Organizers say protest targeted racism, encouraged communities without violence

On Wednesday, Aug. 23, members of the community gathered on the steps of the U.S. Embassy on Sussex Drive to protest against the recent violence in Charlottesville, Virginia and American President Donald Trump’s response to these events.

“Our message is pretty clear: don’t be racist,” said Aditiya Rao, a University of Ottawa common law student and one of the protest’s organizers. “We want to build communities where folks can live without the fear of violence, without the fear of racism.”

Speakers at the rally included Rao, along with Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada, Rabbi Elizabeth Bolton of Orh Haneshama Congregation, and Yamikani Msosa, an expert in sexual violence and gender issues at Sexual Assault Support Centre of Ottawa.

The event lasted over an hour, with protesters marching around the embassy following the speeches.

“What you saw here today is a manifestation of the willingness to stand in solidarity of Ottawa,” said Rao. “We have unions present, we have public servants, we have all kinds of folks who are standing here of all colours, of all sexual orientations, of all genders who want to stand together and say that this is something that we are not willing to tolerate.”

Alongside Rao, others from the student movement at the rally included Peyton Veitch, treasurer of the Canadian Federation of Students.

“The student movement has a long and proud history of standing up against islamophobia, against anti-semitism, against racism, that’s something that we’re continuing to do on campus and in our communities,” said Veitch. “It’s critically important.”

Members of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) were also present to show their support.

“It was really nice to see that even in Ottawa, in a place where we do see folks kind of fall under the thought process that Ottawa or Canada is a safer space, I like the fact that I saw a lot of people come out,” said Leila Moumouni-Tchouassi, vice-president equity of the SFUO.

However, Moumouni-Tchouassi believes that the nature of such protests still need to improve moving forward.

“Racialized people are often forgotten in these conversations, especially while this was a rally to address issues that racialized folks are living around the world right now.”

According to Moumouni-Tchouassi, Ottawa needs to include racialized persons in this activist work and provide them with a platform to speak on their experiences.

Both Veitch and Moumouni-Tchouassi encouraged students to get involved in causes they care about, whether by protesting or other means.

“There are a lot of different ways to access movements,” said Moumouni-Tchouassi. “Not everyone is comfortable going out to protest; some people really like protests, some people like more behind the scenes work.”

Veitch said that students need to go beyond protests as well. “In your own daily life, with your family, with your friends, with your peers, it’s really important to challenge racism whenever it emerges.”