With about a day’s notice, approximately 1,000 protesters gathered at the MLK statue in Denver’s City Park on Sunday afternoon. They came with signs, matching shirts and exasperation that had risen from the aftermath of Saturday’s violence in Charlottesville, Va.
Resistance 5280 put together the Denver Call 2 Action! Facebook event literally overnight. To oppose “racism, hatred, and white supremacy, and in solidarity with everyone resisting oppression everywhere,” the group asked people to attend “a peaceful gathering to show unity, strength, and power.”
The Colorado Classic Bike Race had been scheduled to run through City Park until 3:30 p.m., and race officials worked with the Denver Police Department to modify the route, moving it slightly north of the Martin Luther King Jr. statue to accommodate the rally.
Event organizers and local and state officials were armed only with a single megaphone and struggled to be heard over the bicycle race and the buzz of the growing crowd, but the message was clear.
“Today we come together in unity to condemn the violence committed in Charlottesville on U.S. soil,” said state Rep. Joe Salazar, reading a letter written by Rep. Leslie Herod, who was out of town. “We can no longer ignore racism in our country and community. Step into the fray. Lean in.”
Salazar reminded attendees that although Colorado has been fortunate to have few incidences of hate crimes, the Centennial State was a bastion for the KKK in the 1930s. We don’t want history to repeat itself, he said.
Jillian Bryan, a Denver resident and member of the Industrial Workers of the World union, said she had a personal connection to the tragedy Virginia. “I heard that Heather was a part of IWW,” she said of the 32-year-old woman killed Saturday when a car drove into a crowd of protesters. “I felt I needed to be here today for her. Beyond that, I agree with the ideology behind anti-racist protests.”
Hanna Khavafipour, a co-founder of Resistance 5280, said the problem is much more complex than Charlottesville: “This country was built on the blood, sweat and tears of blacks and natives. We need to focus on the deeper issues, and people of color need to lead this movement. It’s our voices and our lives that are being affected in the micro-aggressions that take place every day.”
Scott Levin of the Anti-Defamation League said his organization has seen a dramatic rise of hate against people from black, Jewish and Muslim backgrounds. He said events such as this are powerful and necessary in the face of abominable behaviors.
“Just think about how, without rallies like this one, how much worse would it be,” he said.
Marchers spanned from the Thatcher Memorial Fountain to Colfax. After a handful of speakers, the group began to walk toward the Capitol. About 20 minutes into the walk, heavy rain poured down.
Denver police chaperoned the event to ensure the safety of all.