A still-hollow promise to remove a controversial monument from the Santa Fe Plaza echoed loud and clear Saturday afternoon.
Mayor Alan Webber said in June he intended to call for the removal of the obelisk in the center of the Plaza, which is dedicated to “heroes” who died in battle with “savage Indians,” because the action is “the right thing to do” and “long overdue.”
Now activists are fed up that the monument has made it to Indigenous Peoples Day weekend.
A news release from protest organizers said they plan to occupy the Plaza through Monday.
“The three-day occupation leading up to Indigenous Peoples’ Day seeks the liberation of Indigenous peoples from all forms of colonialism,” the release said. “Including the removal of racist monuments and an end to the continued, systematic oppression of Indigenous communities.”
On Saturday, the protesters’ message was on display.
Women in masks that said “listen to Tewa Women,” in reference to the original occupants of present day Santa Fe, held signs that read “land back,” “It’s time to stop celebrating conquest” and “this monument erases indigenous history and peoples.”
Two activists identifying as white allies to the Indigenous-led protest used bike locks and chains to lock themselves to the obelisk.
“This is supposed to be a representation of what white ally-ship has become,” said one of the chained activists who declined to provide a name. “As much as we want to hold signs, we’re still chained to the racist monoliths that hold us back.”
The activists chained to the obelisk said they were prepared to stay overnight and “as long as it takes” for Webber to remove the monument.
At 10 p.m. Saturday, Webber and around 10 police officers approached a handful of demonstrators sitting on the obelisk and pleaded with them to come down. After the demonstrators refused, Webber did not rule out forcefully removing them.
"My understanding is I cannot just unilaterally take down the obelisk. One of the reasons the statue of Don Diego was removed was public safety. Two days before, there had been a shooting involving a statue," Webber said, referring to a statue of Don Diego de Vargas that was removed from Cathedral Park in June a few days after a protester was shot at a protest in Albuquerque.
"There isn't a statue on any side of this debate that's worth a human life."
The protest intentionally disrupted some tourists’ Saturday afternoon on the Plaza as demonstrators extended a basket to ask Texans to directly donate to their cause instead of buying culturally appropriated art and knockoff jewelry. Organizers also passed out pamphlets with a timeline of the obelisk from the vote to erect it in 1866 to a failed measure to remove it in 1973 to Webber’s latest promise.
“I think it’s great how they’re out here educating people on this history,” said 20-year-old Candida Lucero, a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation visiting Santa Fe from Oklahoma, who happened to be walking by the protest.
“There seems to be a lot of political these days. You would think removing an offensive monument like this would be something that would be easy for all of us to get behind.”