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Lee County residents gather in solidarity with Charlottesville

By Staff | Aug 16, 2017

Sanibel Island resident Richard Hilliard is concerned about the unrest he sees in his country.

The World War II Army veteran served in Germany, and is concerned about the parallels he sees in the United States today that he saw in fascist Germany.

Hilliard was one of a dozen or more speakers who had something to say Tuesday evening in Centennial Park, downtown Fort Myers. More than 200 people gathered at the pavilion despite the rain for a vigil after the weekend’s events in Charlottesville.

“I saw what fascism can do, and it can happen here,” Hilliard told the crowd. “Being here is not enough. Talk to your neighbors, students, use Twitter, Facebook. There should have been thousands here. Where is the rest of Fort Myers? We have to let them know, stop the hate.”

The vigil, called “Solidarity With The People of Cville Against White Supremacy” was organized largely via social media by Phoenyx Sky Shaw and Devin Carter; Carter is the president of the People’s Freedom Defenders of SWFL, a social activism organization she said was founded after President Donald Trump’s election.

While some of the speakers directed their frustration at the country’s administration, the majority of statements were directed to condemn the “Unite the Right” rally and subsequent white nationalist actions in Charlottes-ville, Va., that occurred over the weekend and resulted in the death of one counter-protester.

“Liberals feel lost in such a red county,” Carter, a Cape Coral resident, said. “It’s not a time where we can be quiet. We need shows of solidarity.”

Louise and Gerry Fitzgerald of Sanibel attended the vigil together, bringing along signs that said “love not hate makes America great” and “respect equality justice.” Louise said that both of them felt compelled to come after the weekend’s events.

“We can’t let that gruesome display of hate and violence go unchecked,” she said.

As a member of the generation who grew up during the civil rights movements, she said she believes there’s a level of complacency in the country – “that racial disparity was solved and disappeared with Obama.” In her opinion, there’s been an undercurrent of racism that’s recently been resurging.

The use of cell phone videos have brought to light the experiences many people of color have been having for years, Fitzgerald said.

“It’s horrifying to think this has been going on for decades,” she said. “Racism is not dead. We need more dialogue in this country.”

Yoseph Tedros, a member of the Lee County Democrats and a Cape Coral resident, also spoke during the vigil and urged the crowd to get involved in elections and politics, especially to get out and vote.

“I can’t believe the alt-right is out in 2017,” he said. “They feel they have support from someone.”

Tedros was not satisfied with President Trump’s response to the Charlottesville events; at first switching between condemning the Neo-Nazi showing and saying “many sides” were at fault.

“This is low-hanging fruit, he could easily just said ‘this is wrong,'” Tedros said.

He said people’s outrage has been expressed in a number of ways, including the tearing down of the Confederate statue in Durham, North Carolina.

“Some people go over the top – but no body died there,” he said.

Jason Boeckman called for the removal of the portrait of General Robert E. Lee pictured in a Confederate uniform from the Lee County Commissioner’s Chambers, a cause spearheaded by the Lee County NAACP. The portrait is a symbol of a painful history of enslavement, he said, and items such as this should be relegated to a museum and not celebrated in a public space where they could “encourage white nationalist sentiment to flourish.”

“What happened in Charlottesville, it could happen here,” the Fort Myers resident said. “This is not a moment for anyone to remain on the sidelines.”