Marking the Fourth of July often involves fireworks and hot dogs, but for a few hundred people marching through Five Points on Saturday, Samuel Elfay said, “Today’s about giving people who don’t feel like they’re free a voice to speak.”
Elfay, 19, helped lead a demonstration and rally that started and ended at Manual High School. Billed as “The Rise Up 4th of July Rally,” the event took on multiple issues: educational reform, mass incarceration, immigrant detention, Indigenous rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, and more. The message: Many people in America still don’t have the freedom and equality that were promised with the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.
“Even with the Declaration of Independence being written, the Constitution, we’re still experiencing racism, slavery, so for me it’s a day to remind us that we still have to fight,” Elfay said.
He said he celebrated it when he was younger, but since he has started working against social injustice, he has been exposed to problems in his community that caused him to rethink the holiday. Elfay said he and others started planning the rally before the recent protests over racism and police violence began. But attendees picked up the cause, chanting to remember Elijah McClain and to call for justice for Black, Indigenous, Latinx and transgender people as the march wound down 26th Avenue Saturday evening.
Elfay is vice president of 10for10 Denver, a youth and community organizing group that started last year. In recent days the rally organizers got help from the Party for Socialism and Liberation, which has organized several protests recently, including Friday night in Aurora, after photographs of police officers mocking McClain’s death were released to the public.
The rally included a performance by string instrumentalists, who picked up where they left off in Aurora last weekend in honor of McClain and in protest of his death in police custody last summer. The officers were cleared of wrongdoing but the situation is now under state and federal review.
Marching up Welton Street on Saturday, Mani Nadjmi from Denver carried a violin case on her back that read, “Justice for Elijah McClain,” and wore earrings with kitten faces, because she said McClain liked to play violin for cats. She said she played in last week’s violin vigil in Aurora. She said as a Persian woman who has been living in the U.S. since she was a child, the Fourth of July still isn’t a holiday for her.
“I don’t believe it’s freedom for the entire country; it’s only for the select few. I think freedom in this country is a white privilege.”
Likewise, Amber Rose, who described herself as mixed race and lives in Denver, said as she hung to the back of the march to maintain social distancing, “I haven’t celebrated Fourth of July since I was a child and really understood that Fourth of July is a bogus holiday for a very select number of people.” Rose carried a sign that read, “Breonna Taylor; Say Her Name.”