As protests in support of Eric Garner, Mike Brown, and Tamir Rice spread throughout the country, this weekend in Miami, community activists turned their disruption tactics to the biggest thing going in the city: Art Basel. On Friday night, several hundred protesters took an art-infused march to the streets, unexpectedly blocking highway traffic in the direction of the tony parties around the contemporary art fair.
Sunday afternoon, a more loose coalition of citizens, organizing via social media, aimed to capitalize on that attention and disrupt the art party once again.
A little more than 200 protesters, across a range of age from toddler to senior, marched across mainland Miami’s arts districts, jammed with people out for the last day of Basel’s unofficial fairs and gallery shows. Through chants, signs, and songs, they memorialized the lives of Garner, Brown, Rice, and Miami-area native Israel Hernandez, a teenager Tased to death by police in Miami Beach last year.
The group first gathered at the Wynwood Walls, the most popular tourist attraction in the Wynwood arts district. (It’s where you can go to find fenced-off, carefully preserved murals by once-rogue street artists like Shepard Fairey.) While it’s not near any symbolic government bodies, the Sunday of Art Basel, it’s jammed with photographers, gawkers, and pedestrians—enough for plenty of social and old-media eyeballs.
Crossing about three miles round trip, they staged sit-ins and die-ins at major in neighborhood intersections and in front of art fairs, speaking to reach not only participants but onlookers. “We’ve got to quiet the riot within. We’ve got to find inner peace,” urged protester Kriss Mincey, speaking tearfully into a bullhorn in front of the Art Miami fair. “It’s killing us.”
Much to many local drivers’ chagrin, again, the proceedings blocked off traffic on the highway causeway connecting Wynwood and Miami Beach. This time, though, that blocking came courtesy of local police, who pre-emptively shut down highways and some major through streets near where they thought protestors might pass. Seeing an opportunity, the march, then, headed onto the highway before doubling back into Wynwood.
That’s when the protest went out on its most peaceful, and unified note. Forming themselves into four columns, demonstrators walked slowly back through Wynwood’s main drag, singing Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon’s “Ella’s Song.” “We who believe in freedom cannot rest, until it comes,” went the refrain.
Meanwhile, if protests are, at their core, about exercising First Amendment rights, then those with an opposite opinion have the right to stage their own counter-protest. And, in fact, one lone soldier did just that, following most of the group march through its initial trek through Wynwood. Rocking a fanny pack and pushing a shopping cart from Target, he alternated between two chants. First, “Here comes the media to kiss Obama’s a**!” And second, “Hey terrorists, go visit f***-you-dot-com!”
All photos by Daniel Rivero