A Long Time Coming

Demonstrators celebrate the removal of racist monuments in downtown Santa Fe

After meeting with City Councilor Renee Villareal and Mayor Alan Webber this week to discuss racist monuments dotting the city, local community organizers Three Sisters Collective hosted a peaceful  gathering on the Santa Fe Plaza tonight. What was initially planned as a protest to demand the removal of an obelisk bearing a racist inscription was transformed into a celebration Thursday evening in response to Webber's announcement Wednesday that the monument and two others  would come down.

A crowd of people gathered at the Plaza to listen to Indigenous community leaders who gave speeches, read poems, sang, and expressed their gratitude and surprise about the turn of events.

One speaker, Krystle McCabe, revealed the identity of the person who chiseled the word "savage" from the face of the obelisk decades ago as her father, the late Michael McCabe.

It is the first time that anyone has publicly claimed credit for the act.

"He decided to put on some construction clothes, blond wig… he went out there in broad daylight with his friends, put some traffic cones, some tape, and chiseled it out. No one stopped him, they thought he was an official employee," she said.

Matthew Martinez, who works as a deputy director at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture and has a degree in American Indian studies, shared some of the history of the Plaza that many people born and raised in Santa Fe have never been taught.

In Tewa, he said, the place now known as the Plaza is called "O'gah'poh geh," the "white shell water place."

He also highlighted some of the harder truths that are all too often left out of the history books, such as that in 1675, 47 pueblo men were lynched on the Plaza. "City Council meetings, county's school district, these are the histories that need to be embedded in curriculum," he said.

Other speakers expressed their support of the Black Lives Matter movement, and explained how that movement and the Indigenous liberation movements intersect.

In general, the mood was festive, and no members of armed militia groups were overtly present. Police kept a subdued presence towards the edges of the Plaza, and in the entrance of the arcade.

Yet, the casual feeling of the evening in some ways  obscured what was also a masterfully coordinated feat in community organizing.

At least a dozen unarmed demonstrators in yellow safety vests patrolled the perimeters of the Plaza with walkie talkies, communicating about anything that seemed in the least bit sketchy, passing out masks and water, and escorting participants back to their cars.

"We are really here to keep people safe, and to support the organizers of the event," says Nick Estes, a spokesman for The Red Nation—the group that organized the support effort.

People with red crosses taped to their packs and chests mingled with the crowd, ready to offer their services as medics. One of these people, a young man named Broadus, told SFR he had received wilderness first response training. Others, he said, were also trained as wilderness responders, nurses, and paramedics.

People with bright green caps emblazoned with the words "legal observer" sat further apart from the crowd. "We are here at the request of the organizers to observe police activity and any kind of police brutality that could occur," said Brett Phelps, a Las Cruces attorney who was connected with the organizers through the New Mexico Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild.

Phelps told SFR legal observers are not there as demonstrators but rather as witnesses who could provide expert testimony if anything went awry.

Only one counter protester made an obvious appearance, holding a sign at the west end of the Plaza. He told SFR he believed Mayor Webber was pandering to the pressure of the moment instead of actually engaging with the history.

"Here comes some guy from Missouri, to my hometown, and tries to change 400 years of history" he said, telling SFR he would be okay with the statues coming down "if it was the people's choice. It should be voted on by the people in a democratic process," but that he felt as it is, the city is "tearing down history."

In response Matthew Martinez, the historian, says, "these monuments don't define history. It is embedded in our everyday activities, oral traditions and memory, books yes but also in farming practices and ceremonies. So it's a false narrative, because history is so much more than that."

And yet, he also sympathizes with the man's words, and the hurt behind them.

"There needs to be a community-wide discussion about what it means to take down these monuments… the people who put them up, they deserve to have their stories told too."

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