One year after Susan Bro’s daughter was killed when a car plowed into counterprotesters at a rally of white nationalist and other right-wing groups in Charlottesville, Virginia, Bro plans to mark the tragedy by going to the street where it happened.
Bro’s visit this weekend to the place where her daughter, Heather Heyer, 32, died is emblematic of her grit and the purpose she found after the violent episode that shocked Charlottesville and the nation.
“There’s plenty of work to do,” Bro said in an interview Friday night on “Anderson Cooper Full Circle” on Facebook. “And, frankly, my new motto for myself is, suck it up, buttercup. Get up, get busy, don’t feel sorry for yourself.”
Nineteen others were injured in the clash during a “Unite the Right” rally on August 12, 2017. An Ohio man accused of driving the car was charged with second-degree murder in Heyer’s death. Those who knew the suspect said he held extreme views and a fascination with Nazism.
Bro has spent the past year speaking out on social justice issues that were important to her daughter, and launching a foundation in Heyer’s name. In an interview later Friday on “Anderson Cooper 360,” Bro said she thinks it’s time to “take the focus off Heather, as Heather would want us to do. It’s been a year now, and let’s focus on why she was there. Let’s focus on what she died for.”
Bro said Heyer, a paralegal for a Charlottesville law firm, helped her understand white privilege, and she has been attempting to explain that to others.
“We’ve always acted as if black lives never mattered, as if people of color never mattered,” Bro told Cooper on Full Circle. “We really have not treated people of color in the same way we ourselves want to be treated. And I’m calling b.s. on that.”
Bro said people who hear her speak, or who know about what happened to Heyer, contact her and say they’ve been inspired. Bro said they tell her that if she can stand up, they can, too.
“And, to me, that’s where change has to happen,” she said. “It has to be a heart movement. It has to be positive, nonviolent, direct action.”
Charlottesville is bracing for what may come this weekend on the first anniversary of the deadly rally. States of emergency were declared Wednesday for the Commonwealth of Virginia and Charlottesville. The declarations enable law enforcement to access state resources, including the National Guard, if unrest breaks out at events in and around Charlottesville and outside Washington, where a “Unite the Right 2” rally is scheduled.
In Charlottesville, at least one rally is being organized on the University of Virginia campus by a group of student activists, UVA Students United. Numerous planned community events will promote peaceful messages, including a gathering in honor of Heyer.
Bro said her message to counterdemonstrators in Charlottesville and elsewhere this weekend is, “Keep your wits about you. Don’t let your guard down. But you don’t need to be absolutely paranoid.”
Bro, who was not in Charlottesville last year when her daughter was killed, said she understands why some people are in “high anxiety,” particularly people who may have seen the violence and are “still living the trauma of that.”
Reflecting on the “Unite the Right” rally one year ago, Bro said on “AC360,” “Those of us who weren’t paying attention, sadly, that was a big shock. Those who were paying attention knew it was coming. And it definitely snapped our heads around.”
Days after her daughter was killed, Bro said, she was not interested in taking a phone call from President Donald Trump because she believed he made comments equating her daughter to white supremacists. Trump blamed “both sides” for the violence in Charlottesville, drawing an equivalency between white supremacists and neo-Nazis with the people protesting them.
When asked by Cooper whether she had seen any change in Trump’s views on what happened in Charlottesville, or on race issues in America, Bro said, “I have other things to do than to worry about what he’s doing.”
Bro said donations from around the world poured in to her family after Heyer’s death, and that led Bro to start the Heather Heyer Foundation, which awards scholarship money to high school and college students. Bro, a former school teacher, said the foundation also is planning to start a youth empowerment program that will train young people to develop what she called “positive, nonviolent social change campaigns.”