Coming on the heels of terrorism in South Carolina —and the surprising number of Southern politicians calling for the Confederate battle flag
and others to be removed from state premises — is a tide
of related flag burnings. (Black churches are also being burned
Chicago Rising, a flag-burning group in Illinois, wrote
, "But this is not just about Charleston. ... This is about an end to the celebration of systemic racism that has been held up as an icon of our national history. ... This is for those that would take up that symbol and bring about destruction on the lives and properties of blacks and [other] minorities.
"To these bigots we have a simple message. You are right, we are taking your country. And you are never getting it back."
Locally, a Confederate-flag burning is scheduled for Manitou Springs' Soda Springs Park at 1 p.m. this Independence Day, with a barbecue to follow.
I spoke with organizer and 32-year-old Manitou resident Patricia Cameron
about the event. Cameron works in healthcare, is active in local politics, and is the main voice behind the Twitter account ThisIsSoCo
The following has been edited for content and clarity.
Independent: So, what's planned for that day right now?
The plan is a peaceful protest. It looks like some fellow activists, friends, those involved in politics in Denver and the surrounding areas are going to come down. And it's simply us getting together and reiterating the fact that black lives in fact matter. And we're calling for unity, and the struggle here is the Confederate flag not being one of unity — obviously, if this is one nation, there's not going to be multiple flags, especially one that has a racist quote-unquote heritage — so we want to unite under one flag. And we're actually going to light the [other] flag on fire.
Is this in response to a local frustration, or is this more a furthering of the larger movement?
I think what you hit upon is a variety of things that youth in Colorado Springs feel, more so than other metropolitan areas, Boulder or Denver for instance.
And we'll start with, one, is our virtual disconnect from national news and national issues, to the point where it's almost assumed that we do not care. And if you look at the last election, and you look at the voter drive and the desire to get the youth out, this is one way of showing the youth different ways of involving themselves and having civic duty, and it gets them fired up for politics.
Secondly, I think it's important to show people how to properly observe your right to protest. And the reason why we picked a day that's incredibly visible and has symbolism for the country is, of course, one nation, July 4; and then secondly, because it looks as if protest spaces have been dictated by outsiders: when you can protest, how you can protest. We don't advocate for violence at all — we're all about peaceful protest and engaging dialogue. But the point is protest is a right and not a privilege, and when you start dictating how you do so it becomes a privilege. And I don't believe in the Bill of Privileges, it's the Bill of Rights.
And then thirdly, I wouldn't say it's a reaction necessarily to recent events. The Confederate flag has long been offensive to minorities, especially Blacks. So, you can say that seeing a killer advertise the Confederate flag in his pictures can add flame to that fire, so to speak, almost literally, but this is honestly something I've grown up with — and that's been more like a distrust when I see that. I almost immediately, and most people I've spoken to, associate it with somebody who is a bigot.
And where did you grow up?
I'm a military child, but I would definitely put it in [Washington,] D.C. if I had to pick a place.
Have you heard from any critics of the flag burning?
Oh, of course. Yeah, I had my life threatened. I've been called the N-word on my public Instagram. I've been accosted for burning the flag and told that I am just as racist as those I believe who fly it, because I don't know my history about the Confederate flag; even when presented with the documents when the Confederacy seceded from the Union, and actually knowing my history, I'm still confronted with the fact that I'm ignoring the heritage part of the Confederate flag. But that is not what I'm ignoring.
That's not the part that bothers me, and if you're proud to be a Southerner, I understand that. But the Confederacy made
to maintain an economy based on slavery. So, heritage aside, you can imagine when a Black American sees that, what heritage do I think of? So, while respecting your heritage, respect mine, and historically that flag has meant danger to me.
What kind of limitations to protest have you encountered?
I've spent a lot of time protesting outside of Colorado Springs. We're treated differently here, and the response is different here, and then with the NAACP thing
going on, it's a different community. For instance, in other metropolitan areas, the protest spaces aren't designated by those in opposition to the protest. For instance, in Denver, the protesters are escorted [by police], which I think is an amazing juxtaposition of law enforcement agencies and people having issues with trusting them, and then them escorting. I love that combination there.
