Last night, I attended Lexington’s city council vote to remove a number of Confederate statues from Cheapside Plaza, a town square formerly used to auction off slaves. Lives were ripped apart in that plaza, people were bought and sold like used cars, torn from their families and children and welcomed into a life of vicious manual labor for the rest of their natural days.
The statues’ presence was akin to erecting a memorial to Hitler in front of the Death Gates of Auschwitz, or placing a statue of Bin Laden in the heart of the Twin Towers’ Memorial.
As an able-bodied, fairly-intelligent individual, I have no excuse not to be politically involved. I have no children, the gym was closed, parking was free. No excuse. I was more than a little nervous—I can’t remember a time in my relatively few years where nation-wide tension has reached such a boiling point. But, of course, that is why we have to go. To fight the fears, and to conquer the domestic terror that now threatens our homes.
I wasn’t sure how the committee would vote, although I emailed my city councilperson the day before, urging her to help Kentucky take yet another step towards shedding its darkened past. With the Charlottesville horrors still filling the headlines, I headed towards City Hall, pen and notepad in hand, unsure of what waited ahead of me.
These are were my thoughts…
It’s hot as shit. Sweat is dripping down my back. Between my thighs. Sliding along my calves before I rub it off with my other foot, leaving a dirty smudge on my skin.
People are honking. It makes me nervous, but I think it’s a good thing. They seem relatively happy.
One man—missing a good portion of his front teeth, driving a red, beat-up pickup—shouts as he waits at the stoplight near us.
“Moovin’ statchues won’t change HIS-TREE!”
That’s true, so why does he care?
A pair of young white women in Converse stand in front of me. They are holding Planned Parenthood signs that proclaim “TOGETHER WE FIGHT FOR ALL.” They begin to chant.
“Black lives matter! Black lives matter! Black lives matter!” I hate chanting, and the awkwardness of a pair of pasty white, hipstery millennials is too painful for me to ignore, but it makes them happy. Soon, others join in.
I hate to say that I’m making history, that I’m a part of it now, but…aren’t I? Aren’t we all? God, that sounds so fucking pretentious.
Cops roam the crowd, guarding the doors. People have been arriving since 3:00, and the meeting didn’t start until 6:00. The vote won’t be until 8:00. City Hall is filled to capacity, they aren’t letting anyone in. Not even the girl in a wheelchair who struggles to maneuver through the crowd.
“That was a pickup truck that just honked! That was a first!” The woman behind me cannot conceal her excitement.
My mother texted me earlier today asking what was wrong. Second time in two week she’s tried to contact me. Setting aside the obvious response, I shelled out my typical “I’m good.” It didn’t seem to do much to quell her suspicions.
“You don’t sound good. When are thou going to tell me what is wrong?” It’s art thou, mother. But…for another time. Instead, I decide to let my extremist, right-wing, Christian mother know what her only daughter is up to.
“Attending a city council meeting to support the vote to remove Confederate statues from the city’s former slave auction square.”
Then, 20 minutes later…
“Are you telling me your political views? Is that part of the answer to the question? Or are you saying you are too busy?…It is easy to misunderstand and judge people if there is not clear communication. Don’t you think we should have a talk…a lot of them, really?”
No, mom. We need no talks. Less is more, where we are concerned. Let it be.
Two Golden Retrievers walk by with their human. Both dogs are leashed, but one is carrying his in his mouth, walking a few feet ahead of his owner, who holds on to the leash of the other. A nearby cop shrugs at his peers.
“He’s on a leash!”
Chants fill the intersection.
“Black lives are under attack, whadda we do? Stand up and fight back!”
“No nazis! No KKK! No fascist U-S-A!”
“We shall overcome!”
“Honk your horn! Honk your horn if you hate racism!”
“You wanna see a nazi frown? Take those racist statues down!”
An obnoxious group of neck-beard anarchists have clustered in the middle of the crowd. Dressed all in black, red bandannas tied around their necks (in case of a gas attack? I don’t know the anarchist code), they begin to scope out a pair of guys in jeans and dark blue shirts across the street.
“They’re watchin’ us,” one of them jeers. They take pictures of them with their phones—for later identification, they say.
All the people of color honk in support as they drive by. All of them.
The vote Tuesday was unanimously in favor of the statues’ relocation.
Oh God…what if they change their minds?
It smells like taco seasoning. I think it’s actually body odor. I have the worst nose.
The wind has been threatening to bring us a storm for hours, now. Periods of pale, stagnant heat, interrupted occasionally by gusts of suspiciously cold wind that smells like wet concrete.
Assuming they are running on time, they should be casting their votes any minute now. The wind is growing, promises and threats…was that a raindrop on the back of my calf? Maybe just another sweat drop…but it was cool…that would have to mean it was from another body. People are foul.
The cops have clustered near the entrance, hands resting conspicuously on their tasers. Some are scanning the crowd nervously, others are having their selfies taken with the crowd, giving out information, good-naturedly shrugging when people ask them “how much longer?”
“Take them down! Take them down! Take them down!”
More wind. Longer, this time. Colder.
The cops don’t know when the committee will cast their vote. People are still talking, voicing their opinions.
“Probably no time soon,” a young officer says, smiling.
It’s down to the last few speakers…then the council has 3 minutes each to speak, if they want. Then the vote.
Around 8:45 PM, the storm hit. Supporters ran for cover as the deluge began, taking shelter under awnings, doorways, or—in my case—under the pitifully-small eaves of City Hall.
“Alright, they’re leaving, let’s go inside.” Most of the officers leave, but one stays with us.
“Nice night out,” he smirks, as a fresh sheet of pooled water sweeps off the eaves and drenches us both. He normally works in Cardinal Hill, the part of town known by many as “Little Mexington” due to its high Hispanic population.
As the rain clears, the announcement is made: In another unanimous decision, the council voted to remove the statues.
People come out from under their signs and umbrellas and start crowding the entrance. “Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey hey, good bye!” It’s corny as fuck, but fitting.
Everyone leaving city hall is greeted with a round of applause and cheers from an audience curiously drenched, despite the lack of rain. They just missed the fall.