Mike Forcia had it all planned out.
His Bad River Anishinaabe relatives, along with representatives from other Indigenous groups living in Minnesota, would fill the state capitol lawn with drummers and dancers, sending song and the ringing of jingle dresses into the air around a ten-foot bronze statue of Christopher Columbus that had stood there since 1931. He would invite the Somali and Hmong communities, too—everyone living in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul as refugees or immigrants. “I wanted them to bring their drums and their outfits,” he said when describing his vision, “their dance, their food, their art and their history.”
But then, on the night of June 9, 2020, protesters in Richmond, Virginia, tore down a statue of Columbus, set it on fire and rolled it into a lake. A few hours later, police discovered that someone had decapitated a Columbus in a park in Boston. Forcia, a longtime Indigenous activist, heard through his network that someone else was planning to take down Minnesota’s Columbus under the cover of darkness.
“I just panicked,” Forcia said. “I panicked because I had plans for that statue.” The Columbus statue had been unveiled decades earlier in front of a St. Paul crowd of thousands, and he had promised himself that a monument “put up in broad daylight … should come down in broad daylight.”
So, on the morning of June 10, Forcia issued an invitation on Facebook for people to meet him at the statue at 5 p.m. Columbus’ deportation would not be as grand as Forcia had imagined, but he would do his best.
Videos of the crowd tugging Columbus off his base that day provided some of the defining visuals of summer 2020. The scene played on the news so often that you’d be forgiven for assuming that more monuments shared Columbus’ fate. In reality, of the 214 monuments that came down after the death of George Floyd, 179—over 80 percent—were removed officially, following decisions by local authorities. Protesters pulled down only 13 Confederate monuments and 22 monuments to other controversial historical figures like Columbus.
Most of these activists concealed their faces or struck at night. They likely wanted to avoid the potentially heavy criminal and financial penalties for such acts. Forcia, however, has taken full, public responsibility for toppling a monument. This means he can explain what he hoped to achieve by doing so—and why it was worth the risk.