Replacing torches with candles and hate with hope, thousands gathered across the United States Wednesday night to mourn the death of Heather Heyer and stand peacefully against the violence perpetrated by neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend.
"There seem to be way more people with candles here at UVA than there were white supremacists here Friday. Candles instead of torches. This is Charlottesville."
—Nora NeusAt the University of Virginia (UVA), the same place white supremacists rallied and chanted racist slogans, hundreds came together for an impromptu candlelight vigil, which was initially "kept secret to prevent it from becoming a media circus and, more important, to keep the white supremacists from finding out about it and potentially disrupting the event," notes The Daily Beast's Jackson Landers.
Soon, however, the scene began to blossom. What was at first a low-key ceremony quickly became a "sea of candles," Landers noted.
Those gathered for the UVA vigil—from students to high-profile politicians—marched from the campus's Nameless Field to "the Lawn," the same path walked by neo-Nazis last Friday.
Candlelit march at UVA in Charlottesville is starting. Over 750 at least here with candles. pic.twitter.com/PdM4IzWrC5
— Nora Neus (@noraneus) August 17, 2017
"What happened on Friday night was a tragedy and we're here to take back the lawn for this student generation, all the previous, all the future generations of students who walked the Lawn," Jerry Connor, a march attendee, told CBS. "The Lawn stands for liberty, equality, justice and freedom."
Similar events were held in cities throughout the country, a mass rebuke of white supremacy and of President Donald Trump, who earlier this week took to blaming "both sides" for the violence in Charlottesville and attempted to defend those who attended the neo-Nazi rally.
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New polling data indicates that the views expressed during the vigil on Wednesday are shared by most Americans. A CBS News poll released on Thursday found that most Americans disapprove of Trump's response to the white supremacist violence.
Wednesday night, marchers—singing "We are not afraid" and "We shall overcome"—offered a peaceful and hopeful alternative to the violence and hatred that was on display at the so-called "Unite the Right" rally.
"There seem to be way more people with candles here at UVA than there were white supremacists here Friday," observed CNN's Nora Neus. "Candles instead of torches. This is Charlottesville."
One observer summarized the vigil: "Candles. Not torches. Hope. Not hatred."
Watch part of the UVA procession:
Attendees sing civil rights anthem "We Shall Overcome" during a vigil and peaceful march in Charlottesville, VA https://t.co/g2reWQJILu
— CNN (@CNN) August 17, 2017