Standing in the shadow of the statue of they have spent years trying to remove, activists gathered Monday evening in Columbus Circle in downtown Syracuse.Syracuse.com 3/18/22
They carried signs that distilled their cause in simple words: “Celebrate Diversity, Remove Columbus,” “Teach our history” and “Honor Indigenous people.”
The demonstration followed a ruling by a state judge that blocked Mayor Ben Walsh from removing the statue in response to criticisms that Columbus contributed to slavery and oppression. Walsh exceeded his authority by deciding to remove the statue without approval from the Common Council, the judge ruled.
State Supreme Court Judge Gerard Neri also pointed to the city’s obligation to maintain the monument, after accepting state and private money in 1992 to restore the statue.
As the city moves forward with an appeal, activists pledged Monday to take their fight to remove the nearly 90-year-old monument to the Common Council.
For those opposed to the statue, the likeness of Christopher Columbus represents a man and era that disparaged the rights, land, and human rights of Indigenous people.
“We don’t want to look up when we come downtown with our kids and see this man,” Onondaga activist Danielle Smith told the assembled crowd Monday evening.
“We can’t give up this fight. Even though it is frustrating and trying, we have to keep showing up.”
“We all respect the legacy of our ancestors, we are obligated to honor historical truths, not myths or made up scenarios,” said Natalie LoRusso of Women of Italian and Syracuse Heritage, or WISH. “This 1934 monument of Christopher Columbus is no longer a suitable symbol of pride.”
In October 2020, Walsh announced his plan to remove the Columbus statue from the circle and redevelop the site into a heritage park that honored Italian-Americans as well as the contributions of Native Americans and other traditionally marginalized groups.
The decision came after two years of discussion by a committee Walsh appointed to discuss the issue, which included scholars, historians, Haudenosaunee leaders and Italian-Americans.
“We all came together and we had these conversations, these really tough conversations that were uncomfortable,” said Smith, who participated as part of the Resilient Indigenous Action Collective. “But we sat through it, because we saw that it needed to change. The only way change happens is when people talk to each other.”