Articles and photos by Alejandro Alvarez
Video by Ford Fischer
WASHINGTON — An upcoming white nationalist rally is set to be counter-protested by thousands, in what could be one of the busiest single days of protest in recent memory.
Inside an otherwise unremarkable row house in D.C.’s Shaw neighborhood, several dozen activists with the Washington-based Answer Coalition presided over a long wooden table, in a makeshift production line churning out hundreds of picket signs. They declared, in no uncertain terms: “Shut down white supremacy,” and “no fascist USA.”
“We’re going to demonstrate just how tiny and isolated the fascists are,” Walter Smolarek, an Answer Coalition activist, told News2Share. “We think that the most effective way to fight fascism is to bring out the masses of people, to bring out the majority of people who reject racism, and reject the hatred of the Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan.”
The Answer Coalition is one of several socialist and progressive social movements seeking to confront Kessler’s rally. Rooted in anti-war activism, Answer — an acronym for “Act Now to Stop War and End Racism” — rose to prominence in the wake of the September 11 attacks and rallied thousands across the country against the Iraq War.
On Wednesday, the National Park Service approved the group’s permit to set up a sound stage in the northeastern corner of Lafayette Square, making Answer one of the first organizations with an approved demonstration on Sunday. Organizers said they expected up to 400 people to pack into their permit area beginning at 1 p.m.
“What we plan on having is a disciplined demonstration, one that people can come to and feel that they’re secure,” Smolarek said. Though he stood in solidarity with anti-fascist organizers who might opt for a more direct confrontation, Smolarek stressed that Answer sought to remain peaceful and make a decisive statement against far-right through sheer numbers alone.
Smolarek also pushed back against media narratives portraying anti-fascist protesters as violent miscreants.
“We think that the demonization of anti-racist and anti-fascist protest is part of a move to actually give the Klansmen and Nazis room to breathe,” Smolarek said. “They’re created this whole media phenomenon, this scare tactic that if you try to rally in the streets for progressive and left-wing values, it’s just going to be a riot because these scary antifa people will be there.”
Yasmina Mrabet, Answer Coalition’s permit holder, told News2Share that she sees Sunday’s far-right presence as only the latest expression in a long-running, deeply rooted racist backbone in American society. In their reasoning, Mrabet and Smolarek both hearkened back to the Answer Coalition’s anti-imperialist roots in linking American foreign policy and ideology with racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.
“In my mind, white supremacy is the agenda of capitalism, and is the agenda of capitalist America, because capitalism relies on social divisions to maintain itself,” Mrabet said. “We believe that ignoring an ultraright movement like this would embolden them and make them grow bigger and stronger, and feel like they actually have a platform to freely spread their message — we can’t let that happen.”