She was afraid it could happen. But she went anyway. With her friends.
They put their bodies on the line with thousands of other people who went Emancipation Park to ensure that racist, Nazi, white supremacists would not rule the day. The Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, created a space for people espousing the worst and most violent philosophies in our society. They credit president-elect Donald Trump for giving them that space, and he seems to be okay with that.
Heather Heyer joins others who have been martyred in the cause of freedom, justice and equality throughout the history of this nation. We all have to recognize that any of us could pay that same price at any time. We have to know that and keep on.
Heather Heyer could have been my child. Like Tamir Rice. Like Trayvon Martin. Like so many others whose lives have been lost to the statistics of racism and repression, to hatred.
The Defenders have published a report on what we experienced and witnessed on Saturday, August 12, 2017. We were there from about 10:30 am until about 4:30 pm. We held our banner as part of the line of counter-protesters facing one corner of the park where some of the most battle-ready Unite the Right rally-ers were clustered barely contained in the park by the state police and their own leaders. People have reported that the left and right had radicals who were ready to fight. That was true.
But, as we learned later, even before we got there, it was one of their factions that attacked a group of older folks at a church and beat them to the ground. They meant violence and they brought it. And whether I approved of everything I saw happen or not, it was good to see the people holding racist and fascist and Nazi slogans being challenged. I'm a historian in training and the history of social progress in this country is a history of struggle, often armed. I abhor violence. But what happened in Charlottesville does not represent a debate between violent and nonviolent tactics. It was critically important tactic of showing strength in the face of evil, to face it down in defense of humanity, in defense of the progress, however it has stumbled, that has been made over the course of this country's history, and paid for in lives.
It hit me only today that I saw Heather's body being placed in the ambulance. We were only a block away when that car smashed through the crowd, killing her. The call for medics went out immediately and one of our group who was a nurse performed CPR on her until the paramedics arrived, but, he told us, he didn't think she would make it. Her lips were blue. There was no heartbeat.
That young, young man from Ohio, who was so mis-educated that he saw no other solution to the problems of his world, as Heather's mother said, than "to hate," traveled across three states to slam his hatred into Heather Heyer and 19 others. And he didn't solve a damn thing. And he wasn't alone.
The monuments to the values of the Confederate States of America - the values of a slavery-sustained agricultural economy and self-assigned supremacist and expansionist ideology - must come down. It's time. Take them down and make room for our future.