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Third Protest In Wake Of Atlanta Shootings Emphasizes Intersectionality In Social Justice Movements

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Kiley Kosinski
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90.5 WESA
A group of demonstrators marches in Oakland on Wednesday, March 24, 2021.

Anti-racist demonstrators gathered in Oakland Wednesday afternoon to highlight concerns of growing violence against Asian Americans since the coronavirus pandemic began. It was the third local demonstration since a shooting in Atlanta took the lives of eight people, including six women of Asian descent last week.

Charlotte Ng, an organizer with the youth climate activist group Sunrise Movement, said up until last weekend’s Stop Asian Hate rally in Oakland, she hadn’t reflected on her own experience as a Chinese American. She encouraged white allies to do more to dismantle racism against any minority.

“When the system fails to protect us, we are the only ones who can and will protect us,” Ng said at the Flagstaff Hill rally. “So to my non-Asian allies, educate yourself, your families, and your friends, about this history of oppression and discrimination. Do not be complacent with your advocacy.”

The demonstration was hosted by the East Coast Asian American Student Union and the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance Pittsburgh. Hundreds of people including more than two dozen racial justice, gun control and labor groups participated. 

Michael Nguyen, director of advocacy for the East Coast Asian Student Union, said one goal of the demonstration was to point out that violence against Asians and Asian Americans wasn’t introduced by the pandemic, rather amplified. 

“It’s sad that it comes to these kinds of events in order to be the [inspiration] of movement,” he said about the shootings. “Before the shooting there were 30 deportations of Vietnamese refugees [from Texas],” Nguyen said. “That’s violence as well.” Nguyen is referring to the deportation of 33 Vietnamese refugees from Texas to Vietnam which drew nationwide criticism and sparked protests in California. 

Police say Robert Long, the accused Atlanta gunman, blamed a sex addiction for the rampage. Many, including sex workers, have denounced that explanation as an excuse for racist violence. Long faces eight counts of murder.  

Lena Chen, a Chinese American woman and sex worker with the Sex Workers Outreach Project, called for protections for people in the industry, who often face violence on the job.

“[It’s important] to understand how they personally have been impacted by public policy made by lawmakers, made by state elected officials, who have never taken them into account,” Chen said.

Chen noted sex workers, gig workers and service industry workers face dangerous working environments exacerbated by the pandemic.

“We are on a runaway train, seeing the cliff straight ahead, unable to jump off in time,” said Judy Suh, member of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA).  “The train is systemic American racism; the train is American history, our history, that we’ve been written out of again and again.”

The crowd moved from Flagstaff Hill to march down Schenley Drive near Phipps Conservatory to Schenley Plaza just before 5 p.m. Drummers with Japanese drum ensemble Pittsburgh Taiko played as the march began. Demonstrators held signs with messages including “Solidarity with the Asian Community” and “Racism is the Virus.” Fewer than one dozen police officers blocked off nearby streets as the crowd marched down Schenley Drive. 

Chants, including “When Asian lives are under attack? What do we do? / Stand up! Fight back!” echoed through Schenley Plaza as hundreds of participants occupied Schenley Plaza to listen to  speakers. Plaza goers already there stayed on blankets listening to speakers. Organizer Vinh Dang with ECAASU led an 8 minute moment of silence for those killed in Atlanta last week.

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Credit Kiley Koscinski / 90.5 WESA
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90.5 WESA

Nick Anglin, co-founder of Black Young & Educated, called for justice for all racial and ethnic minorities. BYE hosted many racial justice protests last summer throughout Pittsburgh. 

“No more complicity. No more concern about white comfortability. It’s time to stand up, organize and fight back,” Anglin said.

Others, including Hungry Cao chef and owner Itha Cao, echoed the need for intersectionality in social justice movements. The peaceful demonstration ended shortly after 5:30 p.m.