The murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police ignited protests against racism and police brutality around the world.
On the North Coast, one memorable image was Alejandra Lopez, a Warrenton teenager who organized several Black Lives Matter demonstrations.
A year later, Lopez is still speaking out.
“I want more people to speak out and continue to speak out about all of the injustices that they see happening, because if you’re silent, you’ve chosen the side of the oppressor,” she said. “So just make sure to speak up and really fight for what you believe in.”
Lopez, who is completing her junior year at Warrenton High School, is interning remotely for state Rep. Paul Holvey, D-Eugene.
In an interview via Zoom, Lopez reflected on the protests, the growing awareness of racial justice among young people, the murder verdict in Minneapolis and how to keep the movement alive.
Q: Why was it important for you to speak out in that moment?
A: When I first thought about doing the protests, I was still at a pretty young age — I was 15 turning 16 — and I didn’t really know what I was doing. All I knew is that I needed to do something.
That was just the driving force. I needed to do something, because I needed to speak out about the injustices happening in Minneapolis.
And then, from there, I kind of was thinking, I need to do these protests because I want to bring awareness to Clatsop County, because it’s a really predominantly white area. As a person of color, being on the coast, it’s pretty hard just existing some of the times, because you’re faced with a lot of different racial injustices. You’re faced with racism. You’re faced with prejudice. And there is so many things.
Last year, when I saw the video that came out about George Floyd, that was just the driving moment. I was like, OK, I need to do something in my community, because this community needs to speak out against the injustices happening.
We also have to focus, and kind of reflect, on our own communities. Seeing what can we call out. Can we call out our own family members for racism? Can we have conversations in workplaces and in schools about racism and how we can provide a really good and safe place for people of color?
Q: What did you hope the protests would accomplish?
A: I hoped the protests would not only bring awareness to the people of Clatsop County and on the coast, but I also wanted the people that were in charge of making policy. For example, the county commissioners, state representatives, the mayor — having and seeing, why are people doing this? What else can we fix in our communities? Where are there injustices happening?
Kind of things like that. And also focus on working on policy that would help fight that.
Q: Over the past year, do you think awareness about racial justice has increased among the young people you know?
A: Yes. I think that definitely there has been a lot of awareness around racial justice ...
It’s amazing to see how many young people are so focused and driven to bring that justice and to fight for that justice. No matter what. Their age isn’t a barrier. Our age isn’t a barrier in all of these things, because we have access to technology and we have access to resources.
When we’re able to educate ourselves. When we’re able to reach out to our elected officials, have meetings with elected officials, and lobby for different bills that work to fight racial injustice.
Young people aren’t really scared anymore, because we are the future of America, basically.
I think it’s also kind of having to do with social media, because there’s a lot of things surrounding it, there’s a lot of young people that are on social media, and them kind of seeing the reposts and the social media posts about racial injustice and seeing how different people speak out about it and their thoughts on it.
It builds a community. And there’s definitely a drive there for young people.
Q: Derek Chauvin — the former Minneapolis police officer who had kneeled on George Floyd’s neck — was found guilty of murder and other charges in April. Three other former officers face trial next year. What are your thoughts on the verdict?
A: When I heard about the verdict — it was a good moment, because you see that there is finally accountability for George Floyd.
But there is also something else that you do notice when you see. This is only one case out of many other cases. And this is because there were protests, outrage. There were so many calls, messages, emails. There were people saying that this was not OK and that there needed to be accountability.
It’s still such a big path. This verdict — it’s one verdict. It’s not going to bring justice for all. So there has to be people continuing to push and to fight those systems of oppression and injustices.
This is justice for George Floyd. But there is still a lot more that needs to be done.
Q: Polls show that support for Black Lives Matter has declined since last summer. What do you think it will take to keep the movement alive?
A: I think there definitely has to be people that are willing to continue pushing for it and continuing to have that drive to fight for racial equity and equality.
People want change, and we want it now. But the thing is that policy takes time. And that’s something that’s very difficult.
Currently, I’m an intern for Rep. Paul Holvey and, with that, I have actually gained a lot of different experience, knowledge in policy and how the way it works. It’s a different look from protesting. But I’m starting to learn a lot more about how policy is crafted, how policy is drafted, how it’s voted on.
There’s also a lot of other young people that are working in different offices. There’s a lot of different groups that speak out on these injustices, kind of seeing how we can make a change, especially at a policy level — state level and federal level.
It’s going to be a struggle to continue doing this, but I know there are many people that are driven to do it.