Solidarity C’Ville: Defending Charlottesville Against Hate
When white supremacist groups descended on the small college town of Charlottesville, Virginia for the racist, hate-fueled “Unite the Right” rally in protest of the removal of the statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, local activist groups called upon Balestra Media for communications support.
Through this project, Balestra Media worked with Solidarity Cville, a coalition of Charlottesville activists and clergy members, Black Lives Matter Charlottesville, Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) and Congregate C’Ville. Balestra’s creative director Andy Stepanian developed media talking points centered around the groups’ messages of love ahead of the rally and and supported through the entire mobilization of faith leaders and residents in Charlottesville, Virginia.
In anticipation of the weekend’s hateful events, local activists and members of the Charlottesville Clergy Collective reminded the media that the white supremacist groups would incite violence. They communicated the fear and anxiety that the rally caused to local residents, while articulating their goals of peace counter-protest, racial inclusion and justice in Charlottesville and across our nation as a whole.
We invited media to cover the numerous events held throughout the day on August 12 in support of community and justice. Events included teach-ins, and speakers, prayer and an opportunity for respite from direct actions taking place around Emancipation Park or McIntyre Park.
Through the events of the weekend, it was important for local residents--and those across the nation watching the protests erupt in Charlottesville--to see faith leaders on the front lines standing up for their communities, projecting strength, love and hope for a future free from the anger and divisiveness that these outside groups brought to the town.
Balestra also arranged for Katie Couric and her team to spend 72 hours with counter-protesters ahead of the rally. Couric published an in-depth piece in National Geographic that includes 20 minutes of video footage from Charlottesville on the day that Solidarity C’ville, allies and residents defended their town from the hateful and violent groups that sought to preserve the Confederate statue. Couric’s full six-hour documentary series about revolutions happening in our culture, communities, and families, which will feature more footage from Charlottesville, is expected to air April 2018.
To be featured in the first episode of this series, the clergy in Charlottesville speak with Katie Couric about our memorial landscape; who we honor, how we commemorate our history and what we’ve omitted from our historical narrative. The local residents and faith leaders underscores why it matters to the town and beyond its borders.
For more photos and visit, please visit our blog page from this day in August 2017: http://www.balestramedia.com/blog/solidaritycville.
Using the talking points prepared for this challenging moment, the Balestra team developed a two-hour in-person media training for clergy groups, local activists and residents ahead of the rally. In the training, our team gave participants advice and practice on expected media questions, potential difficult questions, and how to best advance their positive vision for the future in stand up interviews.
Leading up to the weekend, we coordinated interviews for activists and clergy members with local outlets including NBC 29, C-Ville.com and Daily Progress to highlight how residents were mobilizing in preparation for the rally.
The day of the rally, Andy was on the ground with counter-protesters while Balestra’s media strategist Jareyah Bradley triaged requests from Washington, D.C. During an interview with MSNBC, Solidarity Cville member Reverend Traci Blackmon had to be moved to safety after "alt-right" protesters began to attack her and other group members, prompting Andy to answer questions asked by Joy Reid as she sought to explain the violence unfolding on live television to her viewers.
Throughout the weekend, Balestra Media continued to connect activists with reporters from Think Progress, The New Yorker, The Guardian, Vox, BBC, ABC News, Huffington Post and USA Today for immediate, local reaction to the events of August 12, 2017.
We produced over a dozen documents guiding reporters covering the weekend's events and staffed dozens of interviews with local activists and faith leaders. Hundreds of top-tier media outlets provided extensive coverage to the Charlottesville residents who were showing up to challenge the spectre of white supremacy that imposed itself on their small town. When tragedy struck, creative director Andy Stepanian stayed throughout the tumultuous time, late through the evening to facilitate rapid response message aggregation and reporting for the activists on the ground. Andy's constant support to the clergy and local residents was a guide for journalists who were able to tell the real stories of human impact while honoring and respecting those who were harmed.