Wadsworth, Ohio: No Ground Ceded

By Rio Nero

A Partial Victory in the Struggle Against Fascist Violence

The morning of March 11th blew in cold, quick, and unforgiving. Organizers arrived, one car-full of nerves at a time; we struggled to recognize each other in the unfamiliar, small-town suburban landscape of Wadsworth, Ohio. Despite arriving hours before the event was set to begin, we were already outnumbered; the terrain was riddled with idle cysts of right-wing opposition. We traveled tightly, silently, exchanging rigid glares with swathes of reactionaries as they attempted to intimidate us into turning back. Slurs were flung, paths were blocked; we marched through them, undeterred.

The real standoff began when the ten of us arrived at the muddy plateau around the pavilion in which the event was to take place. Police presence was high; a dedicated portion of reactionaries, an estimated forty strong, were stationed there to greet us. As time went on, the other fascists roving around Memorial Park would coalesce into their mass, bringing their numbers up to around two-hundred persons. Contrast that with our numbers, which at that moment consisted of us ten socialist organizers from Columbus and Northeast Ohio, the mustered forces of Parasol Patrol, and the local event hosts: an estimated twenty-five persons. Our presence would peak during the course of the event somewhere near the number of forty-five.

Everyone knew this story hour was risky. Wadsworth is a small, reactionary suburb—a dead zone for the left. In fact, the so-called “city” of Wadsworth went so far as to publicly condemn the drag story time event in a Facebook statement issued by local councilman Ralph Copley, which read:

“After much discussion and legal review, we have no choice but to let the event take place…The city does not condone the behavior of the organizer.”1

Suffice to say, we knew the local turnout would be small, and the strongholds of the left in Ohio were hours away by car; thus began the weeks-long organizing frenzy. The organizational catastrophe2 of the canceled drag story time event in December was fresh in the collective memory of the Ohio left, and we all knew that the political conditions of Wadsworth, Ohio meant that this event was liable to take a more dire trajectory if left undefended. Despite valiant effort, we succeeded in mobilizing only a small but militant crowd, this consisting of dedicated socialists from the Columbus area and members of leftist groups local to northeast Ohio. Day-of, this amounted to an imported presence of only ten individuals.

The rest of the event, though fragmented and of varying quality, is available for observation online.3 Police had erected a short fence around the pavilion into which the event attendees and leftist organizers were corralled as the event began; police guarded this fence but did not fulfill their promise to cordon off the right-wing opposition into a small green area beside the adjacent stadium, which came as no surprise. This resulted in circumstances which required event attendees and participants to be escorted in and out of the event by various combinations of socialist organizers, members of Parasol Patrol, and eventually police, as the fence was immediately enclosed by the vast swathe of reactionary protestors.

Antagonisms were initially fairly juvenile; though political tensions were high, the reactionary abscess that encompassed the event was not quite malignant enough to attempt to breach the fence or to descend upon the escorted attendees outside of it, though this hesitancy was undoubtedly influenced by the presence of law enforcement. As such, these political tensions were initially relegated to verbal exchanges.

As the event went on and attendees eventually began to arrive with children, tensions escalated. Armed with banners which read “WHY ARE PEDOPHILES MORE PROTECTED THAN ME?” over unsettlingly intimate portraits of little white girls4, bands of fascists leapt to their charge, following and harassing families as they were escorted into the event. This harassment went so far as to induce a seizure in a disabled mother accompanied by a service animal.

It was one defining factor in particular, however, which shifted the tone of the event from facetious repartee to austere political conflict: the arrival of a small, scarlet-clad squadron of men marching in pseudo-militaristic lockstep. As they first crested a hill and their ill-fitting sweatshirts/uniforms appeared like a papercut against the bleak horizon, an officer of the law leaned surreptitiously over the fence to address myself and another comrade with the nervous question: “Do you know who those guys are?” We did not.

