A petition against the Confederate flag float that occasionally appears in Bayfield’s Fourth of July parade has gathered about 3,400 signatures of support ... and counting.
Two Bayfield residents, Zach Stone and Taylor Arnold, started the Change.org petition to ban messages that incite “violent ideals, bigotry, racism or hatred” in the town’s parade, which was canceled this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. The petition specifically spoke against the Confederate flag-bearing float.
The Rocky Mountain Confederate Conservation, the group that organized the parade float in 2019, said a ban would infringe on its free speech rights. The town mayor, Ashleigh Tarkington, is ready to discuss a change.
“There’s two years to do this, but I am urging action now ... so we can get everything in place now as opposed to waiting when there is a parade,” said Stone, a Bayfield High School graduate.
The petition, written mostly by Arnold, a Bayfield School District employee, cites two main reasons for the action: The Ku Klux Klan’s historical presence in Bayfield, most prominent during the 1920s, and the recent protests sweeping the nation in response to the homicide of George Floyd. Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is accused of causing the death of Floyd, a black resident, while Floyd was in police custody. Chauvin has since been charged with second-degree murder.
As of Wednesday, the number of petition signers surpassed Bayfield’s population, about 2,700 people. Stone said some signers appeared to be local; others, from out of state.
The Rocky Mountain Confederate Conservation said the petitioners’ proposed ban was an infringement of its right to free expression and “an attempt to pervert the facts of our nation’s history,” wrote Paula Dugger, who rode on the float in 2019 and moderates the group’s Facebook page, in an email to The Durango Herald.
Dugger said the group focuses on the preservation of Southern history, stands against racism and strives “to uphold the good name of the Confederacy.” Dugger is a resident of Woodland Park, which is near Colorado Springs and about 270 miles from Bayfield, according to state voter registration information.
While some associate the flag with Southern heritage, others associate it with racism, slavery, segregation and white supremacy.
“I’m not a fan of it. I don’t like it in our parade,” Tarkington said. “I appreciate the petition going around. I appreciate that people are getting involved right now. It’s the perfect climate to have this discussion again.”
Tarkington said other members of the town board “absolutely” want to restart the discussion. (In 2019, the board met with legal counsel to discuss First Amendment rights and responsibilities after the float appeared in the July parade.)
The public parade is organized by the town of Bayfield, and the town has to comply with First Amendment law when it comes to messaging on floats, Tarkington said.
The petitioners advocated for privatizing the parade, which would give organizers more control over the type of flags, symbols, graphics and other statements in the parade.
NASCAR announced Wednesday it is banning the Confederate flag at its races and all of its venues, saying the presence of the flag “runs contrary to our commitment to providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for all fans, our competitors and our industry.”
Stone said he saw a “surprising” amount of support from Bayfield residents when he conducted a solo protest in Bayfield last week carrying a Black Lives Matter sign. When he was in high school, he remembered students wearing white laces in Doc Marten boots, a symbol of white supremacy, and making racially insensitive comments. During his solo protest, people offered him water and waved.
The movement in Bayfield also received “100%” support from the Durango Rapid Response Community Defense Network, which organizes against Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to one of its representatives.
“Everyone should be speaking out right now in their own way, you just want to be very careful not to overstep your bounds,” said Stone, who identifies as white and emphasized prioritizing the voices of people of color. “The white community’s role should be listening and asking how they can help, and then helping in any way that they can.”