Demonstrations in Aspen’s downtown core on Sunday took a departure from past protests supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, in terms of the symbolism.
Rather than lying face down in the grass for eight minutes and 46 seconds — reflecting the amount of time George Floyd was held in that position with the knee of arresting officer Derek Chauvin on his neck before dying of mechanical asphyxiation in Minneapolis — organizers instead asked participants to engage in a social contract.
In addition to outlining actionable intentions directed specifically at white allies wanting to support the movement in an educated way, the exchange also represented a shift from the more visceral act of reenacting Floyd’s final moments, organizer Jenelle Figgins explained Sunday afternoon.
“We aren’t reincarnating past traumas in oppressive positions and dialogue — this last demonstration, we’re not going to assume those physical positions of oppression; instead, we’re going to have contact with each other,” she said.
That contact was initiated with COVID-19 in mind, she continued.
“No touching,” she repeated through the microphone to the roughly 85 demonstrators who gathered near Wagner Park on Sunday after marching through the streets, repeating calls such as “Black lives matter!” and “Black women matter!”
Instead, people were directed to pair off — ideally with a stranger — and maintain eye contact for a full two minutes while listening and internalizing the words of the contract.
The verbal exchange was led by Skye Weinglass and Erin Greenwood, who joined Figgins and co-organizer Sájari Simmons in helping to create the group Roaring Fork Show Up, which has been formalizing the weekend demonstrations.
“In this contract, I just want you to be able to take two minutes to just stare into someone’s eyes, intentionally. Remembering this contract that my teammates are about to present to you. In silence, we’re committing to each other that we’re going to make a change,” Figgins said. “In silence, we’re committing to each other a change in ourselves and in the community, and how we’re going to make that change.”
Together in a back-and-forth format, Greenwood and Weinglass spoke the edicts meant for every protester to internalize Sunday:
“I, Erin Greenwood, promise to listen to black stories and not let them be silenced any longer,” Greenwood started.
“I, Skye Weinglass, promise to reflect on my blindspots, recognize where I could have done a better job showing up and supporting and uplifting black lives. I promise to do better. I promise to actively learn and unlearn my patterns that kept systemic racism alive,” Weinglass replied.
Subsequent commitments included having uncomfortable conversations with family and friends when situations necessitate it, continuing education and sharing newly gained perspectives with others and “keeping the passion alive” to ensure momentum is not lost.
“Keep holding each other’s gaze for another minute, and let that sink in,” Wienglass instructed. “Recognize that our silence has been violence, and recognize that if you’re white, as a white person we’ve been conditioned to give into a system that is oppressive, without even realizing. Similar to how black people have been conditioned to silence themselves when they deserve to speak up.”
Since initial demonstrations in the wake of Floyd’s May 25 death, Figgins and Simmons have garnered local press and community attention, and they’ve since launched roaringforkshowup.org, which keeps interested parties updated on future demonstrations, additional educational resources and opportunities to get further involved.
It was unclear on Sunday whether additional in-person protests would follow next weekend, Simmons said, depending on COVID-19 development and public health concerns. If not in-person, however, virtual demonstrations may be on the horizon.
Either way, the spirit behind the civic actions remain relevant, organizers emphasized.
“Respect that contract. Don’t sign a contract you're not going to respect,” Figgins said at the end of Sunday’s protest. “Enjoy yourselves. For the people on the sidelines, I really, really hope this disrupted your vacation. Peace be with you!”
The crowd erupted into applause.
One member of that crowd made a particular impression for the duo: Jonathan Jackson, son of noted civil rights activist Jesse Jackson and himself a national spokesperson for the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition formed by his father in 1968. Jonathan Jackson was visiting Aspen and attended Sunday’s protest.
“He showed up, and he introduced himself,” Simmons said.
Figgins and Simmons met with Jackson privately on Sunday evening.
Jackson — who is actively working on initiatives to restructure America’s systems to make opportunity more equitable — said he was moved by the outpouring.
“The young people here have warmed my heart,” he said on Sunday afternoon.