It was Saturday afternoon, September 24, four days after police shot and killed forty-three-year-old Keith Lamont Scott, and three days after Justin Carr, twenty-six, was shot and killed while protesting Scott's death. In downtown Charlotte, helicopters circled overhead. National Guard soldiers in camo gear stood watch near the entrances of tall buildings in the emptied-out business district. It was hot and bright out, and in Marshall Park, a peaceful protest was in full swing. A small stage had been erected. There was spoken-word poetry. There was conscious hip-hop. There were speeches about civil rights, police brutality, and the assault on America's working class.
It was all right in Lamont Lilly's wheelhouse.
Lilly initially wasn't sure he was going to make it to Charlotte. The Workers World Party, the party that has nominated him for vice president of the United States, had planned to hold a daylong conference on socialism in Durham that Saturday. (Full title: "Hard Times Are Fighting Times: Building the Movement for Liberation, Revolution, and Socialism in the South.") Lilly, who lives in Durham, was one of the featured speakers. But after the tension and the teargas on Wednesday, the decision was made to organize a caravan to Charlotte. Political theory could wait. This was a time for action.
"We've got another brother down, and it's happened just two hours away," Lilly told me that Thursday. "So fuck the conference. We're freedom fighters. We're revolutionary-minded people. It's not a hard decision. We need to be in the street with our comrades right now."
And so Lilly got his turn to address the crowd. He'd recently returned from the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, in North Dakota, where he'd joined protesters opposing the construction of an oil pipeline across the upper Midwest.
"Much love to the indigenous peoples I met up in Standing Rock, who taught me so much and elevated my consciousness and my spirit," he said. "These are people that have been fighting against colonialism and white supremacy for the last five hundred years. And we bring them here with us today in love and resistance and solidarity and self-determination. We have to learn to connect Black Lives Matter with Standing Rock, the Palestinian resistance with the Latino movement."
He went on: "We have to connect all oppressed communities together in order to defeat this wicked system: the state, white supremacy, racism, and also, what?"
The crowd responded in shouted unison: "Capitalism!"