Student protesters rally against KKK in Columbus

by Peter Meredith

An estimated 60 Oberlin students traveled to Columbus on Sept. 18th to protest a Ku Klux Klan rally on the steps of the city hall.

The students' message, scrawled across dozens of picket signs and vocalized in an equal number of cheers, was clear: the Klan was not welcome in Ohio.

"I'm here today to make the Klan see how much they're hated and maybe shut them up," said student Paige Schwarz.

"We can't sit back and let the Klan have an audience or even let them give the sense that their ideas have a significant force in society ... because they really don't," agreed senior Gillian Russom.

The students gathered on campus early Saturday morning to organize and plan for the day. They then drove to Columbus, where they met up with other anti-Klan demonstrators in a park several blocks from city hall. In the park, protesters met one another, practiced cheers, and prepared signs and banners.

Many protesters also stepped up to speak on the microphone that had been set up in the center of the park.

"I'm here today because I don't have time for racism," said first-year Eve Goodman to applause and cheering by the crowd. "We don't have time to be divided amongst ourselves and hating each other. We need to fight the people who stand to gain from division and hatred among the workers and among the people everywhere."

Though the crowd mainly consisted of young people and students from around Ohio, a diverse group of speakers stepped up to the microphone. A woman reading poetry, a socialist organizer from Europe and several Columbus residents also spoke.

After about an hour, the protesters hoisted their signs and began their march to city hall. The protesters, who eventually numbered about 350 according to the Columbus Dispatch, chanted and shouted slogans as they marched through the streets of downtown. As the crowd pushed through the city streets, photographers and television news crews scrambled to stay in front of the march long enough to get a good shot.

As they neared city hall, protesters realized the extent of the security measures taken by the city of Columbus. Chain-linked fences surrounded the entire area within a two-block radius of the building. Anyone who entered the zone was asked to go through a metal detector and had their bags searched by police. Helicopters flew overhead, and police officers were armed with video cameras to catch any suspicious activity on tape.

Protesters entered a fenced-off "anti-Klan" area on the street in front of the capitol building. Across one set of fences from the protesters were five people in the "pro-Klan" area. Across another set of fences from the protestors was city hall, and on its steps were approximately 30 Klan members.

For the next two hours, the demonstration consisted mainly of Klan members and protesters firing insults across the fence at one another. The Klan regularly attempted to rile up the protestors, addressing its comments mainly at them rather than its supporters. After each Klan comment, the crowd would react, with protesters yelling back and at times attempting to push over the fences.

This kind of interaction between the Klan and the protestors, in fact, was why many students decided not to attend the protest. Some students said that they felt attending an event like this would only encourage the Klan by providing them with a crowd to agitate. Students also suggested that directly confronting the Klan would bring media attention to the event, therefore giving the Klan more media attention.

The students who went on the protest, however, disagreed. "I think that many people aren't coming out here because of apathy," said first-year Channing Joseph. "They may make excuses like coming out here gives the Klan attention to feed off, but I don't think so. I think that as long as we let them do this, then racism, hate, homophobia and anti-semitism are going to keep existing in the world. We can't just stand around and ignore them."

Regardless of their opinions about the rally, though, students seemed to share the opinion that it was not the only thing necessary to fight hate. Junior Alita Pierson encouraged students to "take [the spirit of the march] back to your communities, to your schools and to wherever you came from. Don't let this rally today be the apex of it. This is a fight that needs to happen every day in every person's life until this is stopped."

Junior Peter Meredith participated in the protest marches against the KKK.

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Copyright 1999, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 128, Number 4, September 24, 1999

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