On a weekend when Wisconsin and Minnesota came in first and second, respectively, in a ranking of the Worst States For Black Americans, approximately 500 people took part in the Million March MN rally in the People’s Park outside the Hennepin County Government Center Saturday afternoon. The protest was part of a nationwide Day of Resistance that inspired similar – if better-attended – gatherings across the country, including Boston, Houston, New York City and Washington, D.C.
“This is not a New York issue, this is not a Ferguson issue, this is a countrywide issue,” Michael McDowell, of the recently formed grassroots organization Black Lives Matter Minneapolis, told the crowd, a mix of all races and ages that marched up 5th Street from the Federal Reserve building to the government center. McDonald then led the crowd in a call-and-response verse: “It’s our duty to fight for freedom/It’s our duty to win/We must love each other and support each other/We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
Much like the Trayvon Martin and Terrance Franklin protests at the government center in July of last year, an uneasy history repeated itself with Saturday’s rally, which came in the wake of the Eric Garner and Michael Brown grand jury verdicts, and on the heels of #pointergate and protests that shut down 35W earlier this month.
Co-organized by Neighborhoods Organizing for Change and Black Lives Matter Minneapolis, the rally was infused with an artistic sensibility by another grassroots organization, the Million Artist Movement. One artist, Minneapolis-based singer/teacher Jayanthi Kyle, came dressed in an elegant red dress and the American flag; the Black Lady Liberty if you will. “When I was here over a year ago, [Bob] Collins from MPR said I was disrespecting the flag,” Kyle told the crowd. “And I have to say, the flag has disrespected me.”
The crowd cheered in solidarity, Kyle led the throng in song and afterward commented to MinnPost, “What I thought was so wrong about it was that I was mourning a murder of a child, and that didn’t matter. It made me so upset; it made me not want to not respect the flag but now I have to override him because [screw] you, that flag is mine. This country is born and built on the backs of my people, being slaves, and brutalities and outlandish, disgusting, behavior. And that has to change. We can still rebuild and recover.”
A faulty public-address system proved insufficient, so speakers took to getting the message out via bullhorn. Neighborhoods Organizing for Change’s Signe Harriday led the crowd in calls-and-responses of, “Speak what?”/”Truth to power!” and “We are the power!/We are the change!” and implored, “We have hope, we have inspiration. We want to end the militarization of our police system. We want an end to police brutality. Full employment for our people. Freedom from mass incarceration. Be with us today, communities, to build the movement together.”
Homemade signs abounded, emblazoned with missives such as “Hands Up! Don’t Shoot!”; “I Can’t Breathe”; “Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr. White Plains New York, November 2012”; “Demilitarize Our Police”; “The justice system isn’t broken, it was built this way”; “Stop Killing Unarmed Black People”; “Protect and Serve, Don’t Shoot”; “Stand Rise Build With Us”; and “ ‘In the end, what we will remember is not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends’ – Martin Luther King, Jr.” St. Louis Park resident Annie Clark came downtown with her family, Steve Grapentine and adopted children Hezkiel and Fikru “to support all black people having equal rights and justice. I’m here for these two, born in Ethiopia, and millions of others.”
The rally concluded with freshly penned protest songs and protesters lying down on the cold, damp concrete of People’s Park in a “die-in” show of solidarity with victims of police brutality. Many said they were looking forward to tentative plans for a Dec. 20 protest at the Mall of America, and tonight’s [Dec. 15] Communities United Against Police Brutality-organized panel discussion “Getting Away With Murder: How Police Kill With Impunity.”
“I feel great about what’s happening,” Black Lives Matter Minneapolis’ Michael McDowell told MinnPost. “Today just shows that this is a movement that’s not going away.”
Correction: This version corrects the spelling of Michael McDowell’s name.