RICHMOND, Va. — Activists gathered for the Richmond United Rally this weekend, an intimate event at the Bell Tower in Capitol Square. Evandra Catherine, who organized the event, said the goal of the rally was to highlight and celebrate those who work to give a voice to the most marginalized parts of society.
Catherine said she was inspired by the Million Man March hosted earlier this month in Washington, D.C., which was organized by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan to remember the 20th anniversary of the original march in 1995.
Issues discussed by the speakers in Richmond’s Capitol Square included mass incarceration, the school-to-prison trajectory, mass eviction of public housing residents, LGBTQ concerns, and the fight to raise the minimum wage in Virginia.
The rally had speakers representing a broad range of interests and was attended by around 20 activists. Ashleigh Shackelford of Black Action Now spoke on LGBTQ issues and said that black activists had to begin prioritizing for the most vulnerable members of their community. She said that 20 African-American transgender women had been murdered nationwide this year.
The rally was held in hope that individuals would be moved to organize on important issues within their groups and communities, in advance of the 2016 presidential election.
A’Jee Delaigle, an advocate for student activism, stressed the need to influence policy and elected officials. She said that social media activism is not good enough, and voters must go out and get involved.
“The hashtag #BlackLivesMatter goes only so far,” said Delaigle. “You have to know how the law protects your black life. The people enforce the law need to be trained to safely apprehend that black life if necessary and those protesting need to effectively convey that we demand change in the laws that don’t protect black lives.”
But the discussion was not isolated to issues that affect the lives of African-Americans. Autumn Rose, president of the Native American Student Association at VCU, spoke about Native American needs and struggles.
“Native American culture and representation is apart of the conversation,” said Rose, who is black and Shinnecock Native American and grew up on a reservation. “People are dressing as Native Americans on Halloween, because our education system is teaching us as the past tense. We are still here and fighting for many of our rights.”
Catherine said that Saturday’s event was the first of many rallies she plans to organize. She encourages people to keep up with media coverage and pay visits to those who are generally voiceless.
“This is an ongoing thing we will try to do one of these once a month. This was the kick off,” said Catherine. “We can all come together no matter what we look like. We are all united, we are all looking for the same thing in Richmond. We are addressing any kind of disproportionality as a community.”
“It’s not a lot of times that we’re aware of things happening like this in Richmond,” said attendee Rob Milton. “We want to take the opportunity to come out and figure out what is going on and how we can be observant.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: WTVR.com has partnered with the iPadJournos mobile and social media journalism project at VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. This story was reported by the iPadJournos.