On June 1, 2020, Kelli Thompson sat down at Toomer’s Corner to advocate for racial conciliation in Auburn. This Wednesday, Oct. 13, marked the 500-day anniversary of the first demonstration.
Thompson and her fellow community members have stood at Toomer’s Corner for two hours every day, rain or shine, supporting their cause.
Thompson did not start out expecting the sit-in at Toomer’s Corner to last for a consecutive 500 days. The first day she was by herself, she was “scared and fearful and angry.” However, she said this experience soon turned into a way to express herself and foster community.
“It feels like this is a sustainable and cathartic thing we have built," Thompson said. "We get a lot more from this than we give, honestly … This is a type of emotional release that we seemed to have needed as a community."
This demonstration began during the summer when racial protests were happening in many major cities across the United States, sparked by the death of George Floyd. Thompson decided to begin the sit-in specifically on June 1, 2021, because “military force had been used on peaceful protesters" in Washington that spring.
“I needed to get out of my house and didn’t have any other plan,” Thompson said.
After grabbing her used Stop Racism Now poster from her car, Thompson found herself on Toomer’s Corner, holding her sign and supporting racial justice. Soon, others began to join her with posters of their own.
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“This daily action has kept the summer of George Floyd alive and well in the center of this bustling collegiate town,” Thompson said.
This presentation of the freedom of speech grew from solely advocating for racial justice to other causes, as well. On Sept. 1 of this year, the sit-in began to promote women’s rights amidst recent abortion bans nationwide and sexual assault cases on Auburn's campus. On Oct. 2, they held the Auburn area’s first nationwide Women’s March.
There are many people in Auburn who have made the sit-in part of their daily routine. College students on study breaks, families with their kids, runners who have changed their routes and supportive neighbors are all sure to stop by. Some people have also bought dinner from downtown restaurants for the members of the sit-in.
"There’s probably not a single restaurant down here that someone, either the employees or customers, has not brought us something,” Thompson said.
This demonstration that began with one community member has brought many people in the Auburn community together.
“Now, this is a vibrant community of people who willingly come just to share and check-in with one another," Thompson said. "That fear state is now something that is very soothing and calming and vibrant."
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