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Wednesday, September 22, 2021
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Hundreds of protesters sit in front of the City County Building listening to speakers before the march.

“Asian is not the virus; racism is”: Hundreds march for Asian American lives in downtown Madison after Atlanta shootings

Residents and students took to the downtown area Thursday night to march for an end to the violence against Asian Americans, following a series of shootings targeting Asian Americans that took place in Atlanta earlier this week. 

The demonstration, organized largely by the UW BIPOC Coalition, attracted a diverse crowd of over 200 individuals to advocate for the safety of Madison’s AAPI (Asian Americans and Pacific Islander) communities.

“Honestly, in the past 48 hours, I've felt more scared than I have [been] in my entire life,” said Manola Inthavong, a sophomore at UW-Madison. “I'm scared for people like my mom, my aunt, who are similar in age to all the women who were killed. It's so terrifying imagining that no matter how long we'll be here — for me, my mom, my kids, their kids — we are always going to be treated as outsiders.”

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6-year-old Nyah holds up her sign.

Nyah, age 6, stood at the edge of the crowd with a sign she drew herself, reading, “Don’t hurt Asian people” in red marker. “We want to protest for other people's’ lives,” she remarked.

James McMaster, a professor of Gender and Women’s Studies and Asian American Studies at UW-Madison, echoed a view held by many protesters: Anti-Asian sentiments, while recently heightened, have been a long-standing issue in the United States.

“Our community has been under attack not just since the start of the COVID 19 pandemic, but for many many years before. What we need to do now is expose not only everyday acts of racism, but the damage that the U.S. is doing abroad to Asian people and Asian countries,” he said. “I think by exposing that, we expose some of the fundamental violence that all of us, Asian and non-Asian, need to come together to fight against.”

As the protest moved from the City County Building to the top of State Street, marchers chanted, “You love our food, love us too” and “We are not your fetish.” Cars and bikers served as barriers to protect attendees as they crossed the intersections of N. Broom St. and W. Johnson and then again at W. Gorham.

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Cyclists block traffic at W. Gorham St. as protests keep marching.

At the capitol building, representatives from local social justice organizations took turns addressing the growing crowd. Speakers called on Georgia authorities to charge the shooter with a hate crime and pointed out that in the past year there have been over 3,795 documented hate incidents committed against Asian Americans nationwide. Others demanded the city of Madison and lawmakers take action to better protect its BIPOC and AAPI communities, including increasing diversity among mental health providers and defunding the police.

State Rep. Francesca Hong spoke briefly, reminding protesters to hold elected officials, including herself, accountable.

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Protesters wait at in intersection during the march.
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“Call out your elected officials. Make them make a statement and [then] make sure they do more than just make a statement because it’s not just about being in solidarity, it’s about finding solutions,” she concluded.

The demonstration ended with an open mic for attendees to speak. The organizers did not present demands, but instead invited the crowd back to the Capitol building this Saturday for a vigil in honor of the victims. 

The crowd peacefully dispersed before 10 p.m. 


Dane County Board action

As the protest continued downtown, the Dane County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a resolution condemning hate crimes against AAPI at their Thursday night meeting.

The resolution was introduced by Dis. 5 Supervisor Elena Haasl, a Philippinx student whose district consists primarily of UW Madison students. 

“I believe this resolution is a good step in the right direction, but we do need to put in the work and the action to support our AAPI communities here in Dane County and Madison,” Haasl said at the meeting. “I hope this statement serves not only as a reflection of how each of us in our own individual lives can strive to learn about the discrimination AAPIs have faced and continue to face, but also as a springboard to action to support a community.”

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