Countercurrents | July 05, 2020
A group of mainly Native American protesters blocked the road leading up to Mount Rushmore for three hours before President Donald Trump gave a speech at the national monument Friday night.
When they refused to disband, the protesters faced off with the South Dakota National Guard, which shot close-range shells at their feet and sprayed some protesters with pepper spray, according to the Sioux Falls Argus Leader.
By 7 p.m., 15 protesters who refused to leave the road had been arrested.
Trump went on to give a divisive speech at Mount Rushmore, saying the country was under siege by “far-left” fascists waging “a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values and indoctrinate our children.”
The Black Hills, where Mount Rushmore is located, is a sacred area for local Native Americans, and a contested space.
The Supreme Court in 1980 ruled that the U.S. had illegally taken the land from the Sioux tribe in a deal brokered in 1873. The Mount Rushmore carvings were completed in 1941.
Jeff Ostler, a historian at the University of Oregon, told ABC News that the federal government had offered the Sioux people a settlement of $1 billion for taking the land. The tribe has refused, saying they will only accept their land back.
Some of the protesters on Friday held signs reading “Protect SoDak’s First People,” “You Are On Stolen Land,” and “Dismantle White Supremacy,” according to the Associated Press.
Hehakaho Waste, a spiritual elder with the Oglala Sioux tribe, told the AP: “The president needs to open his eyes. We’re people, too, and it was our land first.”
A total of 15 people were arrested after refusing to leave the road.
A group of Black Lives Matter (BLM) protesters in Washington, DC, has marked July 4 by trampling the U.S. flag before setting it on fire, while arguing that the U.S. state symbol represents “slavery, genocide and war.”
Footage that shows protesters mocking the U.S. flag began making rounds online on Saturday evening.
One of the videos, filmed at a square outside the White House, an area which was officially named ‘Black Lives Matter Plaza’ in wake of the protests, shows a young black woman dancing on the U.S. flag sprawled on the ground, as another female protester with a megaphone in her hand can be heard shouting: “F*** the 4th of July. F*** the American flag. That’s what we are saying.”
Another video shows the woman, who does the chanting, being confronted by a man, wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the name of Jesus.
“What does the American flag represent?” the woman asks, prompting him to respond: “America. Every citizen that lives in America.” The protester with a megaphone then goes on to argue that the banner is a symbol of slavery, saying, “it was built on the back of slaves.”
Other videos show protesters stomping on the flag and preparing to set it alight.
Protesters rejoice at the banner finally catching fire, and then begin chanting as guided by one of the group’s leaders: “We knew what this flag represents: One, two, three, four, – slavery, genocide and war, – five, six, seven, eight, – America was never great.”
The torching stunt had been touted as a “flag burning challenge” and was reportedly organized by the Revolutionary Communist Party, or RevCom.
While the flag went up in flames to the cheers from the public, some protesters were apparently not on board with the idea. As the same group attempted to burn a number of hand-sized American flags, they were confronted by fellow activists, arguing that such an action would pay right into the hands of the Trump administration.
“We refuse to celebrate”
Other media reports said:
Not all Americans are kicking back to watch fireworks to celebrate independence this holiday weekend.
Amid thousands of protests against police brutality and a pandemic that has disproportionately ravaged communities of color, many people spent the Fourth of July drawing attention to what they say is a hypocritical celebration of freedom.
Protesters held rallies, marches and sit-ins Saturday in Chicago, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and more than a dozen other U.S. cities and towns.
On Friday, protesters blocked a highway leading up to Mount Rushmore, where President Donald Trump was scheduled to speak. Police used pepper spray and arrested the protesters, who argue the land in which the monument lies on – Black Hills – was seized from the Lakota Sioux by the U.S. government in the 1800s, and that the Trump administration opposes the interests of Native Americans and other minority groups.
On Saturday in the nation’s capital, where Trump planned to host hundreds of people at the White House for music and fireworks, organizers led several demonstrations across the city amid the 90-degree heat. Dozens of veterans marched in support of Black lives near the National Mall. Some organizers camped out in tents along Black Lives Matter Plaza.
Kerrigan Williams, co-founder of Freedom Fighters D.C. helped lead a “Juliberation” march through the city’s Northwest neighborhoods.
The Independence Day holiday “doesn’t really mean anything when Black people weren’t free on July 4th and those same liberties weren’t afforded to us,” said Williams, who has been co-organizing marches in the city for at least three weeks.
“We’re still marching for the same things.”
