Two activists unite to protect BLM signs in Lafayette Square – NBC4 Washington
The summer of 2020 will go down in the history books – not only because the pandemic closed the world, but because the murder of George Floyd opened the eyes of the world and sparked global calls for change.
In DC, people gathered for this change at Lafayette Square and Black Lives Matter Plaza. They used the fence erected by the Trump administration as a billboard.
Two strangers who were part of the movement became the guardians of this fence to ensure that people’s voices were heard and preserved.
“As a black person living in America, I had to be a part of it,” said Nadine Seiler, originally from Trinidad and Tobago who now lives in Maryland.
Seiler made Black Lives Matter Plaza and the sidewalk in front of the fence outside the White House his home for three months.
“People were protesting, and when they were done protesting, they would put their placards, their protest signs, either on the ground or they stuck them to the fence,” Seiler said.
Seiler and Karen Irwin, a woman she met at a protest, came together and made it their mission to protect the integrity of the hundreds of signs and posters people placed on the fence to express their frustrations following the murder of George Floyd.
“Most of them were focused on Black Lives Matter, but there were signs saying ‘stop killing us.’ There were signs of ‘legalizing the dark’. There were signs on police, fund the police, ”Nadine said.
As the summer wore on, the fence and its panels became a backdrop, a monument, a place where people stop and take photos to recall the moment, the movement.
Seiler became frustrated with people walking on or over the signs and messages that had fallen from the fence.
“And from there, I just started picking it up. First it was five minutes, then 10 minutes, then an hour, then hours, and the next thing you know, it turned into months, ”Seiler said.
In late October 2020, a small group of men and women who identify as conservative Christian activists and Trump supporters ripped most of the posts from the fence.
One of the women in the group, Bevelyn Beatty, posted videos on social media of herself tearing up signs and bragging about vandalizing what she called “the altar of movement Black Lives Matter “.
Seiler recorded some of the confrontations as she and others tried to convince them to stop.
“I felt frustrated. I felt angry and everything and didn’t want to leave that night because they came back three times within a few hours. They vandalized it three times within a few hours, ”Seiler said.
“I was angry that someone did something meaningful for themselves and someone else’s response was to destroy them,” Irwin said.
Fearing to leave the fence unprotected, Seiler vowed to stay and Irwin stayed with her.
“If you could see Nadine – one of the nicest, most amazing, decent humans I’ve met in my life – pacing in front of the fence because something might be taken away,” said Irwin.
For months in the rain, cold and even a little snow, they lived there, protecting, repairing and preserving the posts on the fence. For Irwin and Seiler, this was exactly what they needed to do.
“It was never a decision, it was fair, it’s the thing you have to stay and do because there is always danger,” Irwin said. “Nadine’s work is like that of a curator. Right? Nadine’s job is to wave the flags and wear the costumes, yell at people, make sense of the signage and point me in what, where I could be of more help, ”said Irwin.
“For us, these are our families, these are our people. We’re going to say they matter and we’re going to make sure you don’t, ”Seiler said.
Seiler and Irwin have preserved about 900 of the messages and signs that were on the fence.
They themselves, along with people in the Black Lives Matter movement, hope that a museum or organization will preserve them in a space or in a way that they will be valued.
The Smithsonian can only take items if they know the original creator, and in this case, it’s hard to know everyone who created a panel mounted on this fence.
Photographer Robin Fader, who worked at NBC4 for many years, beautifully documented Seiler and Irwin’s mission to preserve the fence.