Since nationwide protests against police brutality and systemic racism began more than two weeks ago, New York City has seen several demonstrations per day across its five boroughs.
This Juneteenth, Unite NY 2020 hopes to bring several demonstrations together in a display of unity.
Unite NY 2020 is a demonstration designed to coalesce New York demonstrations under a unified protest flag. The march will begin at 2 p.m. Friday at Brooklyn’s Cadman Plaza and proceed over the Brooklyn Bridge all the way to Central Park’s South Lawn, picking up participants and other protests along the way. Black Lives Matter and several other protest organizations are confirmed to be participating, and Brooklyn Drum Collective will be providing a drumline and welcoming percussion instruments to liven the march.
“When groups start mingling and marching together, we think they’ll realize their collective power,” says Clive Destiny, an activist and founding partner of Unite NY. “And at the same time, that mingling allows different groups to respect and appreciate each others’ individuality.”
Destiny created Unite NY 2020 along with Elizabeth Vargas and Alaina Zúñiga, whom he met while protesting. As his voice gave out leading chants, he asked Liz and Alaina to lend theirs. When they started up the classic “This is What Democracy Looks Like” chant, the crowd erupted. And when the trio ran into one another by chance after a protest several days later, they knew they had to connect.
By then, Destiny, Vargas, and Zúñiga had all attended (and helped lead) several marches throughout the city. But they wondered what it would look like if multiple protests coalesced into one demonstration. That could increase not only the number of participants but the power of the messages at the center of it. They quickly got to work, pooling their resources, connections, and talents to get everything organized. In a little more than a week, Unite NY 2020 was born.
“We wanted to create something to get organizations together under a united message,” Vargas says. “As Clive said once, all these protests are marching in solidarity, but not necessarily marching in unity.”
That unification is what Unite NY hopes to fulfill. It has no affiliates or sponsors and doesn’t seek to monopolize protest movements, but rather bring New Yorkers together and highlight messages and organizations that fall under the same umbrella.
“Whether you’re marching for defunding the police, for Black trans lives, to repeal 50-A—we’re all New York,” Destiny says. “These are all important topics and all part of working toward a goal that people of color can thrive and live in society.”
The trio noted it was difficult bringing different protest organizations together, especially on such short notice, but were encouraged by the response. They wanted to bring it all together for Juneteenth, the unofficial holiday marking the end of slavery in the United States. As several activists and organizations work to make it a federally recognized holiday, Unite NY understood the significance of planning its first march on the 19th.
Still, the organization all came down to literal timing—as in when other marches were taking place. During its march, Unite NY will pick up a Black Lives Matter protest on the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge and continue its trek north, “moving like a train” and collecting participants and movements along the way. The march will conclude in Central Park, a site with renewed significance due to newfound interest in Seneca Village, a mostly Black settlement that was destroyed to create the park.
Music will play throughout the demonstration, both from Brooklyn Drum Collective and participants who are encouraged to bring their own percussive instruments. Destiny hopes to recreate something he’s experienced at several McCarren Park marches called “magic moments,” when the procession stops and musicians play a song.
“Percussion instruments are obviously significant for Black people, for people of color, they go back to our roots,” Destiny says. “We’re working to feature more African music and drums to highlight that this is a unification of people of color for people of color and their allies.”
Aside from Black Lives Matter, other organizations participating are Warriors in the Garden, a youth-led collective in whose demonstrations both Vargas and Zúñiga have participated; Street Riders NYC, a bike collective that has hosted several rides for Black lives; and McCarren March, which hosts nightly vigils in and marches through Williamsburg’s McCarren Park. Brooklyn Protests, Black Tie Walk, and Synergy Today Foundation are also participating, while Brooklyn Liberation and Strategy for Black Lives are providing support.
“I really think we can unite under this,” Vargas says. “Martin Luther King said ‘I had a dream,’ and obviously the day he said we’d get to is not today. But we need to stop dreaming and we need to start requiring the connections, resources, and access to make these dreams realities.”
The Unite NY partners invite any and everyone to participate on Friday. Those who can donate supplies and anything that might be useful—from water bottles to megaphones to porta potties—are encouraged to show up at Noon at Cadman Plaza. You can also donate via Venmo @uniteny2020, email any questions to email@example.com and follow along on Instagram.