Williams, who grew up in Houston, said she used to mark the Fourth of July with family cookouts. But thoughts of her enslaved ancestors always lingered in the back of her mind. The family’s real celebration, Williams said, was on Juneteenth, a holiday commemorating June 19, 1865, when Galveston, Texas, finally got the news that President Abraham Lincoln had freed enslaved people in rebel states two and a half years earlier.
Amy Yeboah, a professor of Africana Studies at Howard University, joined dozens of law students for an eight-hour sit-in outside the Supreme Court.
“We’re honoring Black women – the lives that have been lost to police brutality – but also the blind eye that America has to the injustices that face Black women,” Yeboah said, invoking the names of Breonna Taylor, Rekia Boyd and Aiyana Jones, who were fatally shot by police.
“This being the celebration of independence, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, I’ll be talking about how these are not things Black women have been given the space to celebrate,” Yeboah said. “Their justice is still being considered.”
In Chicago, hundreds gathered downtown Saturday afternoon for a rally and march through the streets. Dozens more were marching in neighborhoods across the city.
Rabbi Michael Ben Yosef, an activist and South Side resident who organized the downtown protest, said he grew up celebrating the Fourth of July with family, watching fireworks and having barbecues. As he grew older, started his studies, experienced police brutality and lost a nephew to gun violence, that all began to change.
“Independence for people of color has not been part of our livelihood. We’re constantly murdered, harassed because of police brutality all over the country. The concept of freedom does not seem to come to our doorstep, even though we’ve been here 400 years,” Yosef said. “We look it as an abomination to recognize anything that comes with the Fourth of July.”
Yosef said event-goers planned to take a knee in silence for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in memory of George Floyd. A violinist was also expected to play the Black national anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Yosef had prepared a banner for the march bearing the face of abolitionist Frederick Douglass and his famous words – “What to the slave is the Fourth of July?”
The quote comes from a July 5, 1852, address that Douglass gave at an Independence Day celebration in Rochester, New York. “Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common,” he said. “This Fourth July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.”
In Brooklyn, New York, activists held a “Confronting July 4th” march and rally to honor Black and indigenous activists, saying they “refuse to celebrate the whitewashing of this country.”
Jo Macellaro, who helped to organize the event, said Douglass’ words still ring true, more than 160 years later.
“So much of it is still relevant,” Macellaro said. “What does the Fourth of July mean to people who are still oppressed, marginalized – who don’t have all the freedoms we’re supposed to have in this country?”
In Los Angeles, dozens gathered for a “Farce of July” march and caravan. In Seattle, organizers hosted a “4th the Culture” day of performances celebrating black lives. In Pittsburgh, where pro-Trump groups held a boat parade to celebrate Independence Day, dozens of protesters – many dressed in black – gathered along the marina and nearby bridge, chanting “no KKK, no fascist USA.”
Many more protests were planned in Atlanta, Boston, Cleveland, Honolulu, Detroit, Newark, New York City, Orlando, Houston, San Francisco and Philadelphia. But not all of the protests were taking place in the nation’s largest cities.
About 100 people gathered at a park in Tallahassee, Florida, Saturday morning to march to the Historic Capitol as a protest against police misconduct. The group shouted “enough is enough” and “say their names; too many!” as well as several other chants as some held their fists in the air.
Des Moines Black Lives Matter protesters congregated at the Iowa State Capitol for a demonstration led by Black and Indigenous activists calling for the removal of “monuments to white supremacy” in Iowa.
In Stone Mountain Park, Georgia – home to a massive carving of Gen. Robert E. Lee, Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson on horseback – about 175 people, all wearing black, held a “peaceful march,” according to police.
In Salem, Oregon, a portion of downtown was closed Saturday for a Black Lives Matter Solidarity Rally. The event, coordinated by Salem Community Organizers, was expected to draw up to 1,000 people, City of Salem officials said Thursday.
In Brazil, Indiana, immigrant advocates gathered outside the Clay County Courthouse Saturday afternoon to urge authorities to suspend immigration enforcement and release federal detainees held at the jail there. The protest began around 10 a.m. in Indianapolis before a caravan made its way to Brazil.
Artists nationwide were advocating a similar message over the weekend through a public art performance called “In Plain Sight.” The project used sky typing – writing in the sky using water vapor released from planes – to spell artist-created messages at 80 immigration detention facilities, immigration courts, former internment camps and other landmarks.
Many protest organizers said they planned to ask participants to social distance, wear masks and use hand sanitizer to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Some said that medical personnel would also be handing out facemasks.
History of Independence Day demonstrations
The U.S. has a long history of Independence Day demonstrations.
In 1854, abolitionists including William Lloyd Garrison, Sojourner Truth and Henry David Thoreau held a rally in Framingham, Massachusetts, where Garrison burned copies of the Fugitive Slave Law and the U.S. Constitution.
