Anti-Nazi vigil in west of Ireland aims to show solidarity with Charlottesville and make it clear that fascism had no place in Irish, American, or any society

A growing sense of alarm over the apparent rise of fascism and anti-immigrant sentiments in the United States prompted a larger than expected attendance at a Galway vigil in solidarity with the people of Charlottesville and activist Heather Heyer, who was killed in a car assault by a pro-Nazi demonstrator.

Representatives of anti-racism, gay and lesbian, pro-choice, and left-wing groups in the city were among those who congregated under the fountain at Eyre Square to remember Heather Heyer, the 32-year old activist who was murdered by a neo-Nazi extremist on Saturday. The message was clear – the world is watching Mr. Trump.

Campaigners said it was important to send out a message of solidarity from Ireland to the ordinary people of Charlottesvile, Virginia, and to make it clear that fascism had no place in Irish, American, or any society.

Contrast to celebration of Galway Pride

Sharon Nolan, of Galway Community Pride, contrasted the hatred on show in Charlottesville with the scenes of joy and inclusion in Galway during the city’s 28th annual gay pride parade, which also took place on Saturday afternoon.

While news of riots in Charlottesville hit Ireland, Galway was celbrating Pride, in celebration of gay rights.

While news of riots in Charlottesville hit Ireland, Galway was celbrating Pride, in celebration of gay rights.

“Her name was Heather Heyer and she was murdered by Nazis,” Nolan told the crowd. “Dozens of others were injured and traumatized. The fact that stuff like this can happen in 2017, it’s despicable. We need to stamp it out now before it gets any bigger.

“Literally, I wasn’t near my phone or news or anything on Saturday. We had such a joyous occasion here in Galway, celebrating gay pride. It was only when I got home that night that I saw everything unfolding in Charlottesville.

“After coming from such a huge, successful community event, built on love and strength and empowering each other, it was so sad to see that there were things like that happening over there.”

Solidarity is what’s needed

Sharon said that the “fantastic turn-out” by such a diverse range of people at the Galway Pride event was exactly the kind of solidarity that was needed while white supremacists and fascists were on the rise in Europe and America.

“They will target any kind of minority. We either fight them together or we don’t fight them,” she told IrishCentral.

“The solidarity which is being shown with Charlottesville all across the world shows that we are disgusted by what happened there and we want to give the anti-fascist demonstrators there 100% support.”

Standing against racism: "We either fight them together or we don’t fight them."

Standing against racism: "We either fight them together or we don’t fight them."

“Impact all over the world”

Nolan discounted the criticisms of those who claimed that protesters in Galway should be more concerned by issues closer to home than by the rise of fascism in the United States.

“Nearly every person here is involved with other kinds of activism, whether it’s with homelessness or mental health, healthcare in general, our housing situation, or other issues faced by our community. You don’t just have to care about one issue. The people here care about all of those things.”

Niall O Tuathail of the Social Democrats said that Heather Heyer paid the “ultimate price” for her beliefs in Charlottesville, a price he hoped no other person would have to pay for standing up to white supremacists.

“It’s important to note that what happens in America has an impact all over the world and we are recognizing that here this evening,” he said. “And also that we make sure that Heather Heyer, who was very similar to many of the activists here today, did not lose her life in vain. She’s going to have an impact across the world.”

He stressed the importance of creating a society and economy which worked for everyone, in order to prevent the rise of sinister right wing extremist groups.

“Whenever you have a society that doesn’t include everyone, it allows fascists to come in and use that anger towards their own ends. We can’t allow fascism to become part of political debate. It’s a disease that needs to be wiped out and we are making sure that happens in Ireland,” he said.

Rhetoric of President Donald Trump

Dette McLoughlin of the Galway Alliance Against War said last weekend’s incidents had not occurred in isolation. She said the rhetoric of President Donald Trump had emboldened white supremacists and fascist extremists in the United States.

“Charlottesville did not just happen out of the blue,” she said. “The Ku Klux Klan marched through their city in July. Imagine being a black or Jewish person living in Charlottesville and having to put up with that. Thankfully, the people of Charlottesville got together and far outnumbered the KKK.”

She highlighted the reluctance of President Trump to condemn the neo-Nazis and said that people with racist views should never, ever be given a platform in Galway.

Galway takes a stand against neo-Nazis: "people with racist views should never, ever be given a platform in Galway"

Galway takes a stand against neo-Nazis: "people with racist views should never, ever be given a platform in Galway"

Joe Loughnane, of the Galway Anti-Racism Network (GARN), said activists began to organize the rally on Monday in order to express solidarity with the people of Charlottesville and to show unity in the face of right wing extremism.

He was thrilled that so many people turned up on a Wednesday evening for a vigil which was only organized via Facebook two days earlier.

“We organized this vigil at just two days’ notice and quite a lot of people told us they wanted to be here but couldn’t make it straight after work. I think people have been aware of incidents happening around Galway and then, when they see what’s happened in Charlottesville, they feel we have to do something about it,” he told IrishCentral.

Read more: Donald Trump is now the most dangerous president in American history

700 Charlottesville vigils across the world

He pointed out that the Galway vigil was just one of about 700 vigils in solidarity with Charlottesville taking place all across Europe and North America, including Dublin and Belfast.

“We set up GARN over a year ago to campaign about issues here in Ireland, but in the past year we have been talking about Donald Trump and the effect he will have on both Europe and Ireland. A lot of people have joined us for that reason,” he said.

“People have seen racist graffiti and racist stickers on the streets here in Galway and they are concerned that racists have become more emboldened by Donald Trump. That’s the main thing. Racists are beginning to get a platform.”

Young and old people stood in solidarity with the people of Charlottesville, in Galway, against racism.

Young and old people stood in solidarity with the people of Charlottesville, in Galway, against racism.

He pointed out that stones were thrown through the window of a mosque in Galway in June, an incident which was described by Gardai as a “hate crime” in the wake of radical Islamic terrorist attacks in London and Manchester.

At one stage, the Galway vigil was disrupted by two counter-protesters who began shouting about the terrorist attacks in the UK. Members of the crowd eventually silenced the protesters and moved closer to the speakers to prevent them from being attacked.

“Members of ethnic minorities have said they have had comments made on the way home from work or whatever from random people here in Galway,” said Mr Loughnane.

“That is just racism. We have seen how, if you allow that to happen, it can breed and become fascism. We want the people of Charlottesville to know we are aware of what’s happening there and that they are not alone.”

* Ciaran Tierney is a journalist, blogger, and digital storyteller, based in Galway, Ireland. You can find his Facebook page here.  Find Ciaran Tierney on Twitter @ciarantierney.

Locals gather in Eyre Square, Galway City, for a vigil in honor of Heather Heyer, in solidarity with the people of Charlottesville Virginia, and against racism. Ciaran Tierney