Heather Heyer joined a crowd of counter protesters during a far-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. The 32-year-old was standing up for the rights and freedoms that all citizens of the United States of America should share.
Her life was prematurely ended by a 20-year-old, who chose to use his car as a weapon and drive it through a crowd of people. He will never understand why Heather stood up against people who share his ideology, but will continue to be threatened by the strength and resilience displayed by the millions around the world who will continue to embody Heather’s philosophy.
The fight for equality is nothing new. In fact, for many of us we still encounter the residue of archaic societal attitudes. Even in 2017, the likes of racism, homophobic, transphobia and sexism continue to share an unwelcomed space within our society, demonstrating the need to bring these issues into conversation when they arise.
So what would be the consequences of not taking these issues seriously? If you put a frog in water and slowly heat it up, the frog will cook to death; put a frog in boiling water, and it will jump straight out. The shift in attitudes that led to the execution of thousands of gay men in Nazi concentration camps didn’t happen overnight.
Looking back events such as these in our history, we can recognise the toxic atmosphere that dictated these behaviours. But seeing them as they develop in real time is not as easy.
Fast-forward to the present day, the water is slowly heating up again. The election of a president whose vision does not extend to oppressed groups within society – and actually involves actively targeting many of them – demonstrates that the work of people like Heather Heyer is far from over.
What’s more, Donald Trump seems to have given previously-silenced extremists the green light to attempt to weaken and destroy the work of past and present civil rights activists. We all risk being cooked to death if we do not speak up now.
Heather Heyer was a young paralegal who used social media as a means of championing civil rights issues. Her vocation drew her to stand up for the rights of women, people of colour, LGBT people and anyone else who came under the attack of these hate-filled bigots.
She chose to act whilst others stood by the side lines. She died doing the right thing, whilst another used his car as a weapon to kill in the name of hatred.
We must never lose the emotion we feel when we think about events in our history which still scar members of our society today. We must continue to be appalled by acts that seek to destroy the civil liberties of our neighbours and threaten the future of social progress.
Heather’s Facebook cover photo reads “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” It’s a fitting reminder of a philosophy that drove her to do good that day. Let’s remember the work done by Heather and other activists, who have contributed to the freedoms we all enjoy today.
But most importantly, let’s continue to pay attention.
Follow Hadley Stewart on Twitter @wordsbyhadley.