To highlight Denver’s purported unity and progress, the city dubbed today's inauguration celebration and swearing-in ceremony for new elected officials “OneDenver.” But surrounding the pomp and circumstance of the official event at City Hall this morning, July 15, were protesters who say they felt far from included in the city’s vision for the future. Activist groups called out numerous grievances and demands, directed at freshly inaugurated Mayor Michael Hancock himself, cops, the city’s treatment of the homeless, and — because apparently Denver just can't get over this recent issue — the killing of geese.
Just before the inauguration kicked off, Denver Homeless Out Loud held a rally to officially launch the “100 Days of Action.” Dozens of unhoused people and advocates gathered to issue demands for the city to step up its efforts to accommodate, include and humanize the homeless community, including affordable housing that serves those who fall below the 30 percent area median income bracket (the city’s current efforts largely serve those above that threshold), an end to homeless sweeps by the police, and — despite the failure of Initiative 300 — the repeal of the urban camping ban that Hancock signed into place seven years ago.
Tammy Rosencrantz, a Denver woman who says she’s been living on the streets on and off for forty years, spoke to the small crowd about the need for more public restrooms, water fountains, trash cans and hygiene services, as well as housing that’s actually affordable. “People just don't care, people act like we're nothing. But we're people too, we're a priority just like they are,” she said.
Midway through the rally, the Denver Citywide Marching Band began practicing across the street for its performance at the inauguration, unintentionally drowning out the voices of the rally's speakers.
According to Jerry Burton, a member and organizer with Denver Homeless Out Loud, the 100 Days of Action will include “taking over” City Hall every third Monday, contacting all thirteen members of Denver City Council to connect them with the homeless community and figure out solutions to the problem, as well as other actions the organization hasn’t yet made public.
“We can't continue to move people from one district to the next, one city to the next city,” Burton says.
Another advocate, who only gave his first name, Marcus, said he had experienced homelessness on and off his whole life and was now initiating efforts to help fundraise for his community. “Hancock, he's a leader among the business class and the developer class but with us he's a... I don't know what to say about him,” Marcus said. “He and those of his ilk, they want this to be San Francisco, for some reason that I can't fathom, people here paying $1,500 for closet space in someone else’s home. I'm a Denver native, and I used to think that Denver was still young enough to decide on a more progressive course of action, and pursue that, and put people in office that would help us pursue that. With Hancock I've been sorely mistaken... I'm beginning to lose hope.”
Marcus gestured to City Hall, saying “This is our building, we paid the rent, we paid the salaries. … So, you know, there's nothing to fear except their ignorance and their recalcitrance.”
As official proceedings kicked off across the street a few minutes later, Councilman Jolon Clark greeted the crowd with that same affirmation: “This is your building,” he said.
For the first half of the ceremony, things went along just as planned. Pastor Angelica Rodriguez gave an invocation thanking the city of Denver; Bishop Jerry Demmer gave a second one praising four more years of Hancock “taking us to the stratosphere.” The thirteen members of City Council, Auditor Timothy O’Brien, and Clerk and Recorder Paul Lopez were duly sworn into office; Lopez and new Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca received especially lively applause from the crowd.
But when the audience stood to see Hancock take his oath, crowd members on stage left began yelling in protest. Within minutes, about seven or eight police officers arrived and pulled one of those protesters, 54-year-old Caryn Sodaro, out of the viewing area and into a police vehicle. Her companions, including former mayoral candidate Kalyn Rose Heffernan, insisted that Sodaro hadn’t been doing anything different than they had, and were confused by her arrest. Denver Police Department later sent Westword an arrest affidavit which noted she had been standing in a fenced-off area and thus was “disrupting lawful assembly.”
Meanwhile, Hancock began his speech celebrating “a new city government by and for the people of this great city." Despite the mayhem going on at the back of the crowd, he continued, “We affirm the trust that the people have placed in us to lead selflessly with integrity, civility and honor… we are steadfast in the conviction that our city’s strength comes from a fierce sense of unity, equity and inclusion.”
At the same time, as police drove Sodaro off, some protestors confronted a group of several police officers, insinuating that Sodaro had been “arrested for free speech.” One other protester, Ana Cornelius, who is affiliated with Occupy Denver, explained why she had “booed” Hancock: “He is a tyrant, he is a sexual predator, and he should not be in office. He is bad for our city, and I have every right to say that.”
Hancock continued unfazed with a speech emphasizing the importance of consensus and social justice. He highlighted challenges that, he promised, his administration would address in a progressive way: ensuring equitable economic growth providing affordable housing, addressing homelessness, reforming the criminal justice system, taking steps to reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions, mental health crisis and stigma, funding for public libraries and schools, preserving open spaces, making streets bike friendly.
Cornelius, Heffernan and other dissenters weren’t convinced. They remained in the crowd and continued yelling on top of Hancock’s inaugural address, interjecting his speech with demands such as “Public bathrooms!” or “End the urban camping ban!” and objections like “Except for who?”
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One man rode a bicycle back and forth through the crowd displaying a flag that read, “Shit is Fucked Up and Stuff.” Another shouted “No Justice, No Peace” the entire time. Some of the audience members tried to confront those with louder voices to tell them to listen, to no avail.
To top off the contentious atmosphere behind the event, another group of protesters weren’t going to let the renewed administration get off without a reminder of Denver’s newest controversy. Their gripe? The city's recently exposed geese management plan that includes killing geese and, purportedly, distributing the meat to those in need. “Hancock killed our geese,” one sign read. "No park in Denver is safe!" read another.
The human-focused voices, though, continued much louder. Heffernan summed up why they were standing up so aggressively: "Almost 300 people died last year experiencing homelessness, and the mayor has done everything he could to build a city for the wealthy and push marginalized communities out. And he drafted the urban camping ban, which criminalizes people for surviving." During Hancock's mayoral campaign, "there was a lot of rhetoric about we can do better," she said, and she was there to pressure him to live up to that promise.
Update, July 17: This article was edited to clarify that the protestors who were yelling were not necessarily affiliated with Denver Homeless Out Loud.