Colorado was the first state to make Columbus Day an official holiday, in 1907. And today, state offices will be closed to mark what remains a holiday -- and was celebrated with a Columbus Day Parade Saturday. But that parade didn't inspire the protests that have been regular sights over the past two decades.
The big protests started in the '90s, when plans to resurrect the parade were protested by Native American groups and other activists who considered Columbus Day a celebration of genocide -- and the Italian organizers fought back. "This isn't your country anymore," one told Colorado AIM's Glenn Morris in 1992. "This is our country now, so get with the program."
Instead, the opponents got with the protests, and Columbus Day confrontations became annual sights in Denver, with protesters regularly shutting down the parade and then getting arrested -- only to have the charges later dropped.
Last year, Columbus Day seemed on a particular collision course. While the annual Columbus Day Parade was gearing up downtown, the anti-Columbus Day protesters were gathering outside the Capitol -- right by Occupy Denver. And Occupy Denver had planned its own march through downtown at noon, right as the parade, and the protests it eternally inspires, wound down. But somehow, it all came off without a hitch... or an arrest.
Glenn Morris, the University of Colorado Denver associate professor who's long been in the forefront of the Columbus Day protests, had met with Occupy Denver in advance of the event, and some of them "did participate with us in our protest of the Columbus Hate Speech Parade," he reported at the time. And although the Occupy Denver General Assembly had been reluctant to sign off on any agenda, it unanimously endorsed the Colorado AIM-initiated Indigenous Platform Proposal.
But Occupy Denver is all but over, and this year, Transform Columbus Day protesters focused their efforts on Pueblo, site of the first Columbus Day parade back in 1905. "By saying NO to Columbus and his day," the group proclaimed, "we are saying YES to a new future of mutual respect, collaboration, and equality."
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And yes to a future of quiet Saturdays in Denver?
Italians have a long history in Denver -- longer than the history of the Columbus Day protests. Read more in our 2005 cover story "War of the Words."