On November 10, more than 5,000 people took to the streets of Denver for an inclusive march to show the rest of the city that although Donald Trump won the presidential election, the voice of the disenfranchised will not go unheard.
At 5pm, an hour before the planned rally took place, nearly 2,000 people had already congregated around the Capitol Building downtown. Some came with pre-made signs. Some came with a few extras. Some brought bags that looked as if they just robbed Meininger Art Materials — of course they didn’t. Some just came with a light jacket, and their cell phones.
By 6pm, more than 5,000 people had gathered on the Capitol grounds, huddling as close as they could to a woman wearing a bright orange dashiki and wielding a megaphone. To the best of her ability, Dezy St. Nolde, aka Queen Phoenix, tried to control the continually growing crowd. She shushed. She yelled into a megaphone. She enlisted a few other to help.
It didn’t work. But, it didn’t stop her from addressing those that could hear her.
“Many of us are heart-broken, filled with fear, and ready to create change. With Trump’s miraculous win last night, we now have to stand up to an administration filled with bigotry, racism, sexism, homophobia, and a complete lack of compassion.
“We don’t know what is coming next, but let’s show them our presence and make them hear our voice. Let all the oppressed communities and cultures come together and actually stand for a change. Let’s support each other, spark some hope, and makes plans for a better tomorrow.
“This is a peaceful movement; a safe place for us to express ourselves and find hope in each other.”
After that, she knew it was time to move. The crowd was too large, and her only instinct — besides walking away from the overwhelming group she gathered from a single Facebook event — was to walk it down the 16th Street Mall and hope that no one would take the opportunity to take out their aggression violently.
So she walked. She pushed her way through the crowd and solidified her place in the front. Locking arms with the person to her left, and throwing her right fist into the air Queen Phoenix began a march that would make its way down 16th Street Mall, wrap around in a circle down 17th Street, invade Speer Boulevard, and finally end back at the Capitol.
“When I first started that event, I thought, ‘Maybe 20 people will show,’” she says. “Literally I thought 20 people would show up and it would be a group hug, a little bit of a walk, and a little support session.”
But she was better at social media than she realized. In a single day, the event page “Denver Unites for Better than Trump” grew from 700 people to 9,000 and was shared by Westword, Surge, and Occupy Denver.
“At first I was really, really nervous, and that was all I could focus on,” she says. “I had no idea what I was going to do with that amount of people. How was I going to control them? I literally didn’t know anyone. Yes, people offered to help me, but I didn’t actually know if they were going to be peaceful. And that was my intent from the beginning, to keep things 100 percent peaceful.”
Luckily, the march went without a single problem. The crowd even separated to let a fire truck through. The point of the night was to show those who felt scared or wronged that they were not alone. With chants like, ‘HER BODY, HER CHOICE,’ ‘BLACK LIVES MATTER,’ ‘QUEER LIVES MATTER,’ and ‘NO MORE WALLS,’ the most destruction done to Denver that night was that it nearly reached its highest decibel level.
It was powerful. It was therapeutic. It was uplifting. It was beautiful.
“That night made me realize that this is my true calling; this is what I was put here to do. And this is what people needed,” Queen Phoenix says.
Queen Phoenix has been an activist for five years. Starting in her hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin as a queer activist, she moved on to something she felt needed more attention after Dontre Williams was shot by police outside of a Starbucks in Milwaukee — Black Lives Matter.
Once she moved to Colorado, her activism switched over to cannabis and the medical qualities that it delivers, and veganism. For a stretch of time, Queen Phoenix, her wife, and a small collective of others travelled the US in an RV showing people how to make their own medicine with cannabis.
But, it wasn’t always like this.
Growing up in the third most segregated city in the nation as a queer person of color was not easy. Being raised in a mixed family, with a strong pull to the white side, Queen Phoenix felt ostracized both from her family and her peers in school. She was one of eight black kids in high school — that she can remember — and it made her feel like one of the first to ever integrate into a white school.
She was bullied, sexually assaulted, and shamed.
“I’ve attempted suicide three different times,” she recalls.
“The last time I attempted I was 24, and it was an absolute miracle that I survived. I overdosed on thirty grams of Vicodin. I took the fact that I survived at all as a kick in the ass. Clearly the universe wanted me here for a reason, so I started using my voice to help others.”
Before, the things she was advocating for were hyper-focused on one issue. After the election, and seeing the responses from so many different communities, Queen Phoenix has started an organization that will bring together all minority groups as one.
Community for Unity is a peaceful collective of neighbors focused on administrative, environmental, social, and educational reform. The goal is to provide a safe space for people of all races, gender expressions, orientations, and religions.
Since that first rally, Queen Phoenix has been flooded with support and volunteers wanting to make a change and help others. With the workload growing, she assembled a leadership team of six very different, very passionate people to help her organize and become a non-profit while still giving back to the community.
“It’s something that really hasn’t happened before,” she says. “Everyone is so focused on their own issues, and used to comparing struggles with one another. We shouldn’t be doing that; black people shouldn’t think that they’re more targeted than LGBT people, and LGBT people can’t think that they’re more targeted than Muslims. We all need to realize we are facing the same issues, and we need to come together to fix them.”
For Bailey Howes, the message sent out to the world on November 10 resonated, and she Facebook messaged Queen Phoenix that same night. Now, Bailey sits as one of six people in Queen Phoenix’s inner circle.
Working as the volunteer organizer for Community for Unity, Bailey has never considered herself an activist, but the election inspired her to join the ranks of those marching in retaliation to our president-elect and the small faction of bigots and racists that he inspired to come out of the woodwork.
“I have experienced violence as a woman,” she says. “I have not experienced violence or hatred because of race, gender expression or because of my religion. I went to that rally to show support to those who have.”
Although she’s never been involved in activism, she is dedicated to spending most of her free time fighting for those who need it, and reaching out to the community as someone they can rely on — no matter their background.
Unlike Queen Phoenix, Bailey cannot dedicate all her time to the community as she goes to school full time, and works a full-time job. So, how does she find time to give back?
“I don’t have much of a social life,” Bailey says. “But I have a purpose. I have a goal in mind to help people. Even if I don’t know exactly how they feel, or the way they’ve been treated in the past, I still look at them with compassion. The world needs more of that, you know?”
As the small group of leaders try to maintain momentum on the ground here in Denver with community meetings, establish themselves as a nonprofit, and work with similar activist groups in the area to address the very real problems that we face on social issues, they realize that marching is not the only way to get things done. In reality, they don’t want to be known as a marching group.
“Yes, there will come a time when we need to take to the streets and scream at the top of our lungs,” Queen Phoenix says. “But, unless some kind of legislature or major event happens, there is no reason to be disruptive. We need to march when it is needed, and I have no problem leading those marches.”
Community for Unity continues to host regular community meetings and encourages anyone who can to get involved — to try and make a difference. The next march is scheduled for December 18, the day before electors in each state cast their vote for president and vice president, to encourage electors to vote based on the popular vote and not the electoral college.