Nationally the August 2017 rally was a clear sign that racist hate groups were moving out of the fringe and into the mainstream. Violence broke out on the streets. A woman protesting the protesters was killed. Then-President Donald Trump declared there were “very fine people on both sides.” Locally, the “Unite the Right” rally prompted a more intimate reckoning. Charlottesville became synonymous with a national fault line around domestic hate groups. The city, after all, approved permits for the rally. White residents, many of whom considered themselves progressive, never really had to reckon with race before August 2017. After the rally they did. And Walker, as mayor, made sure that race was front and center of the city discourse. Four years later the city — and Walker — are again in the middle of a maelstrom. A civil trial against the rally organizers kicked off last week, reopening fresh wounds for many. City leadership is in turmoil after the city manager fired Charlottesville’s first Black female police chief and then quit. Just three months after the “Unite the Right” rally, Walker was first elected to Charlottesville’s city council in 2017 as an independent. Her fellow city council members, all Democrats, chose her as mayor later that year. But as Walker found out, the Charlottesville mayor is a position that comes with a fair amount of symbolism — but not much power. Now, she’s stepping down, relinquishing her leadership in an overwhelmingly white, Democratic city deeply wounded by the rally and its aftermath. Charlottesville is still figuring out how to address the issues that the rally unearthed. And the debates taking place in Charlottesville on local issues like affordable housing, zoning and policing are a microcosm of a larger debate within the Democratic party about ceding wealth and power to marginalized groups. During a virtual city council meeting early last month Walker confronted councilmember Heather Hill for defending parents of University of Virginia students — the moms asked for an increased police presence on campus in response to an uptick in violence. “Don’t nobody want you to get on here and talk from your white fragility perspective,” Walker said. She accused her fellow council members, who are all white, of not paying enough attention to the needs of poor Black residents. Other council members and the city manager sat stone faced during the exchange. To her detractors, Walker’s in-your-face style made progress hard in a pivotal moment when the city was ready for change. Hill said she wanted to be a part of moving the city past its history, but she felt silenced and sidelined by Walker. “I do think 2017 opened the eyes to so many in the community, not recognizing the lengths of the disparities we have from a socioeconomic standpoint,” said Hill, who is also not running for reelection. “But now people are burned out and turned off by the rhetoric.” Others say that Walker’s comments and tweets are a distraction. “It was kind of unproductive when she’s constantly in people’s faces,” said Yas Washington, a local activist who is one of three candidates running Tuesday. Washington said the city supported programs for previously incarcerated people and a community garden in the past few years, but could have done more in a less conflict-ridden atmosphere. “When people begin to feel cornered on race, it makes them racist as opposed to changing their viewpoints,” Washington said. “It no longer brings out change, but it brings uproar.” But to many in Charlottesville, Walker was just speaking a truth that more residents needed to hear. “We said we wanted to see change and she is a change agent,” said Brenda Brown-Grooms, co-pastor at New Beginnings Christian Community. Brown-Grooms said that Walker challenged the city’s notions of itself as a liberal, progressive place. “People want to be progressive,” she said. “But comfort wins out every time.” Read more from POLITICO Magazine’s conversation with Walker about her tenure. This transcript has been edited for length and clarity We have seen a harsh spotlight on Black women leading big cities. Some like Atlanta’s mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms are not running for reelection. Do you think that Black women face additional pressures in political leadership? It’s an interesting landscape that you find yourself in. If you’re really a change agent, then that’s going to be very frustrating because you spend all of your time attempting to break down those walls that people are putting around you. You end up learning that you have daily battles that you have to fight, and you can’t really get any of your work done. Why did you step down? The final incident was the firing of our first Black female police chief. And she has faced, along with me, a lot of discrimination. This community did not honor her, did not trust her to do the work, and interfered almost daily in her ability to reform an institution. Four of my colleagues supported . . . read the full article here.
Keywords: change, im, white, mayor, walker, charlottesvilles, rally, community, going, dont, city
DATE: 2017, daily, Tuesday, centuries, last week, August 2017, later that year, later this year, Four years later, early last month, Just three months, the past few years, the last four years
NORP: Black, Democrats, Democratic
CARDINAL: One, one, Four, three
WORK_OF_ART: Unmasking the Illusion