By Lauryn Azu
Over 100 people gathered at the Wisconsin State Capitol on Monday to protest and march down State Street and into Library Mall organized by the grassroots community organizing group, Link.
Fervor and turnout for this protest were sparked by the Sunday night police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, about two hours away from Madison. Blake is in critical condition after Kenosha police officers shot him at least seven times from behind at point-blank range. His father reported that he is now paralyzed from the waist down.
However, Link organized this event before the news of Blake’s shooting broke and presented a list of 13 demands addressing what they view as Madison and the University of Wisconsin-Madison‘s demonstrated racist history.
Link has been hosting events in the Madison community since late spring when the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor ignited many nights of protest in Madison. Their work centers on giving Black people a voice and supporting those experiencing homelessness.
“We saw the disorganization happening in the streets, and we wanted to guide the energy a little bit,” Maria Tran, an organizer with Link, said.
They spread the word on their social media pages, but Monday’s march seemed to draw a more organic crowd that organizers repeatedly proclaimed was significantly larger than their recent events.
“Every day I’m reminded on social media, on TV, from the newspapers, from word of mouth, that there is Black trauma that is going on everywhere,” protester Markeith Williams-Lawrence said.
Williams-Lawrence said he has been out with Link nearly every day this summer. In the spaces Link facilitates, they say Black people can feel comfortable processing the trauma they experience in song and in speech with support from their community.
Organizers want Madison’s white residents and students to continue the momentum for the movement even after it doesn’t trend on social media. Passerbys, spectators from porches and restaurant-goers were caught off guard when protesters called them out for passively supporting them and not joining in. Meanwhile, State Street restaurateurs and shop owners reinstalled plywood over glass windows that had been removed.
Protesters decried the Madison Police Department’s troubled record with local activists and the Black community. Link’s demands include calls to free fellow activists and for the MPD to fire and convict Matt Kinny, the police officer that killed Tony Robinson five years ago.
More pertinent to the UW-Madison community are demands to remove the statue of Abraham Lincoln and Chamberlin Rock. Wisconsin Black Student Union President Nalah McWhorter addressed her concerns in a speech at the protest.
“I’m standing here in complete sadness over where the world is at today. I’m from Racine, Wisconsin. Jacob Blake, who was shot yesterday, was from Racine, Wisconsin…it’s sad, it hits close to home,” McWhorter said.
She also told the crowd that Chancellor Blank told her organization that she would not even debate the removal of Lincoln.
“We have people in power who don’t care because it won’t hurt their pockets,” McWhorter said.
“It’s something to be said that performative actions aren’t going to be enough,” Williams-Lawrence said. “It’s not going to be enough to just paint rainbow flags on your police cars, it’s not going to be enough to allow us to paint signs on State Street. If people want a statue removed, it’s up to you to listen to the people.”
“I just happened to be out walking, I didn’t realize this was happening today, but the moment I got here I just stopped and its been an hour and a half,” UW-Madison student Lindsay Dyjach said.
The crowd grew even larger when it reached Library Mall and protesters’ message spread on the loudspeaker.
As for Link, the group is continuing to make their presence known in Madison by organizing events.
“We just want to empower people and bring actual change. We understand that students at UW have been fighting so long, and we want to uplift that,” Tran said. “That’s why we came here, to use what connections we had and merge with their connections, so it’s just one big community.”
Photo Credit: Lauryn Azu.