I fear in Colorado Springs, especially with the response, instead of responding to what we're protesting, it's been, "Well, why are you doing this on this day? And why are you doing it here? And what if my children see this?" And, "You're just inciting violence by having a protest." And there's all of these different requirements for what people think is appropriate for protesting. And almost my biggest priority is to demonstrate that the right to protest is the right to protest appropriately at any time and in any place.
Do you think these issues are getting appropriate attention in Colorado Springs media?
No, I don't. I've been saying something similar since I've been here — I've been here off and on since 1995 — and it is a complaint that is not singularly from myself; it's echoed from a lot of the youth, and I'm not talking liberals or just progressives.
It seems as if Colorado Springs is geared towards almost the older crowd. And even when we had the Rock the Vote
, it was for youth but [only young] business people. So, it seems as if there's a group of people in Colorado Springs that contribute to the economy, that pay taxes and drive up and down these streets — they have vested interest in this city, but they don't have a connection to the outside of Colorado Springs, which can be detrimental when it comes to relationships with your peers and with your neighbors and with the media.
How would you describe the cultural environment for African-Americans in Manitou Springs and Colorado Springs?
So, I picked Manitou Springs specifically because I'm so proud of Manitou Springs. And outside of anything that has to do with race, when Manitou flooded, we rebuilt, we dug out, and this was before we had federal funds. This town — we know each other very well. Everyone knows my son. Everyone knows me. It's a wonderful town that's incredibly open to everyone. I've never felt, for the most part, like I feel when I drive up north, occasionally, and go to a yoga class. And it's not just because I'm familiar; it's because Manitou doesn't look twice. We see some people there in a variety of dress and appearance, but Manitou is incredibly accepting.
And so how have you found Colorado Springs to be?
In Colorado Springs, I see opposite. I see the sharp dichotomy in the people. You go down south, and I'm surrounded by people that look more like me, and specifically there are more minorities, but simultaneously [Mayor John] Suthers will talk down on them and label them as criminals.
And then you go up north, because it makes sense — you have different shopping centers proliferating up there, and even the landscaping is different — but still, when I go up there, I still get a look like they're surprised that I'm there. And I get that same look when I go skiing, or I get that same look when I'm in short shorts in the cold: It's the stereotypes associated with being a black American. But I definitely feel it when I go to certain parts of Colorado Springs, and at times
it feels very negative and almost aggressive, that I'm violating a space.
Do you think there are similar issues here as those that spurred protest in places like Ferguson and Baltimore?
I would hesitate to say "similar," because all of the situations are microcosms of a greater issue. And being from Washington, D.C., I understood Baltimore a little bit differently than some people who hadn't been there, because Baltimore has been living in devastation for years and years, and it's collapsing on itself.
And it's the same reason why I look at [the Springs'] southeast and I say we have to hurry and take care of this now, because it can only get worse, and it's going to be harder to fix it then.
So, Baltimore's a different situation, and so is Ferguson. Anyone coming out of Ferguson will talk to you about intense racial relations for years there. But although this is part of a greater scheme of things, each area has its different context. So, I think that comparing Colorado Springs, or Colorado in general, to that isn't necessarily fair. But there's an undercurrent of racial tension that exists in America, of course.
Are there any things you would like to see done differently by Colorado Springs city government?
I'd love to see more youth and diversity in Colorado Springs city government. I'd like to see them actively reaching out. I'd like to see them creating more programs that are with the times. There's Periscope
: You could have somebody out there just randomly live-stream while they're out in a government office — something that appeals to young people. And I don't think there's a concentrated effort for that. And certainly during the last election, even when you saw Jariah [Walker] lose and it was surprising, there's just not enough effort to get diversity in Colorado Springs.
And it may be asking too much, because you look at the numbers, and this isn't the most diverse town. But what I love about Colorado Springs is it has so much potential, because everyone's here — outside of, of course, the military — because they love this place, and we love the mountains and we love everything about it. So, we have that in common. I'd like for us all to work on that.
Does anything else come to mind?
I definitely want to focus on the fact that this is truly a protest of unity. And we picked July 4 because it's the day of our nation's independence and we want to show one flag. We want to eliminate the division; we want to symbolize eliminating the division; and we want to show a multi-cultural group coming together.
There's a lot of talk about how much people dislike America and et cetera, but the greatest critics are those that believe in this country. And I 100 percent do.