OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA – Priestess and activist T. Thorn Coyle and over 100 others made local news when they showed up at the inauguration of Oakland’s 50th Mayor, Libby Schaaf. The peaceful protest, organized by a coalition of area groups and individuals, is another example of the ongoing #blacklivesmatter grass roots campaign and actions demanding social reform.“There is … a long history of corruption and misconduct in the [Oakland Police Department,] so much so that they’ve been threatened with federal receivership. Oakland has also played host to Urban Shield, a convention and training event that is a large part of the militarization of police in the U.S. By protesting at the inauguration, we wanted people to remember that as long as Black lives in our county are treated as if they aren’t sacred … there will be no business as usual,” explained Coyle.
In recent months, she has become actively involved in an organization called Anti Police-Terrorism Project (APTP). This organization is part of a larger group called the O.N.Y.X. Organizing Committee, which is “committed to raising the consciousness of Black people to facilitate the healing of our bodies’ minds and spirits in order to create sustainable, just, equitable and thriving Black communities.”
Coyle told The Wild Hunt, “I’ve been active in justice movements for most of my life, trying to find ways to best support building communities of love, equity, and justice. After my first APTP meeting, I felt lit up inside rather than drained. I thought, ‘Here is a group that has potential to actually do effective action!’ It is diverse coalition under Black leadership, which I really appreciate.”In a Monday press release, APTP spokespersons Cat Brooks and Mollie Costello explained that their goal was to send a message to Mayor Libby Schaaf, reminding her that she will “be held accountable by communities demanding justice for victims of police violence.” During an interview, Costello explained the local context behind the protest. For those outside of Oakland, Brooks summarized the problem by simply stating, “Schaaf does not have the best record in dealing with police relations with the community.”
The scheduled protest was divided into two distinct parts. The initial event was a silent gathering outside the Paramount Theater. Protesters were asked to wear black and signs were passed out. Coyle was there along with a number of other Bay Area Pagan and Heathen activists, including Solar Cross Temple member Rhiannon Laakso; Coru Cathubodua members Patrick Garretson and Brennos Agrocunos, as well as Kim Beavers, who was documenting the entire event. Coyle said also she saw many others from the local Pagan community.
They all stood in solidarity with APTP and with the other organizations involved. At one point, a protester tweeted that there were in fact more protesters outside the theater than guests waiting to attend the inauguration.
When the theater doors opened, some of the protesters went inside for the second part of the scheduled action. During the silent presentation of the colors, Coyle began singing an old union song, “Which side are you on?” As she explained, “The song was adapted by a group in St. Louis who did this action that we modeled ours after.” APTP changed the words from “justice for Mike Brown” to “justice for Black lives.” There actions were video documented and posted on You Tube.
Coyle said, “The MC panicked and quickly called the national anthem singer onto the stage with his mic. So we ended up singing and doing a banner drop through the anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance, which seemed fitting.” The banner, which was dropped from the mezzanine read, “End Police Terror.”
After the event, the APTP spokespersons called the event “beautiful,” saying that they welcomed the new mayor in “true Oakland style.” Mayor Schaaf had little reaction to the protesters except to tell an ABC reporter,”I embrace protest. Protest is part of Oakland’s DNA.”
After a few rounds of the song inside the theater, Coyle led the protesters outside still singing. In retrospect, she said that recent national and local events have changed her, adding “I had to find more ways to speak out and work against government harassment, profiling, imprisonment, and killings of Black and brown people. My writing is one way. Interfaith work is another. Organizing with APTP is rapidly becoming another.” She added, “We are in the midst of a new civil rights movement. The chance to say, loudly, that Black Lives Matter, is one that I, who preaches that all life is sacred, and that the Gods and Goddesses are reflected in our eyes, cannot pass up.”