The new arrivals quickly made their allegiances clear. After swiftly assembling into two rows on the right side of the field, their Petit-Führer (a man distinguishable by his apparent right to disregard their uniform of haphazardly thrown-on balaclavas and matching sunglasses, instead heroically flaunting his masculine virility by exposing his bald head5 to the frigid air) led the ten of them in the classic Nazi call-and-response chant and salute: “Sieg…heil!” Having come prepared with merchandise lest their message be misunderstood, they then unfurled two black flags bearing the swastika, as well as a sizable banner, which read in a near illegible (especially so since they initially unveiled it upside down) heavy metal font: There Will Be Blood.

Dramatic as it were, the arrival of these Neo-Nazis laid bare revealing contradictions within the right-wing presence. The majority of the reactionary horde responded to the arrival as an intrusion; they stepped back several yards in order to symbolically create distance between themselves and the Neo-Nazis, though they persisted in perfunctory harassment of event attendees. The second most populous tangent of the crowd was the openly fascistic element; these individuals crossed the field to ally themselves with the Neo-Nazis and sustained their disruption of the event with newfound belligerence—it was at this point when an attendee was harassed to the point of convulsion. One member of this contingent narrated his thoughts on the phenomenon quite plainly, with the concise phrase: “Better a Nazi than a faggot.

A diffident and scattered minority of the reactionary mass dissociated from both groups, sheepishly drifting inwards towards the fence to make half-hearted appeals to the attendees, disavowing the Neo-Nazis while asserting that it wasn’t the existence of queer people that they had contentions with, but the presence of children at so-called “adult events.” Most bizarrely of all, the police (a few of whom were visibly distressed) positioned themselves against the rest of the fascist presence, temporarily allying themselves with the event attendees and participants.

Despite everything, the show went on. The event proceeded, the audience attended, and it concluded precisely when it intended to. The political battle that ensued on the perimeter was bloodless in the end; two arrests were made, one from each side. What conflict that did occur could have been avoided only through a left presence which rivaled or outnumbered the reactionary resistance; no other action could have prevented the situation from reaching the precarious conditions that it did.

Victory is possible. Despite the desolate political conditions in Wadsworth, through the concentrated efforts of a few organizers (with significant political disagreements amongst themselves, I should add) the event carried through in the face of militant right-wing intimidation and squarely upon reactionary ground. This is magnitudes more than what was achieved during the failed defense of the canceled drag story time event in Columbus, which ensued under monumentally more favorable conditions. In Wadsworth, the scant left presence forced us to rely on the legality of the event and the subsequent police presence for our safety; meanwhile, Columbus, in being a liberal urban center possessing an organized left-milieu of some influence, such an unsavory alliance is entirely unnecessary–assuming solid organizing work. Here, the left was both plentiful and ready-at-arms to defend the event on December 3rd, but was actively demobilized by local organizers; in Wadsworth, there was no local left to organize at all. Look at what was achieved in spite of these conditions! Imagine what could be achieved with an organized, ambitious, and dedicated revolutionary left focused on mobilizing the masses!

Even in Wadsworth, Ohio, shivering, exhausted, and outnumbered by true fascists, a small group of leftists refused to cede ground. Our enemies are not indomitable. It is up to us to seize our victories where they lie; it is up to us to create the conditions for future triumphs. Do not fall victim to the passive nihilism of capital; it is a depressive trap designed to doom you to the alienated nothing-future it promises to us all.

As far as the real future goes: our forces are disorganized, our enemies are rising, and we need you on the ground. Only we can defend ourselves from fascist mobs, racist police, and capitalist exploitation. It is time to organize ourselves, to unite oppressed peoples and the working class on a mass and democratic basis. This is the only means of crushing the fascist scum who stand to subjugate and exterminate us. This is the only means of which to strip the gears of the exploitative capitalist machine. This is our only means to escape the everyday violence of the system.

Donate to the legal fund of the individual who was arrested while defending Wadsworth, Ohio’s first drag story time event below:

Legal Funds for a Freedom Fighter, organized by Juan Collado

About the author

Rio Nero


Rio is a member of CORS.