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‘Just as I'm affected by my history, you should be ashamed of it’: Voices from Saturday’s protest

Protesters took the steps of the Capitol Saturday afternoon to peacefully protest police injustice in America.

Protesters took the steps of the Capitol Saturday afternoon to peacefully protest police injustice in America.

Image By: Nathan Denzin

Thousands turned out for the peaceful protest for Black Lives Matter in Madison Saturday afternoon, but it ended with hundreds looting local businesses with the remnants of tear gas in their eyes.

A day intended to give a voice to the people heard from the least was taken away after violent riots marred State Street and took over the conversation. 

But there were still moments of positivity — as I spoke with many voices of hope that day.

When I first arrived at the protest around 11 a.m., a small group of protesters had begun to gather at the steps of the Capitol.

I first talked to Ronald, a 71-year-old Black man who hails from Wisconsin, and has lived through perpetual civil unrest in his lifetime.

“I’m a very proud American. I love America and my opinion — nobody leaves America because it is America,” he said. ”But we can't live in a world without police. There's bad in everything. And, and we have to intermittently take the stand and voice that this was wrong.”

He said watching people stream to the steps of the Capitol made him proud, and that it was a sign of our growth as a country.

“Their hearts and souls have brought them out here — not their socioeconomic status, not the pigmentation — to express something is wrong to ask you for help fixing it,” he said. “We can't do it individually.”

After talking to Ronald, the protest — which was now thousands of people strong — began to mobilize and take over the streets of Madison. Chants for racial equality, ending police brutality, opposing white silence and many more rang out as the protest moved to W. Doty Street.



When it had reached the intersection of W. Doty and S. Carroll St., the protest halted again so people could voice their opinions to the group on a loudspeaker.

There I met Noah Anderson, a Black high school senior from Madison who was vocal about why he had come to protest.

“At the end of the day, I came here to stand with my people because I’ve dedicated my life to that and I am going to fight for it,” he said. “Because I am not going to bring a child into this world because I would know I would have to fear for their lives as teenagers. I would have to have a curfew on them, and that is unreasonable.”

Anderson said he can see the beginnings of a race war, making him seriously consider taking drastic action — like moving to Africa. 

“But what I’m seeing right now, it’s only going to justify unjustifiable killings — because when the first Black protester gets killed, we’re going to go all out,” he said.

A second protester with Anderson, who wished to remain anonymous, agreed with his sentiments — but said the protest wasn’t enough.

“This is comfortable,” she said, “The Civil Rights movement brought this — protesting.” 

But for her, it proved the need to move past comfortable and challenge ourselves to reach for uncomfortable.

“What's uncomfortable is people changing where they spend their dollars. What's uncomfortable is people calling out their peers when they do some racist or unjust shit. That's what's uncomfortable for people. I think that it's time for us to start doing that uncomfortable stuff because we've been doing the comfortable for too long, you know.”

Anderson agreed, saying we must “invest our own dollars into ourselves.”

“I see the Nike on your feet, and you can see the Nike on mine. But next time I buy shoes, they won't be Nike," he shared. “Let's buy up and let's bring up black businesses. Let's turn the hoods into neighborhoods,” he said. “Because the hood means liking your neighbor.”

His friend continued to say she was not only extremely disappointed in Wisconsin, but the country as a whole for how it has handled protests over coronavirus versus Black Lives Matter the last two months.

“I am disgusted with Wisconsin. A few weeks ago a bunch of white people were at the Capitol protesting with guns. Nobody was shot. Nobody was told to go home. None of that happened,” she said. “People are mad because a man was killed for being Black.”

Yet, that led her to a possible solution. 

“We need to stop emphasizing that Black people should resist racism,” she continued. “What we need to do is start holding white people accountable for their racism.”

Anderson then finished with his thoughts.

“We can make Martin Luther King's dream come true. It hasn't become true yet. It's in the process, but it's not true. And we're far from it from what I'm seeing right now.”

The rest of the peaceful protest went extremely well. 

The march moved from the corner of Doty and Carroll all the way down East Washington, where it eventually ended at Williamson Street — the exact spot where Tony Robinson was killed while in police custody in 2015.

After another intermission for people to speak, the protest moved back up to the Capitol, where it stopped for a powerful moment of silence.



After the protest was officially concluded, I was able to catch up with Brandi Grayson, one of the march’s main organizers.

“This went amazingly,” she said. “We had thousands of people, wrapped completely around the county jail. It was powerful.”

She said she hoped the main outcome of the protest was the ripple effect it could create in the city and around the state.

