Zombie protest means Columbus Day controversy -- again | Slag Heap
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Friday, October 7, 2011

Zombie protest means Columbus Day controversy -- again

Posted By on Fri, Oct 7, 2011 at 6:20 PM

The depiction of Christopher Columbus that most of us are familiar with usually goes something like this: The heroic Italian explorer discovered the "new world" by mistake in 1492, while seeking a trade route to India.

But there's another version of the event that a group of activists want to make sure doesn't get forgotten: that Columbus was a slave trader and responsible for genocide of the natives in the lands he discovered.

In protest of Pittsburgh's annual Columbus Day parade on Oct. 14, activists are planning a "zombie takeover": Protesters are encouraged to dress up as zombies, carry signs and hand out flyers on Columbus and the controversy surrounding the day.

Protesters are meeting at 10:30 a.m. Saturday in Friendship Park before heading to Liberty Avenue, the route the parade follows through Bloomfield. The Columbus Day parade itself, which typically attracts not just residents and community groups but politicians from all over the city, begins at 11 and ends at 1 p.m.

"We want to make people aware of the history of Columbus ... We continue to celebrate him, yet he started the slave trade and killed indigenous people," says Alecia Ott, one of the protesters. "He didn't discover America. He actually invaded it."

The effort is rooted in movements like Reconsider Columbus Day and Transform Columbus Day, efforts to eradicate the day from the federal, state and local calendars while offering a less herocized portrait of the explorer.

Locally, Ott says, "Ultimately we would like the parade to never happen again, but I feel that probably won't happen."

Such sentiments will likely not be popular in Bloomfield, the city's self-described "Little Italy." Italian-Americans regard Columbus as a cultural hero, and have loudly objected to those who question his legacy (which is complicated, as is often the case with historical figures). Over the years, the statue of Columbus in Schenley Park has been repeatedly vandalized -- as recently as last year -- often to the consternation of Italian-heritage groups. 

The zombie theme at Saturday's protest carries no particular significance, Ott says, beyond the fact that Halloween is approaching. There will, however, be signs that say "I'd rather be a zombie then celebrate Columbus Day." Protesters don't have to dress up, and in fact Ott warns that those do attend do not appropriate American Indian culture -- unless that's how they identify their heritage.

For more information, see the event's Facebook page.

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