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May 10, 17

Asheboro, NC: Report Back from ‘Stand Against the Klan’

On May 6th, Silver Valley Redneck Revolt held a rally in Asheboro, North Carolina to openly reject Klan organizing in our community. The action was planned over several months, with participation from community groups, the IWW, as well as the Carolina Mountain and Shelby Redneck Revolt branches, and several local antifa groups.

Redneck Revolt may have hosted the event locally, but we strongly believe that the event itself was successful because of the organizing that took place beforehand, and the partnerships that developed from those conversations. Several IWW/GDC chapters and antifa groups from Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and South Carolina came together in an impressive show of unity on the militant left, despite each group having different approaches and tactics. We also partnered with locals less familiar with militancy, and found ways to come together on our strategy. Working together felt more similar to a dance with each other than a negotiation.

From the onset, we were impressed with the willingness of all groups involved to follow the lead of local folks, and to avail themselves to Silver Valley Redneck Revolt’s desire of an assertive yet non-aggressive action. Honest and open communication was in place from the beginning, being tactfully called out by one Antifa organizer, at one point, helped organizers from Redneck Revolt to incorporate more feedback and build a plan collaboratively. Together, we created an environment for both collective decision making and respect for a diversity of tactics. Silver Valley Redneck Revolt would like to recognize that a good deal of the success of the entire event was due to the partnerships created in the process of safely it pulling off.

Our messaging before the event indicted the Klan, especially the local branch under the leadership of Chris Baker a known FBI informant who has been given extensive lenience by the courts on his involvement in a local stabbing while he was on probation for a weapons charge. We also included local government in our indictment, for both denying a permit to another rally against the Klan led by churches, and for enacting the same systemic violence that governments inflict on their people everywhere in the world. Examples of institutional violence include homelessness, evictions, hunger, poverty, denying adequate medical treatment, valuing property and profit over people, discrimination of all kinds, and so forth.

Directly, Asheboro’s city government is complicit in perpetuating all those things, and the violence the city upholds on a systematic level should be connected to the violence of the KKK on an interpersonal level. That connection was made even more clear when the Asheboro city government decided the appropriate reaction to the Klan organizing was a statement by the Mayor, but the reaction to a church-led anti-Klan rally was to initially deny them a permit to organize in a public space.

On May 6th, Silver Valley Redneck Revolt and the coalition we worked with, arrived in the downtown area of Asheboro about an hour before the action. We were “welcomed” by about 30 cops on street corners in both directions from the start location. For a town about 26,000 residents, this was a pretty impressive showing. Asheboro, NC is a strongly Republican red, small town in the midst of a very rural county, surrounded by other rural counties very similar in nature. It appeared to us that the cops had no idea what to expect, but that they came prepared for the worst, evidenced by the fact that they each had gas masks attached to their hips. We didn’t really know how the police force was going to respond either; Asheboro hasn’t ever had an unpermitted march before, and we were not exactly quiet about refusing to apply for a permit.

Once everyone was gathered, different groups led chants and there was a fantastic energy from the 100 or so folks participating. Our best estimate is that 2/3 were folks from various groups that traveled to support the event, and that 1/3 were folks from Asheboro and the surrounding county. More local folks would have likely participated in the event, but the word on the street was that the event had the potential to become violent. At one point, one of our organizers even talked with someone downtown who was concerned that we were coming to burn the town down.

Hyperbolic misconceptions about anti-fascist movements, as well as fears of violence from the state, was a strong deterrent in a town that doesn’t see many protests. Despite the fact that the KKK was holding their rally outside of town on private property, we heard people ask over and over, “When is the KKK going to be here?” We got the strong impression that the community residents were bracing for impact, even if they didn’t have all the right information. Even so, 30 or so locals came out. Additionally, in an interesting twist many of the folks who traveled to help were from rural areas themselves; quite a change from the urban-centric organizing typically dominating left movements.

A local Muslim organizer and a SVRR organizer gave speeches, then we all took the street together with loud chanting. The chant that people were the most receptive to was, “WHO KEEPS US SAFE? WE KEEP US SAFE!” We also used Black Lives Matters chants, as well as chants about Queer, Trans, Immigrant, and Muslim power. It felt invigorating to shout those things in an area that has seldom boldly asserted those values.

