PORTAGE PARK — Hundreds of Northwest Siders took an hour of their Wednesday night to march around Portage Park, 4100 N. Long Ave., in solidarity with the anti-racist demonstrators who were met with violence during a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va. on Saturday.
Singing "We Shall Overcome" and chanting slogans like "Love, not hate — that's what makes America great," the demonstrators carried signs and candles on a slow trip around the 37-acre perimeter of the park, forming a line stretching multiple city blocks.
Cars on Irving Park Road honked their support as they whizzed past.
"I knew that others felt the way I felt, which was horrified at the events in Charlottesville, and outraged at those who would give aid and comfort to white supremacists and Nazis marching," organizer Teresa Albano said.
On Monday, Albano posted on Facebook that she'd sit in the park with a candle to memorialize Heather Heyer, the counter protester who was killed when a man rammed his car into a crowd Charlottsville on Saturday, she said.
When friends offered to join Albano, someone suggested she turn it into a Facebook event. Within hours, more than 200 people had RSVP'd.
"We have to build the bonds of community stronger, we have to love more, and we have to stand up and do the right thing and find that courage deep inside of us," Albano told the crowd at a rally preceding the march. "And that's what you all are doing tonight. You all have renewed my hope and optimism in humanity — that when we appeal to our better angels, people respond."
"It's so appalling right now to have someone in the White House sympathetic to ... white supremacists, and I feel sorry for my military brothers and sisters that he's the Commander-in-Chief and they have to listen to him," Villegas told the group. "But this type of organizing is what we need to make sure that as we prepare for the next election, we won't make that same mistake again."
Arena, who brought 300 color prints of the Nelson Mandela quote "If you can learn to hate, you can learn to love," dialed in on President Donald Trump's response to the violence, which he blamed in part on "alt-left" counter protesters.
"When there was a choice between clearly defining the meaning of hate and clearly defining the meaning of love, he turned toward hate, like there was some middle ground between those two ideals," Arena said. "He does not represent me, he does not represent my family, he does not represent what I see here today. We're here today to declare that that is not OK."