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Colorado Capitol crowds form a melting pot of protests

Electa Draper and Annette Espinoza
The Denver Post
Vail, CO Colorado

A visitor from China twirled around in confusion and wonder Friday afternoon at East Colfax Avenue and Lincoln Street, where a confluence of parade, student walkout, vice-presidential motorcade, sign waving and honking evoked something between Piccadilly Circus and Tiananmen Square.

“What is happening? What is happening?” asked the clearly concerned conference attendee, as she scanned Capitol steps thronged by students protesting Arizona’s tough new immigration law.

What wasn’t happening?



One officer from a two-car police escort frenetically attempted to halt traffic at the busy intersection about 3:45 p.m. for a parade honoring veterans of the Iraq and Afghan wars. However, several drivers were having a difficult time complying – or even spotting the parade – which appeared to be five men on five motorcycles.

The confusion induced honking and temporarily trapped some student marchers mid-street.



A couple of blocks away, at the Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel, Vice President Joe Biden’s motorcade was scheduled to arrive for a fundraiser.

Colfax was hopping, although the largest group of people witnessing the hurly-burly were accidental spectators – motorists and people waiting for buses.

Most students, after walking miles from West, North and Lincoln high schools and other venues to reach the Capitol steps, didn’t stay for all the speeches.



“It’s too cold. We’ve got to get home now,” said one girl as she and friends fled the scene they helped create.

About 20 members of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association and the Colorado Education Association also gathered at the corner of Colfax and Lincoln between 4 and 6 p.m. for a sign-waving shift in opposition to Colorado Senate Bill 191. It is an effort aimed at making it easier for school administrators to dismiss teachers deemed ineffective.

Teachers also held signs that read, “Honk if you (heart) teachers.”

Yet, most of the honking, fist pumps and cries of “Viva La Raza” seemed more in support of the five nearby Latina girls screaming and waving “Immigration Reform for America” signs.

Pat Beck, a math teacher at Rishel Middle School, recognized former students with the immigration reform march.

“Hey! Do you realize you’ve become political activists?” Beck called to them.

By 4:30 p.m., the teachers had the intersection to themselves, and rush-hour drivers were giving them some audible love by honking.

But the best-attended effort of Friday’s burst of mobile democracy was the student march.

Hundreds of Denver students walked out of high schools and colleges, beginning at noon, to protest an Arizona law that, as revised Thursday night, requires local law enforcement scrutiny of individuals’ immigration status or citizenship if they are stopped, detained or arrested for any reason.

Despite the changes, opponents say the law will lead to racial profiling.

About 100 to 150 Lincoln High School students took to the sidewalks a little after noon, led by a police escort urging them to stay safely off the streets.

About 50 students headed out from West High School and more than 100 set out from North High School.

“It’s great so many people are against this. I applaud the kids,” said bystander Megan Lucik as she watched students from North march along Speer Boulevard.

Denver Public Schools spokesman Michael Vaughn said the district’s normal attendance policy applied to students participating in the walkout: Anyone whose parents didn’t notify the school that they would be leaving will be docked for an unexcused absence.


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