Despite the looming stress of finals on the minds of many students, this Friday they came together with Southern Oregon University staff and community members to express their disgust with racial issues in Ashland. The protesters of all ages and colors came together in solidarity behind the idea that “We are taking action because, as we see it, things have not changed much [since a previous march that occurred a year ago].” Issues of race have been flooding the national news, with events like those that occurred at Mizzou and a racial discrimination lawsuit filed against St. Mary’s College in California. Racial issues have also hit home with series of racist comments on SOU Yik-Yak.
While still organizing themselves outside the Stevenson Union, before even starting their march, protestors were faced with opposition. A vocal, young man, later identified as Daniel, came up to the protestors questioning their knowledge of what they were even marching for saying that he found that people just want to protest(no matter the cause) and “people can be ignorant sometimes.” Several protesters respectfully dismissed Daniel, SOU English professor Dr. Alma Rosa Alvarez explained “we would be happy to have a conversation with you,” but rightnow is not an appropriate time for that talk. Daniel accepted the protestors requests and walked away.
The group refocused; they distributed signs, went over the game plan, practiced their chants and then began their walk through campus. Marchers believed in their cause, but it was off to a rocky start as they were unsure of the exact wording of the chants. While protesters stopped outside of Churchill, splitting into two groups, they were surprised to see president Roy Saigo standing with the crowd. Ashante Ankofa Foree, a major activist figure on campus and the main event organizer, then went over final instructions before the protesters set out on their journey through the streets of Ashland.
Making their way downtown protesters chanted, “Feeling Uncomfortable? Good you’re learning”, “Black Lives Matter” and “The people united will never be divided”. The group was greeted with many different reactions. Some passersby just watched and stared, others held up the black power symbol or a peace sign. Of course there was honking (both supportive and out of annoyance) as the protestors crossed Siskiyou Blvd at every crosswalk between the SOU campus and downtown Ashland, up to three times at the one intersection.
Ashante was particularly touched by a Jackson County Fuel Committee member who came outside the nonprofit’s office and handed out both white and milk chocolate bars to the protestors.
One student protester said, “I was a little wary about coming to this protest but I am so grateful I did because I meet great people and fought for an important cause.”
Another protester reflected, “When we were walking downtown, I saw three women and they gave us really disgusted looks, and I could just tell that walking around made them really uncomfortable.”
At the end of the march the protesters gathered in the Plaza downtown and listened to Foree’s closing speech. Foree announced to the protesters and passersby, “No one is willing to admit this town is racist, but at least the folks here today are willing to say that we are going to call it out.” The march lasted approximately two hours, but will have a longer impact than just that time, as it called the issue of race to the forefront of Ashland residents’ minds.