The affinity group arrived just in time with a sack full of tools. It was filled with sledge hammers, pickaxes, and climbing rope. We were speed walking, trying not to run, down 11th onto campus. As we approached the statue, hundreds of our comrades streamed out from in front of Deady Hall, most dressed in black with bandannas over their faces.
We were all gathered for a teach in, hosted by the BIPOC Liberation Collective, to discuss the systemic racism and genocide at the roots of Oregon’s history. Rousing speeches were given elaborating on the violent dispossession of Indigenous people’s land, with specifics offered on the Kalapuya – the original inhabitants of the Southern Willamette Valley. As the last speaker finished, they awkwardly announced that there was a “demonstration” that would be happening just a few hundred yards away, and encouraged everyone to join.
As we approached the Pioneer statue, that same speaker, one of BLC organizers, was leading a march of hundreds, reminding the crowd of what seems to be our motto of late: “Stay Together, Stay Tight.” We unceremoniously dumped the bag at the statue’s base, and in seconds there were folks tying ropes around its neck and chest. Hundreds of community members grabbed the ends of the ropes proffered by the knot-tiers.
And with a bang, and a collective gasp of surprise… it was done. After decades of organizing by students, faculty, professors and community members, BIPOC activists successfully removed the most controversial symbol in the city — a sculpture explicitly created to celebrate white supremacy and the removal and murder of indigenous peoples.
After some deliberation about what to do with the relic — the group collectively decided to deposit on the steps of the administrative building. And then we were off.
“Let’s get the mother!” Cried one of the protesters.
They were of course referring to the Pioneer’s counterpart, the Pioneer Mother. The crowd surged down the path and began the process over again, all the while chanting “No cops, no KKK, no racist USA:” in a glorious expression of love and rage. At this point, it was all I could do not to laugh hysterically with the joy that this collective action brought coursing through my body.
With a crack and a shudder, we dethroned the pioneer mother, who throughout my time at the cursed U of O always seemed to be chiding me that a better future wasn’t possible. Adrenaline fueled protesters were swinging pickaxes at the podium she had sat on – the original Karen.
As I write this, I can still feel the adrenaline from the action, and the disbelief that after years all it took was ten minutes and some rope to remove those fucking statues. As our forebears used to say: “Direct action gets the goods.”
EDITORS NOTE: The BIPOC Liberation Collective was not responsible for the removal of the statues. The removal of statues was an independent action by local BIPOC activists.