Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – A Santa Fe man spent most of his weekend chained to the obelisk at the center of Santa Fe’s historic Plaza in protest of a monument seen by many as a symbol of oppression and genocide.
Wearing a T-shirt with “Tear it down” written in red letters on the front, the man said he attached himself to what was originally erected in 1868 as a soldiers’ monument in order “to bring attention and bring momentum to remove a racist monument on Indigenous Peoples Day.”
The man perched on a narrow ledge at the base of the obelisk, who identified himself only as “Red,” said he had been there since around 11 a.m. Saturday. Asked how long he planned to stay locked to the monument with a heavy chain and a bicycle lock around his neck, he said, “As long as it takes, but at this point we’re excited about Monday.”
Santa Fe police said the man was trespassing and violating the city park’s 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew.
Capt. Matthew Champlin of the Santa Fe Police Department said Sunday afternoon that police were evaluating the situation “hour by hour” and hadn’t decided what to do.
“How it’s going to end has yet to be determined,” he said.
Although the monument was erected to recognize Union soldiers who fought Civil War battles in New Mexico, one side of its base was inscribed with words honoring the “heroes” who died in battles with “savage” Indians. An unidentified indigenous man chiseled out the word “savage” in 1974.
Speaking through a mask with “Honor Tewa Voices” written across the front, the man said his act of civil disobedience was separate from the peaceful demonstration going on around the monument. A coalition of groups was holding a three-day demonstration culminating with an Indigenous Peoples Day rally at noon on Monday. The coalition wants Mayor Alan Webber to follow through on his vow to have the obelisk removed.
“These pieces speculate and glorify a lot of the genocide in our history and its still celebrated,” said Autumn Billie, co-founder of Three Sisters Collective, a women-based non-profit that advocates for indigenous causes. “We’re tired of being dismissed and tokenized.”
Demonstrators stood silently around the obelisk on a beautiful fall Sunday morning holding signs reading “No more broken promises” and, using the mayor’s own words against him, “It’s time to stop celebrating conquest.”
In June, Webber called for three monuments within blocks of one another downtown to be removed. They were the obelisk in front of the Palace of the Governors that serves as the centerpiece to the city’s Plaza, another obelisk in front of the federal courthouse honoring Kit Carson and a statute of Don Diego de Vargas, who led the resettlement of Santa Fe 12 years after the Pueblo Revolt of 1680.
Webber had the de Vargas statue removed from a city park. The other two are more complicated. The Kit Carson obelisk is on federal land. The Plaza is city-owned but is also a National Historic Landmark, and federal funding tied to park improvements granted decades ago raise legal concerns for the city about removing the monument.