CEDAR RAPIDS — The organizer of a climate change protest at last weekend’s gathering of presidential candidates in NewBo is apologizing for incorporate a symbol evoking America’s violent racial past — a hangman’s noose — into his demonstrations, but that may not be enough to quell the condemnations.
Ed Fallon, a former Democratic state representative and the current leader of the progressive activist group Bold Iowa, apologized Tuesday for a “lapse in judgment.”
“It wasn’t the right call on our part in terms of trying to get the message across,” he said. “I hope people will look beyond that lapse in judgment and understand that we have a tremendous challenge facing us right now” with climate change.
Bold Iowa’s protest on a public sidewalk outside the Progress Iowa Corn Feed featured people standing on blocks of ice with nooses hung loosely around their necks.
“As the Arctic melts, the climate noose tightens,” a sign warned.
Bold Iowa employed a similar demonstration a day earlier at the Ankeny Democrat SummerFest Barbecue, posting a picture of it on Facebook.
But after the Progress Iowa Corn Feed, which drew 10 Democratic presidential candidates and a crowd of hundreds Sunday to the lawn outside the NewBo City Market, reaction was swift.
Dedric Doolin, president of the NAACP Cedar Rapids branch, decried the protest using something so emblematic of lynching as insensitive and said it displayed “the lack of understanding about how the symbol of a noose intimidates, terrorizes and puts fear in the hearts of many people, especially African-Americans.”
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“They didn’t understand the impact their display had on the community,” Doolin said.
A member of NAACP’s national board of directors, Doolin plans to spread word of the protest’s tactics to other NAACP chapters in hopes of curbing any such future protests.
Fallon’s protest was not affiliated with Progress Iowa, the group in charge of putting on the Corn Feed, executive director Matt Sinovic said in a statement.
“The protest held by Bold Iowa outside of our event (Sunday) had absolutely nothing to do with Progress Iowa or NewBo City Market,” Sinovic said in the statement. “No matter what message they were trying to send, the way they did it was offensive, disturbing, and inappropriate.”
That a progressive group was being condemned for its portrayal of the urgency to act on climate change — an issue embraced by progressive Democratic candidates themselves — was not lost on critics.
People took to Bold Iowa’s Facebook page to comment, calling for the post with a picture of the protest to be deleted.
One commenter said she was “flabbergasted and appalled” by Bold Iowa’s protest. Another said it “screams tone-deaf ‘progressives.’”
But as of Tuesday afternoon, the Facebook post was still active.
On his Fallon Forum website, Fallon describes the protest as Bold Iowa’s “provocative performance art.”
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“We underestimated the way it may trigger folks who either are concerned about the rise in racism in this country, in many respects because of Donald Trump,” Fallon said in an interview. “And also people who were affected by a family member who maybe committed suicide by hanging. ... Our focus is to get people to understand just how urgent of a situation climate change is. We really are at a point where human extinction is a possibility.”
Despite Fallon’s words of regret, guests on his live radio show Monday offered other thoughts.
One of his guests said someone would have to be either “offended about everything” or “really have made a stretch” to find the protest offensive.
Another guest said the “real victims of climate change are going to be the poor,” who he said will “generally be people of color.”
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