For weeks, drivers passing Bayfield Town Hall have seen a gathering of about 10 people holding anti-racism signs at 5 p.m. each Monday. Many drivers passing by honk and wave; some turn their thumbs down or extend a middle finger.
The fledgling movement, called the Los Pinos Anti-Racism Project, aims to raise awareness about racism and discrimination issues.
Although the group began meeting in January, it increased its efforts after Minnesota police killed a Black man, George Floyd, in May, which prompted protests around the world. The Bayfield advocates do not want to divide their community, they said, rather they want to help make it a welcoming place for everyone.
“There are a lot of people of color that don’t feel comfortable in our town, and we want to change that,” said Jessey Ramirez, a white Bayfield resident motivated to take action to support family members who are people of color.
Some advocates said that discomfort might be rooted in Bayfield’s history, recognizing that it was once Native American land. Racial equity activists in Bayfield and Durango have mentioned the Confederate flag’s controversial appearance at Bayfield’s Fourth of July parade in past years, and the Ku Klux Klan chapter that was active primarily during the 1920s.
While the KKK meetings were in Bayfield, some activities, such as cross burnings, parades and rallies, were in Durango, according to a 2016 historical records presentation by a Fort Lewis College student and local historians. The chapter also had a women’s branch in Durango. The KKK primarily targeted Catholics in Durango and immigrants, primarily Mexican and Italian populations, in La Plata County.
“By acknowledging and learning from that history, we can move forward and make this a more welcoming place,” Ramirez said. “It gets a bad reputation in the area, and I don’t think that’s necessarily deserved with our current history.”
Advocates say they have received mostly positive reactions from passersby, and there were no counter-protesters present at Monday’s gathering. But in one tense moment, a woman drove past, turned her car around, then shouted at the activists, saying phrases like, “Y’all are so ignorant it’s shocking.” The incident prompted one family with two young children to leave the gathering.
“There was a child here. He was sobbing. It hurt him to the core,” said Maria Limon, a Vallecito resident, in an interview minutes later. “That’s what racism does.”
One Bayfield teen participated out of concern for Black and brown classmates at school; another wanted people to feel cared for in their communities. Other advocates focused on starting conversations, and one person wanted to fulfill her responsibilities as a Christian.
“I’m here because I understand what racism can do to people,” said Limon, who identifies as Mexican. “It’s not a cakewalk for brown folks, and the legacy of slavery has deep roots. I know in many ways I have benefited from the oppression of people of African heritage.”
“White supremacy is a huge problem, systemically, and it’s up to white people to stand up and make sure we change that,” said Emily Jensen, who lives near Bayfield and helps organize the weekly demonstrations. “There is a lot of anti-racism in Bayfield, but we’re not unified. People don’t know about it. So here we are.”
The Los Pinos Anti-Racism Project has also met with local leadership, like Bayfield Mayor Ashleigh Tarkington.
“I was honored that they called to include me. I think now is the time. It’s a good time to have these open conversations,” said Tarkington, who made a mayoral anti-discrimination proclamation in June. “I’m very much in support of the momentum of the movements happening right now.”
With Tarkington, the group discussed ways to increase transparency around policing practices, statistics and policies. They are looking for ways to get involved, like a community group that works with the town government on anti-racism efforts.
“We really love and support our Marshal’s Office, and we are absolutely not coming after them with this message,” Jensen said. “But we do want to make sure that everything’s really transparent and look for some accountability within our government.”