From 1965 to 1968, gay rights activists picketed outside Independence Hall in Philadelphia. In 1976, prisoners at the Marion, Illinois, federal penitentiary staged a hunger strike against their inhumane treatment there. In 1986, after the Supreme Court upheld a Georgia statute that largely criminalized homosexual activity, activists protested in New York City.
More recently, in 2013, following revelations about NSA mass surveillance programs, Restore the Fourth, a nonprofit supporting the Fourth Amendment, held rallies in dozens of cities.
In 2018, Patricia Okoumou climbed the Statue of Liberty to protest the detention of migrant children.
Trump’s angry words darken US July 4th weekend
An AFP report said:
The U.S. marked its Independence Day in a somber mood, and an angry speech from President Donald Trump have cast a shadow over what normally are festive celebrations.
Across the country, Main Street parades have been canceled, backyard barbecues scaled down, and family reunions put off amid worries about spreading the virus on a day when Americans typically celebrate their 1776 declaration of independence from Britain.
Fireworks displays are typically a high point of the holiday, but an estimated 80 percent of the events, including in cities like Indianapolis, Atlanta and Nashville, have been canceled this year.
Some locales are urging people to watch fireworks from their cars.
But other Americans, weary of lockdowns or simply defiant, carry on as if the deadly pandemic were a thing of the past.
Officials in Washington have discouraged residents from massing on the National Mall for the capital’s fireworks display.
Trump, fresh from his appearance Friday on Mount Rushmore, plans to take in Saturday’s “Salute to America” in Washington, complete with military music and flyovers, from a White House balcony.
He and his wife, Melania, released a video message wishing Americans “a very, very happy Fourth of July.”
Trump was optimistic on virus trends that have health officials deeply concerned. “We got hit with this terrible plague from China,” he said, “and now we are getting close to fighting our way out of it.”
Trump’s address at the Washington festivities will pay tribute to health care workers, police and the military, White House spokesman Judd Deere told AFP.
Social distancing would be observed, he added — in contrast to the practice at Mount Rushmore.
While presidents’ July 4th speeches traditionally are uplifting affairs that emphasize patriotism and national unity, Trump in South Dakota angrily lashed out at protests that have erupted since unarmed African American George Floyd was killed by police.
Facing a tough re-election battle in November and eager to mobilize his political base, Trump denounced “violent mayhem” on US streets, though most demonstrations have been peaceful, and accused protesters of waging “a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values, and indoctrinate our children.”
Trump seeks `garden’ of U.S. heroes
An AP President Trump has a vision for his second term, if he wins one, of establishing a “National Garden of American Heroes” that will pay tribute to some of the most prominent figures in U.S. history, a collection of “the greatest Americans to ever live.”
His idea, conveyed in a speech Friday night at Mount Rushmore and expanded on in an executive order, comes as elected officials and institutions are reckoning with whether it is appropriate to continue to honor people, including past presidents, who benefited from slavery or espoused racist views, with monuments or buildings and streets named after them.
The group of 30-plus features Founding Fathers and presidents, civil rights pioneers and aviation innovators, explorers and generals.
Absent from Trump’s initial list are any Native American, Hispanic or Asian-American individuals. The White House and Interior Department declined to comment on how the list was assembled.
To be certain, the monument is far from a done deal and Trump’s plan could be dashed if presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden denies him a second term in November or Congress balks at allocating funding for the project.
Trump’s list includes George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr., all already represented on or near the National Mall in Washington, along with Susan B. Anthony, Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, Frederick Douglass, Amelia Earhart, Billy Graham, Douglas MacArthur, Christa McAuliffe, Jackie Robinson, Betsy Ross, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Harriet Tubman, Booker T. Washington and Orville and Wilbur Wright.
But Trump also is looking to put an ideological stamp on the idea of American greatness with the inclusion of conservative stalwart Antonin Scalia, the late Supreme Court Justice.
Trump in recent weeks has repeatedly condemned the desecration and toppling of historic statues by demonstrators during protests over racial injustice and police brutality following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Trump’s executive order says the garden should open before July 4, 2024, and he leaves it up to a federal task force to make recommendations about the use of federal money and a proposed site. The order specifies “a site of natural beauty” that is near at least one major population center.
The order says priority should be given to monuments to former presidents, to individuals and events relating to the discovery of America, the founding of the United States, and the abolition of slavery. “None will have lived perfect lives, but all will be worth honoring, remembering, and studying,” according to the order.
The order includes language to make clear that non-U.S. citizens who played significant roles in American history also could be honored in the garden.
