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Vigils, marches and protests, sometimes with as many as 1,000 -people participating, have flooded the streets of downtown Santa Fe in the last several weeks. The events mark Northern New Mexico's small part in the beginning of this civil rights movement, sparked by the killing of George Floyd by a police officer.
Loveless Johnson III, a longtime organizer and civil rights activist in the south and now the southwest, has lived in Santa Fe since 1996. He helped start the New Mexico Justice Alliance (NMJA), a group that is already 1,400 members strong. The group, formed only two weeks ago, has already organized multiple events and has partnered with Black Lives Matter in Albuquerque to host a rally on June 20 in Santa Fe in recognition of Juneteenth. The march will begin in the Plaza at noon. Juneteenth, though not a federal holiday, celebrates June 19, 1865—the day that Union Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger told enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, that they were free. It is the oldest known celebration of the end of slavery.
The NMJA has faced criticism over the language it uses to talk about police reform, yet it's already made a difference as pressure from the group led the Santa Fe County Sheriff's office away from plans to purchase brand new semi-automatic weapons.
Activists in this corner of the state have also grappled with suspicion around events organized by people without experience or those with bad intentions. On June 2, some downtown shopkeepers boarded up storefronts after a vague threat of riots prompted police to issue a warning. (No riots occurred here; instead, a smaller group of people -demonstrated on the Capitol steps).
In response to questions across -social media and in SFR's collective inboxes about the alliance's leadership and its strategy moving forward as one of the biggest activist groups in the little City Different, Johnson unpacks the idea of organizing in 2020 and the statewide change he hopes to help make.
This interview has been edited for style, length and clarity.
SFR: How long have you been an activist?
Loveless Johnson IIIJ: Since I was 16 years old, so 38 years…My very first [event] was participating in my hometown of Montgomery, Alabama, in a massive march that was organized by Jesse Jackson in response to a very unusual and violent police action against unarmed, innocent black people…So 38 years later, here we are doing the same thing.
How did the creation of the New Mexico Justice Alliance come about?
May 31 was that Sunday event at the Roundhouse, if my memory serves me correct. The group was formed at 9 pm on the Saturday night before that… From there, then I realized that we had to take advantage in ways that would allow us to create something new, not something different. I don't believe in change, I believe in newness…It's hard to get 1,500 people to come and gather and pretty much be really aligned and be inspired by a mission in 10 days, in a place like New Mexico, this small.
Does a movement need a ‘face’ to be successful?
All politics are local and no one leader can be local everywhere. And so, no. I believe that movements and organizations need articulate voices that can inspire more people to enroll in the mission with their whole heart.
When will NMJA’s policy goals for New Mexico be released? There has been a lot of hubbub on social media about what the group really stands for.
From environmental, to educational, to economic, to health care, to racial and social justice, to police reform, all can be dealt with. And so, issue by issue by issue, that's what the New Mexico Justice Alliance is all about. We will be building a justice coalition so that we can work with the EarthCares of the world and the Earth Guardians, on environmental justice. We can work with the ACLU on social and racial justice and BLM and other organizations in that space on police reform. We can work with the economic justice folks, we can work with the health care justice experts because we want to be that clearing house for our community on all these issues across the spectrum…. building a big statewide mouthpiece for all these various specialists that they currently don't have is something new and that's what New Mexico Justice Alliance is up to. We're not a protest organization; we are a precision-targeted policy reform organization.
What will the NMJA’s leadership and structure look like?
People can expect something new. So, the lexicon of that question doesn't fit with who we are. Words like leadership, that's a personality-driven thing and this is a team-driven thing…We are developing leadership, but we don't have leaders, if that makes sense.
I’ve seen on Facebook criticisms of the NMJA’s events being too ‘tame’ with music and ‘tone policing,’ not disruptive enough and not enough focus on defunding and abolishing police. What do you have to say to that?
I say that we're a very young organization and I think people who give us the opportunity to get fully organized and underway…on the mission for which we are created, will be really either satisfied with what we're doing or they won't because their passion is in something different from what we're doing. And so we accept all that criticism and welcome it. We are going to continue forward with our mission because, at our current growth rate, a lot of people actually are taking the time to understand our mission…This is something new and we don't profess to know it all right now; we're barely 11 days old and we've got a lot to learn, but man, we've got so many good minds…I feel like we're gonna catch up quick and I trust the people, that's what I'm betting on right now.
For more information on NMJA or to get involved, message the Facebook group "New Mexico Justice Alliance" or email firstname.lastname@example.org.