Yesterday the unexpected snow flurries did little to suppress the University’s activist spirit, as more than 150 University students and community members joined together for the student-led Million Hoodie March last night.
The march was held in honor of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Florida teenager whose February killing was allegedly racially motivated. The marchers began at the Trotter Multicultural Center on Washtenaw Avenue before ending at the Diag. More than 50 people arrived about an hour before the official start time to create signs for the march, while watching the ABC News coverage of the possible indictment of George Zimmerman, the man who killed Martin as he walked through a Fla. neighborhood wearing a hoodie and carrying a bag of skittles and an Arizona iced tea.
Other volunteers who arrived early helped some of the attendees register to vote. LSA junior Patrick Parkinson, a member of Wolverines for Diversity — a coalition of student groups that organized the march — said registering students to vote was one of the main goals of the event.
“We’re really pushing for long-term change,” Parkinson said. “Just reminding the people, ‘Hey, your vote matters, voting is important to get these laws repealed or adjusted’ … Actual action, that’s what we’re trying to promote.”
Rackham student Vanessa Cruz said the march was planned to raise awareness about a law in Michigan similar to Florida’s Stand Your Ground law—which allows people feeling threatened to protect themselves with force, including using a gun, without trying to get away first — and may allow Zimmerman to walk away unpunished. Cruz said laws such as the Stand Your Ground law are the root of institutional social injustice across the nation.
“We just want to drive home the point that the life of somebody of color is not worth less than that of anyone else,” Cruz said. “The justice systems in our states should provide the proper system for those people … who hold racial stereotypes to pay their sentences.”
Rackham student Davin Phoenix, who also helped organize the event, discussed Michigan’s law in more detail with a group of students and community members before the march began.
“Our voices will be raised in protest,” Phoenix told the crowd. “We will have our eyes wide open … to recognize that these tragedies can happen in our very own community.”
After a few brief statements reminding the attendees that the march was a nonviolent protest and police would be on standby to help anyone who might potentially feel threatened, the group began the nearly 45 minute march to the Diag at 7:17 p.m., the same time Martin’s body was discovered by police.
Amid shouts of “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!” and various other chants, the crowd marched from Washtenaw Avenue to South University Avenue, then made its way down to State Street before crossing over to North University Avenue, picking up stray pedestrians along the way. The march finally ended at the steps of the Hatcher Graduate Library at about 8 p.m.
Some of the marchers lit candles while others took to a megaphone, sharing personal stories of injustice. LSA freshman Daniel Morales shared his past status as an undocumented citizen and encouraged the crowd to get involved in making lasting change.
“I think we stand for justice for all, regardless of race, gender … or immigrant status,” Morales told the crowd. “We all deserve to be treated as human beings.”
Morales added: “It is not just a race issue … or a religious issue. It’s a human issue.”
Phoenix took to the stage once more, emphasizing the need for people to continue to make strides toward fighting injustice.
“This right here does not constitute a threat,” Phoenix said as he flipped up the hood on his sweatshirt. “Get to know me. Make every effort to join into the struggle … every day that we are alive, we need to make a difference.”
LSA senior Alex Ocampo, a member of the Wolverines for Diversity, encouraged the crowd to attend the University’s Board of Regents meeting next Thursday, where the coalition is planning to continue its fight against social injustice at the University.
“We’re going to demand increased enrollment of underrepresented minority students,” Ocampo said to a cheering crowd. “We’re going to request mandatory IGR classes to improve campus climate surrounding race.”
Ocampo also mentioned that allowing undocumented students living in Michigan to pay in-state tuition was another goal the coalition planned to tackle at the regents meeting.
After the speaking died down, Ocampo and the other coalition members passed out chalk to the crowd, asking attendees to write across the Diag what they planned to do to ensure that the event positive impacts.
LSA junior Luz Meza said she attended the march to stand in solidarity with other University students and to make her voice heard.
“It’s just not fair for anyone that this can happen in our country, and that our government can be OK with it,” Meza said. “We need to be showing that we care about it and that Wolverines will always stand up for justice and for what’s right, and not just ignore these things that racialize our country and that divide us.”