A group of UD students joined a crowd of more than 500 individuals who took to the streets on May 25 to protest a KKK-affiliated group from Indiana who were holding a rally in Courthouse Square.
No arrests or injuries were reported during the rally. The city spent more than $650,000 on security. A total of 720 officers were present, and the city started closing down streets in the center of town days in advance.
The hate rally, which only a handful of supporters attended, did not engage with the counter-protestors. UD urged students not to join counter-protests due to safety concerns and a desire not to give the hate group additional publicity.
The university previously removed several posters around campus promoting a neo-Nazi group and responded ahead of the rally by holding a series of sessions as part of a teach-in on white supremacy.
On May 25, the day of the hate rally, the university hosted a Unity Cookout for members of the campus community from 1-3 p.m. in Humanities Plaza.
“The University of Dayton is responding with dialogue, education and actions of love and unity; by honoring the rights and dignity of every person; and by declaring hate has no home in our city, on our campus or in our hearts,” the school said in a Porches post.
Despite the request from the school not to attend, UD students George Zavakos and Dawson Vandervort joined the protesters on May 25.
“I decided to go to the counter-protest despite warnings to stay away because it was important for me to take a stand on my beliefs rather than stay complacent,” Vandervort said.
“I’m the son of an immigrant and a member of the queer community, so you could say my stake in the fight against hate is decently personal,” Zavakos added.
When he arrived at the rally, Zavakos was surprised at the number of protesters who showed up.
“The experience was much different than I’d have imagined,” he said. “I walked onto courthouse square to see a bustling symphony of unlike elements.”
Vandervort remarked about the diversity of groups that were present among the protesters.
“The experience was incredible because I saw groups come together who you’d never expect,” he said. “Antifa and the black panthers were expected, but I also saw church groups, socialist groups, sousaphone players and general community members all chanting the same things.”
“Even if I wouldn’t agree with the views of all there, I’m glad that we could all agree that Nazis suck,” Zavakos said.
Despite the fact that the city was able to prevent any injuries or arrests, Vandervort was unhappy with the large amount of money Dayton spent throughout the ordeal.
“This money could have gone to students for debt, housing insecurity, the food desert or the recent tornado damage and recovery,” he said. “But instead the city chose to let nine people use their ‘voice’ to speak up for an antiquated and immoral sentiment of hate and bigotry.”
The KKK-affiliated group was permitted to protest because of First Amendment protections.
“The Freedoms of Speech and Assembly…mean we must also allow space for those we disagree with to speak hatred, bigotry, and racism. Although it is painful, doing so ensures that our rights will not be restricted,” the Dayton City Commission said in a statement from February.
The city of Dayton filed a lawsuit in March with the hope of preventing the hate rally.
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) requested funds from the federal government to help the city of Dayton pay for some of the costs associated with the rally.
Despite the high costs, both students were glad to see the community coming together to unite against hatred and racism.
“It was shocking,” Zavakos said. “I’m glad to have gone.”
Photos courtesy of George Zavakos