Kali Holloway has devoted much of her life to journalism, covering politics, race, gender issues and many other topics for AlterNet, Salon, the Guardian, TIME, the Huffington Post, the National Memo, and others. And while doing that work, she repeatedly found groups all over the country, whether they were activists, artists, clergy, or citizens who were fighting to get Confederate-related monuments removed from their prominent places not just in the South, but in cities like Seattle or Chicago.
And Holloway saw that in just about every case, these groups were local, not national, because they essentially had to be.
"There are a number of organizations, activists, artists and clergy engaged in the fight on multiple fronts, but they're localized fronts because of the nature of trying to take these things down," says Holloway. "It's because they're often very integrated into the cultural and political landscape of the area."
But Holloway envisioned a national organization that could work with these regional groups to bring down prominent Confederate monuments such as the Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson statues in Charlottesville, Va. or the United Confederate Veterans Marker in Seattle, or the John C. Calhoun monument in Marion Square right here in Charleston.
Working with the Independent Media Institute, a nonprofit organization that collaborates with journalists and media outlets to educate the public through independent media projects and programs, Holloway created the Make It Right Project. Make It Right works with multiple groups to remove the monuments, helping support current forms of protest and create new ones in an effort to create actual, visible change.
"This was an opportunity to use that journalism experience in tandem with working with all of these people on all those fronts under the umbrella of Make It Right," Holloway says. "The idea is to make a connective tissue between those disparate groups."
Launching in the Summer of 2018, Make It Right focused on 10 specific monuments, and Calhoun's was at or near the top of the list.
"Charleston is the city that we're focusing on the most right now for a host of reasons," Holloway says. "The Calhoun monument is such a defining figure in the discussion of Confederate monuments."
But rather than approaching removing the Calhoun monument through cut-and-dried rhetoric, Holloway chose to focus on arts activism, collaborating with Redux Contemporary Art Center and tapping Charleston's poet laureate Marcus Amaker to make connections in the arts community.
"Marcus has been indispensable," Holloway says. "In terms of helping me navigate the Charleston arts scene, he was kind of my gateway."
Working with Redux's executive director Cara Leepson and Amaker, Make It Right created "Standing/Still," a multi-part, multidisciplinary art series in which some of the city's most prominent artists, from poets to actors to musicians, give performances and readings not just about removing the Calhoun memorial, but about their own feelings and reflections on living in the shadow of it.
The first edition of "Standing/Still" took place at Redux in April. The second will be at the site of the memorial on Thurs. May 16. As part of the event, local artists Nakeisha Daniel, Javaron Conyers and Benny Starr will be reciting direct quotes from Calhoun in the form of speech and song, and there will be a reading from An Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World, an 1829 book by David Walker that espoused black unity and called for an uprising against slavery.
"The idea was that we would very much focus on Charleston folks who were already doing the work," Holloway says of the artists participating in the series. "People who had a political line running through their art."
Those artists have actually changed the thrust of Make It Right's plan for bringing down the Calhoun monument, though that is still the main focus.
"When we began thinking about this part of the series at the monument, I think it was in a totally different place," Holloway says. "I thought that we were going to talk more about the awful things Calhoun said, and why we shouldn't put him up on a pedestal, why he shouldn't be lauded, but as I've been talking to the performers, it is less about condemning Calhoun. We are going to touch on the fact that he is not a figure who we should be applauding from history, but it's more about the ways in which black people have always resisted. There's always been a resistance even under the threat of slavery, and that is a critical part of the event and the direction it's taken."
Holloway says that real change can come through arts activism because it provides a less didactic platform for people to express and consider potentially divisive issues.
"I think most of us recognize that art has the ability to create a space that allows for other things," she says. "It allows you to change people's minds. Sometimes the conversations we have make people's eyes glaze over, whereas art doesn't do that. I think it's not just that art allows us to make beautiful things that people respond to, it influences people. You absolutely need that to happen before you can pursue legislative changes."