Juneteenth Rally Protesters

Participants at the Juneteenth rally in Essex Junction on Friday hold signs to protest systemic racism. SHANTI BOYLE

ESSEX - Around 200 protesters and honking car horns interrupted guests of McGillicuddy’s in Essex Junction when on Friday members of Essex Resists and others in the community rallied around Five Corners in honor of Juneteenth.

The holiday, which celebrates the liberation of slaves in Texas two-and-a-half years after the Emancipation Proclamation, comes at a particularly somber time for the United States. Kelly Adams, organizer and member of Essex Resists, helped plan the rally with this in mind.

“It’s one of hundreds of vigils and gatherings taking place across the country today in celebration of Juneteenth, but also to acknowledge the centuries of damage of racism in our country,” Adams said.

This protest came two weeks after the protest Essex Resists coordinated in response to the death of George Floyd. In light of the waning social media surge of Black Lives Matter content in the last week, Essex Resists used the Juneteenth rally to remind the community of the work yet to be done for racial equity.

“It’s a holiday that has, of course, a celebratory feel to it because of the emancipation, but I think we can see very clearly that emancipation wasn’t the only step that needed to be taken, and the racism of slavery just got codified into laws and policies that have continued on in our country,” said Adams.

Upon arrival, protesters received a yellow postcard with the name of a Black person who had been killed by a police officer. Their instructions were to hold up the card along with their various Black Lives Matter signage, face the center of Five Corners and say the name aloud at 6. Protesters then stood in silence for eight minutes and 46 seconds, the same amount of time that George Floyd’s neck lay under former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s knee. Chauvin has since been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.

Essex Resists comes out of the inauguration of President Donald Trump back in 2016. The more than 250 members hail mainly from Essex. Others come from neighboring towns such as Williston and Shelburne. The group is predominantly white, yet Adams notes that they have done their homework on what it means to support people of color:

“We’ve been in action for three-and-a-half years--we’ve walked the walk in terms of what we’ve shown up for with action. We’ve tried to make sure we’re showing up to support organizations in our community like Migrant Justice when they’re doing the very important work that they’re doing. I think the question of optical allyship is an important one and we as white people have an obligation to get our shoulder to the wheel. I come from generations of privilege, and if I do not make use of that privilege, then I’m not doing my part.”

At the end of the eight minutes and 46 seconds, Adams stepped into the center of Five Corners and thanked all of the protesters for coming out and gathering in solidarity. Protesters turned back into pedestrians, and the rally disbanded. But their energy will carry over into the coming week. This Tuesday, Adams and other members of Essex Resists will attend the Essex Selectboard meeting with the trustees and the Essex Police Department to educate themselves on the policies of the police department and to make sure that the Essex PD has what they need to serve the people of Essex.

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