Inspired in part by the activist art in Capitol Hill Organized Protest, protesters with UW BLM have organized daily programming at the statue that includes banner making, chalk art, poetry, and performance that reflects their feelings about the university. They do this work every day from 4 pm -7 pm.
And every day, the university has removed all the art on and around the statue, wiping off chalk and paint and throwing away protest signs supporters have propped up around the base. The cleaning is standard practice by the university for any chalking or graffiti that violates university policy, but to the group it symbolizes something more.
"Well, obviously we're doing something right," said a representative from UW BLM who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation from the university. "If they're doing everything in their power to cover it up, that just means we're making progress."
The group is not directly associated with the university but includes UW undergrad and grad students, faculty, and staff members. UW BLM has been active in organizing support for UW Black Student Union's seven demands, which include more funding to Black student organizations and the American Ethnic Studies Department, the hiring of more Black faculty, and the disarming and divesting from UW Police Department.
One of the demands calls for the removal of the George Washington statue which "symbolizes a man who owned over 300 Black slaves and profited from their labor. This is not a history that should be glorified and celebrated as it perpetuates white supremacy and preserves its historical imposition."
And it's not just who the statue is representing, but how he is being represented. Placed on the westernmost edge of the Red Square in the middle of UW's campus, the thirty-eight-foot tall bronze Washington looks out away from the university and to the Puget Sound. The implication of his positioning is that of western expansion and Manifest Destiny, which students say disrespects the Indigenous people and land the university was founded on top of.
These reasons, say activists, are why the statue of Washington along with other statues of "racist figures" must be removed immediately from campus. A statement from a university spokesperson said that administration has "begun exploring ways to more completely represent George Washington's legacy" but has so far not finalized any concrete recommendations on the matter. UW BLM says admin's response to protests around the statue has simply been their consistent removal of art.
When I went down to the protest yesterday, about a dozen people were congregated around George, making chalk art and signs, laughing with one another. Around the concrete base, someone had painted the names of UW's head of communications, head of facilities, and the president's chief of staff, in a bid to get their attention. A tent had been set up with donated snacks and art supplies as some took refuge in the shade.
An activist grad student who gave his name as Humphrey said that there has been a "strong negative response" from the university, with cleaning crews showing up during their protest's allotted time in an effort to prevent them from painting on the statue. He said these tactics are the same one he's seen from the university "for years in all avenues of student activism," especially around organizing with UW's grad student union.
"We have a campus that is supposed to serve Washington students and I would say that there's a very specific subset of people that feel served by the statue—and they're not the students that are present," said Woody, a UW staff member who has been joining UW BLM in making art at the statue this month. He said it was important for more staff members to get involved in collective action, as the four-year turnover of students makes sustained change more difficult.
At one point, a white man walking past the statue paused to call 911 for "vandalism." After a tense few moments, the man walked off and disappeared back off onto the street below. The activists went back to peacefully painting, chalking, and conversing with one another, making art demands for a change in thinking about the legacy of their university's namesake.
"No one's going to truly be held accountable unless there's a constant public eye on things," said the UW BLM representative. "I think that's UW BLM's role here. Really actively trying to teach art, teach the public, and make people aware of what's going on."
The art installation will continue every day through the month of August and is open to anyone in Seattle who would like to participate.