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Recalling the Front-lines of Charlottesville, Virginia

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It was just over two weeks ago when, what began as a protest against the removal of a Confederate figure-head in Charlottesville, VA, quickly erupted into a platform for voicing one’s moral beliefs.The images and videos that we all have seen from Charlottesville, left the nation shocked and wondering, how could this happen?

Behind the keyboards of message boards, many of us witness countless words spewed in the direction of hate and bigotry. This little blue world has come so far in the efforts of peace, but although the strides we made differ from the past, one thing remains the same...the fear and hatred of difference.

Jessica Bronson, a 31-year-old Chenango Forks native participated in the counter-protests.

Bronson shared her first-hand account of witnessing the violence, hate and condemning of others that left over 20 people injured and one life taken, Heather Heyer, at the age of 32. Gaining her perspective into the events leading up to the tragedy in Charlottesville.

Bronson moved to Washington DC with her young son, graduating from George Washington University Law School where she obtained a career as a non-profit disabilities rights attorney. She said helping people has been at the heart of her work, since she was a child.

"I think I'm a people person. People found me very approachable and I just always enjoyed working with people with disabilities," said Jessica Bronson.

Bronson said to better understand the darker side of humanity, she studied the teachings of Nazism, the connection of white-nationalism with extremists, and violence against others.

"One of our [DC] universities elected their first black student body president. In retaliation, she was hit with death threats, racial slurs. Someone hung bananas from a tree, using little nooses."

That incident  helped to motivate Bronson to become involved in the counter-protest movement. After learning white supremacists were planning to protest the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue in Virginia, Bronson called her family and said, "I have to go."

Her family begged her not to attend the rally but she would not be dissuaded.

"I told them that there would be a strong police presence...and they wouldn't allow any severe violence to take place."  

That was not the case.

"When I got down there, there were protesters that had gathered at two different spots. I decided to go directly toward the Nazis in Emancipation Park. As I got to the front, I was struck by the fact that there were no barricades or police presence in between the protesters," said Jessica Bronson.

As fighting erupted between white nationalists and leftists. Bronson found herself at the center of one confrontation led by members of the alt-right.

"They started pushing me, calling me names like race-traitor and communist, and then they pepper sprayed me," said Jessica. While her skin aggravated with painful burns, Jessica found an opening to escape her attackers. A few minutes later, said Jessica, the state police and National Guard forces were called in to disperse the crowds.

Bronson was being treated for pepper spray burns when she heard gunshots. She pulled up live news coverage on her phone and realized the coverage was only a street away from where she was standing.

"People started running, shouting 'call 911.' The reporter turned the corner and I couldn't believe what I saw." 

What she saw was a car driving through a crowd of protesters...and the aftermath of a terrible incident. 

Hours later, Bronson finally listened to pleas from her family and left the protests.

As the media captured violence from both sides, Bronson said a great majority practiced non-violent alternatives. Bronson hopes the violence will spark an honest and open dialogue.

"If a person of color wants to tear down a statue that to them represents intimidation I'm not going to judge them. But violence is not the best means to achieve peace."

In the days following Charlottesville, Bronson said she has been inspired to see so many Americans standing up against hate, pointing to Saturday's massive rally in Boston and vigil in honor of counter-protester Heather Heyer.

"I am not scared by Nazis. I will keep promoting non-violent confrontation. And if they keep being outnumbered, like they were in Boston, they can think whatever they want because they are losing. We are driving the hatred out of our communities," said Jessica Bronson.