“You know, we’ve been doing this for 400 years — we never know the outcome of our actions, but we hope this builds up momentum for the future,” she said. “We need to continue to organize, educate and mobilize people. People need to show up to vote, to fill out their census. We need to connect our energy to the political playing field.”

One of the biggest hopes of the protest were realized, as mostly young people were the ones taking the street.

“It was amazing today to see all the young people leading the charge. Mostly we just had to get out of their way and make sure nothing went wrong,” Grayson said. “We didn’t tell them what to say or what not to say, we just provided them an opportunity to express their anger and hurt in a safe environment.”

Grayson shared her hopes for future success of the protest. 

“Hopefully a leader or two will come out of this and take off,” she said. “You never know.”

Those quotes came at about 5:30 p.m., when it looked like the protest had been an extreme success. However, about an hour later, it went from a peaceful call to action to passionate unrest.

Violence on State Street

A riot broke out on State Street after a Police SWAT team sprayed a crowd with pepper spray and tear gas. It led to a cycle of violence between the protesters and police until eventually most businesses on State were looted or vandalized.

In the middle of the violence, I met Staci Straw and José, who had both been hit with tear gas after trying to help protesters neutralize the gas with milk and other solutions.

“I heard it was popping off down here, and I only live a few blocks away so I grabbed my baking soda spray and rushed down,” Straw said. “It got bad fast, and pretty soon I was cornered by tear gas and the buildings behind me, so I had to run straight through the gas.”

Straw had milk pouring down her face, and described the experience “scary as hell.”

“You know, we protest a lot here in Madison. I’ve been here for a lot of them,” she said. “I didn’t actually think our cops would handle it this poorly.”

José was at work, noticing rocks were starting to be thrown outside.

“There were a lot of shoppers who didn’t know what was happening, and had to run through it too,” José added. “I was inside at work and noticed this big commotion outside, and all of a sudden the rocks [thrown back at SWAT Police] started rolling.”

“Then they formed a line and just pushed up the road and hit people on the way [with chemicals],” he said. “You couldn’t just stand, you had to run.”

When police had formed their circle on the 100 block of State and momentarily stopped moving, I met two more protesters, Cooper and Avery, who had been overexposed to gas and had to ask multiple times for milk or solutions to stop the burning.

The two said they had just moved to the city from Colorado, but never expected something like this to happen.

“I've always wanted to be a cop. That's been my lifelong jam,” Avery said. “But then I heard about George Floyd and I was pissed. It's been happening way too many times, over and over, every year. This new case, they let [the officers involved] go and it's just not right.” “Cops are getting away with things no human should ever be able to,” she said.

Cooper questioned the integrity of the judicial system’s procedure in deeming suspicion with implicit biases.

“I think the biggest thing I’ve seen is that with all of these people being killed is that it used to be innocent until proven guilty,” Cooper said. “It’s not like that anymore, police are assuming guilt and hurting people.”

A man who wanted to be called ‘X-Man’ and was with his young daughter joined our conversation at this point.

“I brought my daughter out here today to see everything that is going on,” he said. “Like I told her, ‘I am your father and this is my job’. I have to show her injustices. Being a father means showing her right from wrong,” he said. “And I see her choosing right, it fills my heart.”

He related the police behavior in Minneapolis to his own fatherhood. 

“As a father, when I give her an inch, she will take it 10 miles,” X-Man said through subtle laughter. “But it’s what is happening in Minneapolis right now. Police are being given that inch.”

No matter the relationship between the teacher and the student, learning can be conducted anywhere. 

No matter your identity, it is always necessary to understand the faults and histories associated with it.    

There were many, many voices Saturday speaking up, but there is one lasting quote I think myself, and anyone else who is white, can and should take to heart from Noah Anderson.

“So what I want to say, white people, educate yourselves on your history. Understand, be ashamed of your history because you are affected by history. Just as I'm affected by my history, you should be ashamed of it. But until you're uncomfortable, you can't heal.”

Writer’s Note: It isn’t lost on me I am a white journalist covering a protest for African American and POC rights. There is no way I can pretend to understand everything they are put through each and every day.

That being said, in the words of a chant that was used often in the protest, “White silence is violence.” The most important thing people like me, and who look like me can do is to continue to speak out against injustices we see in our country. Support Black-owned businesses, and donate to funds that help fight for POCs.

Here’s a non-exhaustive list of funds you can donate to right now to help.

The Minnesota Freedom Fund

Free the 350 Bail Fund

Black Visions Collective

The Bail Project

Atlanta Solidarity Fund

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