More than 50 US cities celebrated Indigenous Peoples’ Day Monday in place of the federal holiday honoring Christopher Columbus, the Italian explorer who massacred and enslaved Arawak indigenous people while opening the door to the European colonization of the Americas. In New York City, protesters rallied at a 115-year-old statue of Christopher Columbus near Central Park, calling for its removal and for the city to make the second Monday of each October Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The protest came as the New York Police Department ringed the statue in metal barricades and said it was providing round-the-clock surveillance of the monument. Democracy Now! was there to speak with demonstrators. Special thanks to producer Andre Lewis.
AMY GOODMAN: As we turn right now, we end with a protest that happened in New York on Columbus Day, on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, what so many want the US to start calling Columbus Day. In New York and cities around the country, the holiday has changed. Los Angeles; Phoenix; Salt Lake City; Austin, Texas, celebrated Indigenous Peoples’ Day in place of the federal holiday honoring Christopher Columbus. We turn right now to a piece by Andre Lewis, who went out to the protest near Columbus Circle in New York.
LOAIZA RIVERA: My name is Loaiza Rivera, and I’m representing the Oscar-Mandela Committee for Decolonization and the Boricua Unity & Power Outreach. We’re here in support of Decolonize This Place and their anti-Columbus Day tour. I’m a CUNY student, and I’ve heard various times my professors say how Christopher Columbus was a hero, how he discovered us, how he should be honored. And in 2017, I can’t believe that that’s still going on. That’s ridiculous. And that’s why this is such a big deal, because it’s not just a statue, it’s not just a day. It’s a message that we’re constantly putting out that we’re OK with this kind of behavior, that we’re OK with Standing Rock, we’re OK with the colonial crisis in Puerto Rico. And we’re not.
MARZ SAFFORE: My name is Marz Saffore, and I’m a member of MTL+ collective, which is the crew of artists who facilitate Decolonize This Place. So, what this tour is, is an alternative narrative to the settler-colonial-imperialist narrative that is offered by the American Museum of Natural History. So the tour was about — I’d say about 400 or 500 strong. And we were moving together, choreographed together, through the museum. At each stop would be someone stationed who collectively worked on the text that was read aloud, in the text found in the brochure.
DECOLONIZE THIS PLACE PARTICIPANTS: We were here in 1840 and 1870, despite broken treaties and forced removals!
MARZ SAFFORE: This tour comes with three demands to the museum as well as to the city, which are: rename the day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day; remove the statue outside of the museum, which is of President Teddy Roosevelt on a horse — flanked below him to his left is a mostly unclothed African-American slave, and to his right is a mostly unclothed Native American Indian chief; and, lastly, we’re here for the demand to the museum and to the city to respect the ancestors.
ELIJAH LONDON: My name is Elijah London. I’m with my school, and I am from Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, New York. We came out here because we wanted to talk about — talk about what did Columbus Day truly mean. And when we watched more in depth, we realized that Columbus Day — the meaning of Columbus Day was trying to deceive us from the truth. And knowing that it’s actually a horrible day, I think it’s important for us to show up because it’s actually showing a way of how that we can spread the truth to others, and they won’t be deceived as this holiday being so special.
MARZ SAFFORE: For me, when I think about this museum, when I look at the statue, and when I look at the statue of Columbus or I look at the statue of Dr. J. Marion Sims, I’m thinking of the little black and brown and indigenous kids who are walking around the city — right? — who are being told visually, over and over again, that their lives do not matter. And in 2017, quite frankly, we’re not here for it. We’ve never been here for it. And what we’re trying to do here is get people across struggles to stand together, not just this is a statue I want taken down, but these are the statues that we want taken down. And really, for me, it means a lot for our youth and having them grow up in a place where they can see themselves, accurate representations of themselves, not something like that’s represented in the statue that’s behind me.
AMY GOODMAN: Special thanks to Democracy Now!’s Andre Lewis.