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Protest planned against Gainesville's Confederate monument
Gainesville statue

A protest of the Confederate memorial in downtown Gainesville is planned for 11:30 a.m. Saturday.

Three groups are coordinating the protest: the Metro Atlanta Democratic Socialists of America, its Gainesville-based Northeast Georgia chapter and Athens for Everyone, a social justice organization based in Athens.

They’re protesting the “Old Joe” monument erected in 1909 by the Gen. James Longstreet Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

The groups filed a permit with the city of Gainesville this week, according to protest organizer Brad Latham. Gainesville Police Department spokesman Kevin Holbrook confirmed the event is permitted and the department is “planning accordingly.”

Latham is a Gainesville resident and has been involved with the DSA for years. He told The Times on Friday that the event will be a peaceful, low-key demonstration against the Confederate monument.

He’s encouraging participants to not “get rowdy” during the event or bring megaphones or offensive signs.

“We’re absolutely committed to this being as peaceful a protest as possible,” Latham said. “... We’re really not trying to get any kind of strife or conflict.”

The protest was coordinated with a national day of action planned by the Movement for Black Lives and the national DSA, Latham said.

“They specifically wanted actions at the site of Confederate monuments,” Latham said.

The day of action is a response to the events in Charlottesville, Virginia, where groups of white nationalists, members of the “alt-right” and, in some cases, neo-Nazis marched through the streets of the college town.

The demonstrations led to violent clashes between those groups and counter-protesters, eventually peaking with an attack using a vehicle on counter-protesters that left one woman dead and almost 20 people injured.

Latham began organizing the protest for Gainesville on Wednesday. He said he hoped it would be a “low-key gathering” of people who oppose the placement of the monument in the downtown square. It won’t be a march or a rally, he said, and it should last about 45 minutes.

“We do just want to stand up and take action that this is our stance and we really don’t like the idea behind these confederate monuments, and we want them gone,” Latham said. 
We’re basically trying to be firm in our position that day, but we also want it to go as peacefully as possible – especially with the things happening in Durham right now.”

Protesters in Durham, North Carolina, tore down a Confederate monument on Monday while chanting their opposition to the Klu Klux Klan and fascism.

Gainesville’s Confederate monument doesn’t commemorate a specific general or person, but instead commemorates “the defenders of the Confederacy” and “the record of whose fortitude and heroism in the service of their country is the proud heritage of a loyal posterity,” according to wording on the monument.

The statue sits on land owned by Hall County. When the statue was built, the land was leased to the Longstreet Chapter of the UDC for 99 years, according to the county. The lease was renewed in 2008 and lasts until June 30, 2033.

A message was left with Longstreet Chapter of the UDC but was not immediately returned.

Richard Higgins, chairman of the Hall County Board of Commissioners, said before news of the protest surfaced that he hoped both sides of the issue would moderate their stances. 

“It gets people fired up on each side, and it’s just too costly. We’ve got too many other things (to worry about),” Higgins told The Times. “I’m from Gainesville and Hall County. I’ve lived here all my life. When I think of the statue, I think of both sides and how horrific the Civil War was … for both sides, it was terrible.”

The statue was built with $2,500 of private money raised by the Longstreet chapter in the early 1900s. In today’s dollars the statue cost more than $2 million.

Local DSA chapters have spoken with officials of the Georgia Democratic Party about the statue and other Confederate statues, Latham said, but the socialist group is leaving the political work of getting the statues removed to the more-organized Democrats.

Latham said no one from the DSA has contacted the United Daughters of the Confederacy. 

“They haven't reached out to us, we haven't reached out to them, and to be honest I can't really imagine them being all that friendly with us in the first place,” he said.