About 75 people gathered Sunday night in Stillwater to draw comfort from each other and reject the hate and violence on display over the weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia, that resulted in three deaths and dozens of injuries.
Stillwater’s gathering ended with a candlelight vigil.
“We are gathering to remember those victims and the targets of hate and violence everywhere,” one of the organizers Cindy Alexander said in an opening statement. “We have been moved to support all those under attack by congregating and taking a stand. We are here to advocate for unity, equality and peace.”
The Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally attracted self-described white nationalist groups, the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazis who clashed violently with groups of counter-protesters, including some said to be identified with the militant anti-fascist group Antifa.
One woman was killed and an estimated 35 people were injured when a car driven by a 20-year-old Ohio man suspected of having neo-Nazi views struck a group of counter-protesters in the street. Two Virginia state police officers died when their helicopter crashed outside Charlottesville as they were monitoring the crowds.
Organizers said the Stillwater vigil was intended to be non-partisan although a few speakers were critical of what they described as the Trump administration’s emboldenment of right-wing extremist groups.
Most focused their criticism on the groups themselves and their views.
Some speakers challenged others to not wait until something horrible happens but to stand up when they see small daily instances of injustice or prejudice.
There was a strong church presence with representatives from First Christian Church, the Stillwater Unitarian Universalist Church and Salem Lutheran Church attending, along with individuals, families and members of community organizations like Indivisible Stillwater, Stillwater Community United and Stillwater Worldwide Welcome.
A Stillwater police officer was on hand in case any problems arose during the vigil but it was a peaceful and uneventful evening. The organizers expressed their gratitude to the Stillwater Police Department for providing a presence to ensure everyone’s safety.
Payne County Democratic Party Chair Aaron York told the gathering he was encouraged to see so many different people committing to standing against groups that espouse hatred and racism.
People need to be vigilant against hate groups and ensure they don’t think they’re welcome, he said.
“In order to fix this, we all need to get together like this, like right now,” York said. “(If they try to come) we need to be there before them and tell them Stillwater has no room for your hate. Leave.”