

“KKK get out of town,” began a renewed chant. “We are here to shut you down.”

Nervous glances were cast at the upper floors of surrounding buildings, revealing police sharpshooters and video cameras watching over the gathering like hawks.

At noon, the flowing white robes and pointed hats failed to materialize. Less than half a block away, behind the police barricade and a line of three buses parked bumper-to-bumper, a Grand Dragon Klan leader stood with Oregon-based KKK members.

But counter-protesters could not see the Klan. Frustration with the no-show Klan seeped through the crowd, even as they chanted against an unseen enemy.

“It was definitely difficult not being able to see the Klan,” Connolly said. “I kept looking for any sign of movement behind the buses. As soon as I thought I saw something, my blood boiled.”

Although the event did not go exactly as planned, GW organizers said they were pleased that the police managed to enforce safety and relative order, with the exception of three arrests. GW senior Chris Johnson was among those arrested. (see related story, this page)

A few Klan supporters managed to create a frenzy by throwing a Confederate flag into the crowd. The flag was shredded and burned by counter-protesters.

The two groups exchanged chants and shouts once more before the protest broke up and ended in a brief rap session.

“Racism has been institutionalized for too long in this country,” Epstein proclaimed through a bullhorn. “It’s time we institutionalize anti-racism.”

The GW group boarded the buses cold, tired and thoughtful.

“It was a good experience for me,” Marjorie Mills, 20, said. “I didn’t come with any ulterior motives. I just wanted to support a good cause. I was happy to see that so many parents brought their children out.”

As the crowds continued to disperse, the young white girl who sat atop her father’s shoulders earlier in the day slept soundly in his arms. Clutched to her chest was a black baby doll.

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