Police attempted to move us to the sidewalk, but they were outnumbered, plus we had momentum and a bad ass John Brown banner to get behind. We intentionally chose a march route that had sidewalks available to anyone not comfortable with being in the streets. We were pleased to see that even with the option, we didn’t see one person take to the sidewalk, especially knowing that there were several people that had never participated in a protest before. As the march concluded, we were all in front of the police lines. We could have gone anywhere we wanted at that point, but the goal of this march was to be assertive and hold power in the locations we had chosen for visibility. We rallied in front of the municipal building and one of the Antifa groups held up a Klan effigy which was beaten and kicked to cheers from the crowd.

We were wrapping up the rally when a militarized Bearcat armored personal vehicle and several other police vehicles showed up, and unloaded about 10-15 cops in full riot gear. The city of Asheboro really showed their ass. Not only were we almost finished with the event, we were all on the sidewalk, and there had been no signs of aggression. After 10 minutes of looking like idiots, the riot cops went behind their vehicles and packed up. Unfortunately, several locals became concerned for their own safety, and some understandably left the march. Participants willing to protect them, Redneck Revolt included, lined ourselves up so that they could get away without fear of a government-sanctioned beating. We had discussed ahead of time that if necessary, we would take the baton so that others wouldn’t have to, if the police advanced on us.

At this point, the attitude and momentum of the march changed, which was reflected by the chants. They became anti-police in nature and the language considerably saltier. Redneck Revolt didn’t have to lead those chants, they organically came from the participants themselves. We had officially ended the rally, but everyone was so energized that we marched as a big unit back through downtown to our vehicles. Onlookers were out and about, and heard the anti-police chants echoing off the old buildings. It felt quite conflicting to us as organizers, we want to connect with the local community, and obviously those particular chants could be alienating people. At the same time, we want to activate and support everyone among us taking a stand against the government’s violence. That being so, we think it will be incumbent upon people building towards mass organizing to find ways to strike a balance between the two. We want to make sure our community members know that the police aren’t the only people stripping us of our freedom – your city council, your local mayor, and city management are just as guilty.

We need to delegitimize the entire system, and connecting the police actions to the city government is part of that. Simultaneously, we have to have strong enough relationships with the folks in our communities to be able to have those conversations to begin with, and that comes from a position of mutual respect. We believe that chants which are anti-government, in a broader sense, can accomplish both the right attitude and still connect with the wider population. We don’t know of any that strike that balance; so maybe we have some chants to create!

This is especially important in rural areas, given the demographic makeup. Unfortunately, we had several people afterwards that commented on how much they supported everything we were doing, up until that moment, and a local paper made that reaction to the chants a focal point in their own story. While we may disagree with the sentiments, it’s important to us to be honest and introspective about the way we are received by our local community.

We made it back to the starting point of the event and coordinated safe passage for folks in vehicles that were not near the march route. The group was considerably smaller at that point. Across the street there was a full-size truck and about 4 or 5 onlookers, shouting occasionally, who later brandished a large confederate flag. Redneck Revolt members attempted to talk to them, only to receive silence. They were either KKK sympathizers or possibly Klan members themselves. As they escalated their voices and started communicating threats, we positioned ourselves nearby so we could directly address them and de-escalate the potential for violence. The hecklers got into their vehicle, screamed some more threats, and drove off.

For good measure, Redneck Revolt members, some antifa, and the Durham GDC decided to stay downtown and keep an eye out for them returning to hassle folks. We got lunch at local restaurants and had really productive conversations with people in the downtown area. When things felt safe, we all left the area. In retrospect, we feel that it went a long way with locals that we stayed downtown to mingle outside of the official action, and made us much more accessible.

Since then, we’ve received positive local feedback. A co-worker’s teenage son was discussing the event with his peers, and liked that it was an orderly event. Local news coverage was overwhelmingly positive, and we have had a spike in interest in joining our branches. The May 6th Stand Against the Klan action was a success based on the goals we had set for it; we challenged the city government’s legitimacy, exposed KKK activity, and sent a strong message of resistance. We also effectively organized across various ideologies and tactics, starting the groundwork for a coalition of organizations that will support each other in the future. Most importantly, we galvanized the community in a discussion about hate and the First Amendment, and we let the community know what Redneck Revolt is all about. We feel like it was a good handshake with our neighbors, and we look forward to continuing to build that base of support.

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