Reclaiming physical space in Black Lives Matter Protests
In Ceres, CA one spot tells two very different stories: 25 years ago, a KKK rally. In 2020, a protest against police brutality.
Ceres, Calif. is home to just over 45,000 people, according to the 2010 Census. And it’s big on farming–the city is named after the Roman goddess of agriculture.
Ceres is somewhat small, predominantly white, and this past weekend, a Black Lives Matter protest took back the space where a KKK rally took place just 25 years ago (almost to the day).
In a charming, sun-bleached gazebo on June 10, 1995, the KKK amassed a small, but intense group of white supremists. For an hour and a half, the group of about 15 spewed hatred, violence, and chanted “white power.”
This past weekend, a Black Lives Matter demonstration took place in the same spot. You can see a comparison below:
This demonstration in Ceres follows a trend we’ve been seeing with many these protests: reclamation of space.
We see Nazi salutes faced with raised fists of solidarity. Capirote cone hats against COVID-19 masks. A group of all white males confronted with a diverse bunch of peaceful protestors.
This demonstration in Ceres follows a trend we’ve been seeing with many these protests: reclamation of space. From tearing down statues of Confederate soldiers, to painting the streets with the phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’, the protests have followed a theme of occupying, reimagining, and physically changing spaces previously devoted to a different image. That image was one of racism and exclusion.
A KKK rally in Ceres is perhaps not so strange. This is farmland. Central California. While Ceres tends to lean Democrat, it’s more moderate than the rest of the state. In Stanislaus County, where Ceres is located, 45.01% of residents voted for President Donald Trump in the 2016 election to Hillary Clinton’s 46.81%. Meanwhile, the vote went 61.6% in Clinton’s favor for the state as a whole.
The fact that 25 years later the community of Ceres can reclaim the space previously used to spout hatred and racism is a powerful statement. It means revoking the narrative of racism that has perpetrated many public areas, including that gazebo, where people should feel safe. It means placing the power back into the hands of those who were made powerless by actions and attitudes of terrorist groups like the KKK.
Reclaiming physical space has always been symbolic of something bigger–the reclamation of power. The fact is that Black folks have been threatened, pushed down, and disenfranchised by white supremacy. Let’s not forget the past, but let’s look to these protests–where demonstrators passionately and gleefully trample on a past of hatred and racism–as a symbol of a better future. I hope to see more public spaces transformed to support the Black Lives Matter message. Then, hopefully we will see real, tangible changes to our society as we break down institutional racism.