By Peter Cherry
On Monday, a protest was held in Schenley Park against a long-standing monument to Christopher Columbus. The Columbus statue, like many others across the United States, was the target of the people’s anger, as it is seen as a cultural symbol of this country’s racist past and present. The city, which has bureaucratically deliberated its removal, wrapped the statue in plastic to shield and protect it, but during the protest, this surface became a canvas for antiracist and anticolonial messages.
Protesters chanted, “Colonizers go to hell, it is right to rebel!” and gave speeches about the history of Columbus and the Spanish conquests. One speaker from Serve the People-PGH, a member of the Against Racist Statues PGH coalition, which organized the protest, emphasized that the defense of the statue, despite these well-documented atrocities, was linked to the increased reactionization of the state and the rise of the fascist movement that wishes to sanitize historical accounts of colonial violence. Other members of the coalition include students from the University of Pittsburgh and youth, some of whom are indigenous.
A small group of counter-protesters across the street chanting “Antwon Rose go to hell” (a reference to the Black youth murdered in 2018 by East Pittsburgh police officer Michael Rosfeld) were drowned out with chants of “Go to Hell with Columbus!” as a response.
One speaker talked about the need for revolution, organized as People’s War, to bring down not only statues but the whole imperialist system. The speaker led the crowd in chants of “Tell me what we’re fighting for! Revolution, People’s War!”
Soon the crowd started to paint messages onto the statue’s wrapping, such as “Colonizers go to hell,” “no celebration of genocide,” “murderer,” and “rapist.” At this point, Civil Affairs, a department of the police which attempts to quell protests, demanded that those painting on the statue stop. They were booed at and told to leave the protest.
One man who had been posing as a participant attempted to disrupt the protest by using the megaphone, speaking out against the call for revolution and against antagonizing the Civil Affairs police. He asked the crowd if they wanted a civil war, for which many in the crowd cheered affirmatively in response before the megaphone was taken back from him. Soon after, a line of police marched in to separate the crowd from the statue.
Just three days before the demonstration was to take place, Mayor Bill Peduto finally announced that he would agree with the Art Commission’s vote to move the statue. A temporary injunction against its removal was granted by a judge after the Italian Sons and Daughters of America filed a suit.
US imperialism’s most reactionary sectors and the fascist movements of our time are looking to defend the statutes of colonial figures more aggressively as they desperately latch on to defend the old society against those struggling for the new. A revolutionary society would promote new culture, which levels the historical artifacts of the oppressive old culture. The wave of toppling and defacing these monuments built to commemorate the genocidal history of colonialism and imperialism is part of this fight.
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