NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE: Valley Erupts With Week of Black Lives Matter Protests, Marches
After George Floyd died at the hands of Minneapolis police officers May 25, protests erupted – first in the Twin Cities, then around the globe, as communities confronted why this black man – like so many before him – had been killed, how state protection can fail its citizens, why complacency persists, and why situations like this happen again and again.
In the ensuing days, protests, rallies, and marches popped up throughout the Chippewa Valley in solidarity with Black Lives Matter demonstrations around the country, which seek to bring awareness to racial injustice, systematic oppression, and police brutality faced by the black community.
The Eau Claire community masked up and flooded the streets first on Sunday, May 31. Well over a thousand people gathered in Phoenix Park to march through the streets of Eau Claire, demanding justice for Floyd and accountability for police, as well as mourning black lives lost, after Eau Claire activist Jaylin Carlson created the Facebook event just 24 hours prior.
“It’s not on a couple people, or a few people, even just this group here, to make a difference. This is on all of us. This is our community. And just because it doesn’t affect you personally does not mean it is not your problem.” –Jaylin Carlson, Eau Claire activist and protest leader
Call-and-response chants of “Say his name” and “No Justice / No Peace” rang through the streets as the march rolled through downtown toward Owen Park, where black organizers took to the bandshell, megaphones in hand, to exclaim their profound grief and anger.
“It’s not on a couple people, or a few people, even just this group here, to make a difference. This is on all of us,” Carlson said from the bandshell. “This is our community. And just because it doesn’t affect you personally does not mean it is not your problem.”
After a moment of silence, sun shining high in the sky, the rally dispersed.
Later that afternoon, an online vigil and community discussion organized by Dr. Selika Ducksworth-Lawton and Aja St. Germaine took place on Zoom and was shared live on Facebook. Participants included city elected and appointed officials, state Rep. Jodi Emerson, Eau Claire Police Chief Matt Rokus, as well as faith leaders, musicians, and more. The vigil brought together community members to talk about racial injustice and police brutality on a nationwide scale, as well as what we can do in the Chippewa Valley to nurture black lives and leaders. Poetry, songs, remarks from city officials, and an audience Q&A filled the nearly two-hour virtual gathering. Two of the participants, Rokus and City Manager Dale Peters, released a joint statement Monday, condemning institutional violence and racism.
On Monday, June 1, community members gathered again at Phoenix Park for a silent candlelight vigil honoring the memory of Floyd and mourning the ongoing loss of black lives. For the first hour, the park was completely silent. Folks brought their families, held signs, lit candles, and gathered together without speaking. As the night pressed on, little by little, people took turns addressing the crowd of about 500 from the center of the park’s labyrinth. Queer activists expressed their solidarity during Pride month, church-goers spoke of stepping up to religious leadership to make change, black children led chants. A chorus of community voices of all kinds came together to say the work is not over.
On Wednesday, June 3, Menomonie had a rally of its own at the corner of Broadway and Main Street, and spread throughout the community. Several hundred peaceful protesters showed up in solidarity. “We will continue to be loud. We will continue to speak out against racism and injustices not just when they happen, but before they happen,” organizer Jacob Doherty said in the Facebook event after the march. “We will not stop this momentum!”
Thursday evening, June 4, Eau Claire saw another community gathering in Owen Park, organized by activist Violet Kilmurray – a Memorial grad who is a state co-chair of Women’s March Wisconsin. From the bandshell, there was music, poetry, spoken word, and one by one, protesters took to the mic to speak.
Then Friday night, June 5, Eau Claire saw easily its biggest protest in recent years. Well over 2,000 community members flooded Phoenix Park for a vigil, where speakers addressed the injustices the black community has faced and how a community like Eau Claire can make a real and lasting difference when it comes to racial inequality. The event was organized by Carlson and Lawton, who both spoke at the vigil to fiery applause.
“I want to keep seeing you,” Carlson said. “I want to keep seeing you show up for your community, this community that we love. Every day. Because it only stays great if we keep making it great, and it only gets better if we keep making it better.”
Justin Vernon, who grew up in Eau Claire before forming his Grammy-winning band Bon Iver, also lent his voice to the cause, saying a relatively peaceful community like Eau Claire has an opportunity to leap ahead, in terms of addressing injustice. “We’re a community that has so much going for it,” he said. “There are so many opportunities for so many here.”
Then the massive crowd marched through Eau Claire down Barstow Street, Lake Street, and Farwell Street, over bridges, and all through town – chanting and raising their voices against complacency, against racial violence, and uplifting the names of black people killed by police. It was a climactic way to wrap up a long week of protests in the Chippewa Valley.
Organizers say more and more Black Lives Matter protests and rallies will pop up over the coming weeks. We’ll keep our ear to the ground and update VolumeOne.org as information comes in.