Marietta vigil against hate

By Sam Shawver

Special to The Times

Signs reading “Hate has no home here,” written in six different languages beneath a heart-shaped Stars and Stripes, were among placards carried during a vigil against hate and bigotry held in downtown Marietta Tuesday evening.

More than one hundred people gathered around the fountain at the intersection of Front and Greene streets in a show of unity and solidarity with the citizens of Charlottesville, Va., after a man drove his car into a group of anti-white supremacy protesters Saturday, leaving a woman dead and others injured.

Two Virginia State Policemen also died as their helicopter crashed while patroling the rally in Charlottesville that included members of white supremacist and Neo Nazi groups.

“It was an insane incident in Virginia, and the man who drove his car into the protesters was from Ohio, so I felt we had to stand up for Ohio,” said Laura Serna, 50, of Marietta, who helped organize Tuesday’s vigil with 21-year-old Jasmine Turner, also from the Pioneer City.

Serna began calling for the vigil after viewing on television the violence that occurred during Saturday’s rally in Charlottesville. She noted the event in Virginia was organized by Neo Nazi and white supremacy-affiliated groups.

“Marietta is our community, and we don’t want anyone to think that kind of activity is welcome here,” Serna said. “The whole world came together during World War II to stamp out this very thing.”

Turner said the Virginia incident is just one example of disunity that exists in many communities across the U.S.

“We really need to come together for our nation,” she said.

Travis Riffle, 26, of Marietta, agreed.

“This gathering is a good thing, we need to stop treating each other like garbage in this country,” he said.

Riffle said better communication among people would go a long way toward combating ignorance and hostility.

Serna said there were no speeches planned during Tuesday’s vigil. It was simply an event to give local people a chance to show their support for ending such hate and violence.

Marietta resident Jim Waybright, a Vietnam veteran, said it was good to see fellow citizens turn out for the evening vigil.

“A lot of people died for this country and many lives were lost to the Nazis during the Second World War,” he said. “We have to get together to defeat this.”

Marcia Milam Westbrook of Williamstown has three sons who served in the U.S. military. One of her sons, Tyler Westbrook, committed suicide while serving in the U.S. Army during 2015, a result of post traumatic stress syndrome.

Marcia now works with an organization of military families called Military Families Speak Out who support and assist troops when they return home.

“I believe we need peace at home before we can have peace in the world,” she said. “It’s tough to preach about peace in other areas of the world if things like (Charlottesville) are going on here. And I’m totally against racism.”

Kathryn Hawbaker, minister at Marietta’s Unitarian Universalist Church, said people can respectfully disagree and still have a civil discourse.

“I hope this event will lead to other positive ways of addressing issues that may exist in our community,” she said.

Marietta Councilman Mike McCauley, in whose ward Tuesday night’s vigil took place, said there’s no place for bigotry in the Pioneer City.

“People get along and help other people here,” he said.

Felix Burrows of Marietta said of Tuesday’s vigil, “This is the American thing to do.”

He noted Marietta is striving to become known as an All-American City.

“If Marietta wants to be an All American City, then Marietta needs to stand up (with other communities),” Burrows said. “We all have a stake in this game.”

About the vigil

≤ More than 100 people attended Tuesday’s vigil in downtown Marietta to show solidarity with citizens of Charlottesville, Va., where an avowed white supremacist drove a vehicle into a group of anti-white supremacy protesters Saturday, killing one woman and injuring others.

≤ Many of those attending Tuesday’s vigil carried signs urging Americans to unite against the hate and bigotry they believe fueled Saturday’s violence in Charlottesville.