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Roads closing during protest of Confederate statue Old Joe
Protesters gathering 11:30 a.m. Aug. 18 in Gainesville square
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The Confederate Memorial monument, commonly referred to as, "Old Joe," in downtown Gainesville. - photo by David Barnes

A year after a nonviolent protest against “Old Joe,” the Confederate statue in the center of Gainesville’s square, another demonstration is set for 11:30 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 18.

The monument, erected in 1909 by the Gen. James Longstreet Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, sits on about an acre of land owned by Hall County located in downtown Gainesville. The Longstreet Chapter of the UDC’s lease on the property was renewed in 2008 and ends in June 2033.

Though the statue honors Confederate veterans, Old Joe himself is not a Confederate soldier. When purchasing the statue, due to financial constraints, the UDC settled for a Spanish American War soldier statue and made some adjustments so he would look like a Confederate soldier.

The groups that organized Saturday’s protest “do not wish to see Old Joe removed or thrown into a landfill,” according to a flyer for the event. Organizers just want the statue to be modified so it does not explicitly honor the Confederacy.

“The solution which seems to make the most sense is clear – modify the base's rebel flag and remove the inscription on the base,” the flyer reads. “A modified Old Joe monument could not only pay tribute to the Confederate lost, but perhaps to all victims of armed conflict and war.”

Supporting organizations for the protest are the Socialist Organization of North Georgia, the Party for Socialism and Liberation and the Metro Atlanta Democratic Socialists of America.

The event should last about an hour, and about 10 to 30 participants are expected, according to the permit filed with the city of Gainesville. 

All the streets surrounding the square will be closed to vehicle traffic 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Police will be stationed at each corner of the square.

The permit says protesters plan to hold a brief rally, pass out literature and take photos.

“We don’t really see any point in fighting with the locals or carrying around or anything like that,” Brad Lathem of Gainesville, chair of the Socialist Organization of North Georgia, said. “We kind of pride ourselves. We’ve had zero arrests or anything like that so far, and we intend to keep it that way.”

Adam Staudacher, an organizer with the Party for Socialism and Liberation, said because Old Joe could be modified to change the message, it may be easier for opposing sides to reach a compromise.

“In a lot of places, the statues end up getting pulled down and people have a really big issue with that. The one in North Georgia, it’s just the inscription that needs to be changed,” Staudacher, who is from Atlanta, said. “Maybe from a tactical standpoint, people who are opposed to the removal of the statue might be a little more OK with that.”

Lathem said the groups believe the Confederate monuments are racist.

“We kind of think it’s sort of a shameful sore on our hometown,” he said.

Old Joe survived a tornado that destroyed much of Gainesville in 1936, as well as several attempts over the years to move the statue to make room for development and a proposed larger war memorial.

On Aug. 19, 2017, protesters from the Metro Atlanta Democratic Socialists of America, its Gainesville-based Northeast Georgia chapter and Athens for Everyone, a social justice organization based in Athens, gathered in the square to protest Old Joe. Police said at the time that no serious issues were reported.

The Socialist Organization of North Georgia, which will be participating Saturday, was previously associated with the DSA but has become a distinct group since last year’s event.

An estimated 150 to 200 people, including those who wanted the statue to stay, attended the event last year.

In August 2017, groups of white nationalists, the “alt-right” and Neo-Nazis convened in Charlottesville, Virginia, where they clashed with counter-protesters. After a car drove into a crowd of counter-protesters, almost 20 people were injured and one woman was killed.

Earlier this month, on Aug. 12, a group of about 30 white nationalists held a rally in Washington D.C. and were met by thousands of counter-protesters. The two groups were kept separate by police. More than 100 people also rallied against racism in Charlottesville that day.

Lathem said Saturday’s event in Gainesville is a response to those events.

Staudacher said that many people are open to conversations about the history of Confederate monuments, and protesters can engage the opposing side by focusing on education and civil discussions.

“There are obviously some people who are going to be reactionary, whose minds aren’t going to be changed,” he said. “But then in a lot of cases, I think a lot of people are open-minded.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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