By LINDA MOSS and ELIZABETH OGUSS
Montclair joined communities around the state and the nation on Sunday to mourn those killed at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, holding a peace and solidarity candlelight vigil at Brookdale Park that attracted hundreds of people.
The evening vigil was organized by NJ 11th for Change, a Montclair-based group that describes itself as a “nonpartisan coalition dedicated to advocating for all citizens of the 11th Congressional District.” It called area residents to gather at the park, which straddles Montclair and Bloomfield, “for peace and solidarity with Charlottesville, there is no place for hate here.”
There were similar gatherings in New Jersey municipalities such as Bedminster, not far from President Trump’s golf club, Newark, Maplewood, Princeton, Tenafly, Teaneck, Cranford, Budd Lake and Frenchtown, as well as demonstrations across the nation in places including New York City, Los Angeles, Denver and Seattle.
The anti-racism vigils came in the wake of a day of violence Saturday in Charlottesville at a white supremacist rally. At that event James Alex Fields Jr., a 20-year-old Ohio resident, allegedly drove a vehicle into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing Heather Heyer, 32, of Charlottesville, and injuring more than a dozen others. Authorities have charged Fields with second-degree murder and several other criminal counts.
Also on Saturday, two Virginia State Police, who were in a helicopter monitoring the melee on the ground, were killed when their aircraft crashed.
At Brookdale Park’s archery field Sunday clergy members from Jewish, Congregational, and Roman Catholic organizations spoke. Marcia Marley, president of BlueWaveNJ, the Montclair-based progressive advocacy organization, also spoke briefly. Attendees held candles, signs and joined together to sing songs including “This Land Is Your Land.” One woman held a placard with a photo of Heyer that said “An American Martyr, RIP.” There was also a moment of silence in memorial.
A young mother spoke as her toddler son clung to her leg, demanding her attention. She asked the crowd to “lean into the really hard conversations, with our 3-year-olds, our 5-year-olds, our 10-year-olds. … When I look into the men’s faces of who was marching, we’re talking about 20-year-olds. We’re talking about young people with this hate and fear in their hearts. So it’s our responsibility to talk to our children and have these conversations.”
Her comments were echoed by another speaker, whose name was announced as Denise Rodgers after she spoke. Rodgers said “We must have courage here in Montclair to speak up! Those of you who are my white brothers and sisters need to speak up more than I do.”
The crowd cheered. Rodgers said that white friends had told her about their relatives who voted for Trump.
“But you know what? You need to talk to them,” Rodgers said. “You need to … have that hard conversation over Thanksgiving and Christmas. … Unless you talk to them there’s no hope of changing their minds.”
Montclair resident Mikie Sherrill, who is seeking the Democratic nomination to run against 11th District Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen, also appeared at the vigil, and was asked to speak.
“I was struggling a little bit, struggling with how I could find hope in this kind of situation, how I could be optimistic in the face of these events,” Sherrill said. “And as I stand here I see it, I see how I can be optimistic. I see all the people out here tonight that are coming to stand here to show that this is not who we are. It’s not who we are in Montclair, not who we are in New Jersey, not who we are in America.”
In addition to holding the vigil, NJ 11th for Change issued a statement calling Frelinghuysen to task for not issuing any statement condemning the tragic events in Charlottesville.
“We are disappointed with your silence following the disgraceful events in Charlottesville,” the group said. “President Trump’s response has been inadequate at best, leaving Americans everywhere feeling frightened and uncertain. This includes your constituents here in New Jersey’s 11th Congressional district.”
The statement continued, “In times like these, we look to you to represent our values by using your voice to condemn hatred and protect the safety of all citizens. This is a matter of morality, not politics — members of your party have already spoken out including Speaker Ryan and Majority Leader McConnell. We ask that you clearly and unambiguously condemn white supremacy and all bigoted hatred. We ask that you condemn the domestic terrorists who took over the streets of Charlottesville this weekend.”
The vigil wasn’t the only demonstration held in Montclair in recent days. On Friday a group gathered and picketed with signs at the intersection of Bloomfield Avenue and Church Street to protest Trump’s comments and stance regarding Korea and several other issues.
Larry Hamm, a leader of the People’s Organization for Progress, spoke at that demonstration in downtown Montclair.