As examples of individuals who made substantive contributions to America’s public life or otherwise had a substantive effect on America’s history, it cites: Italian explorer Christopher Columbus; Junipero Serra, a Roman Catholic priest who established Spanish missions in California; and the Marquis de La Fayette, a French officer who fought in the American Revolutionary War.
A statue of Columbus, who has been criticized for brutal treatment of Native Americans, was removed this past week from outside the city hall in Columbus, Ohio. Last month, protesters toppled a statue of Serra in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Some historians say that Serra, who was canonized by the Catholic Church, had a mixed history that included him acting as an agent of the Spanish Empire’s colonization efforts in the 18th Century.
Trump on Friday again lashed out against a “left-wing cultural revolution” that he says is teaching American children “that the men and women who built” the country “were not heroes, but that were villains.”
“The radical view of American history is a web of lies — all perspective is removed, every virtue is obscured, every motive is twisted, every fact is distorted, and every flaw is magnified until the history is purged and the record is disfigured beyond all recognition,” Trump said.
The world’s largest Confederate monument faces renewed calls for removal
A Reuters report said:
Stone Mountain Confederate Memorial, a nine-story-high bas-relief sculpture carved into a sprawling rock face northeast of Atlanta, is perhaps the South’s most audacious monument to its pro-slavery legacy still intact.
Despite long-standing demands for the removal of what many consider a shrine to racism, the giant depiction of three Confederate heroes on horseback still towers ominously over the Georgia countryside, protected by state law.
The monument – which reopens on Independence Day weekend has faced renewed calls for removal since the May 25 killing of George Floyd, a Black man who died during an arrest by a white police officer who pinned his neck to the ground with a knee.
“Here we are in Atlanta, the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement and still we have the largest Confederate monument in the world,” said Gerald Griggs, a vice president of the Atlanta chapter of the NAACP civil rights group, which staged a march last week calling for the carving to be scraped from the mountainside. “It’s time for our state to get on the right side of history.”
The sheer scale of the monument makes its removal a daunting task to contemplate. Longer than a 100-yard American football field, it features the likenesses of Jefferson Davis, the president of the 11-state Confederacy, and two of its legendary military leaders, Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, notched in a relief 400 feet above ground.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans is an organization that staunchly defends Stone Mountain and other Confederate statues and emblems. Dedicated to teaching the “Southern Cause,” according to its website, it believes their removal is akin to purging American history.
The Southern or “Lost Cause of the Confederacy” holds that the war was fought over a heroic, but lost, effort to defend states’ rights to secede from the Union in the face of Northern aggression, rather than the preservation of slavery.
Martin O’Toole, an official of the Georgia chapter, said the monument is not a totem of racism at all. It’s history, plain and simple, he says.
“It’s three men on horses,” O’Toole said. “What’s racist about that?”
Maurice J. Hobson, an associate professor of African American Studies at Georgia State University, counters this, describing the Southern Cause as “a false history” that downplays slavery’s role in the Civil War.
He said the Confederate leaders were traitors to the U.S.s who fought to hold onto a Southern economy that depended on slavery.
All three men featured on the monument, Davis, Lee and Jackson, were slave owners.
“The whole of Stone Mountain was erected to show what some white Georgians revered,” he said.
Stone Mountain has long held symbolism for white supremacists. The Ku Klux Klan (KKK), a hate group that was formed by Confederate Army veterans and has a history of lynchings and terror against Black people, held its rebirth ceremony atop mountain in 1915 with flaming crosses. Klansmen still hold occasional gatherings in the shadows of the edifice, albeit now met with protesters behind police tape. Many of those cross-burnings took place on or around July 4.
The monolithic monument was proposed more than a century ago and had numerous false starts over the years.
But with the rise of the Civil Rights Movement, segregationist officials in the state pushed for the creation the Stone Mountain Memorial Association in 1958 and purchased the park. The carving was completed in 1972.
“This debate has been going on for years, and we’re sensitive to it,” John Bankhead, a spokesman for the group, said. “We want to tell history as it is, not as some say it is.”
In the past, others have suggested putting more balance into the monument. There was a proposal to build a memorial to Martin Luther King Jr, the Atlanta-based civil rights icon, but the Sons of Confederate Veterans, as well the King family, rejected the idea.
Even though that idea floundered, Hobson advocates adding more carvings to the rock face, including African American historical figures and civil rights leaders.
“It needs to be put in a context that forces a conversation, a serious conversation,” he said. “The easiest way to rectify it, is surround it.”
Griggs of the NAACP said that the civil rights group has consulted with stone masons who said it would cost about $300,000 to $400,000 to remove the towering images.
“Take it down,” he said. “Restore the mountain to its original condition.”