They were clad in wide-brimmed and bead-adorned hats, floral dresses, patterned aprons, and armed with a message of unity, peace and social justice. The members of the Portland Raging Grannies rehearsed their dance routine on the lawn of Marshall Park as people gathered for a unity march on a cloudy Sunday afternoon.
Black Lives Matter Vancouver and the now-suspended Kaitlyn Beck campaign organized the Oct. 2 unity march to spread a message of peace and love through the community, while simultaneously combating the pro- Donald Trump rally in Esther Short Park.
Founder of Black Lives Matter Vancouver Cecelia Towner wanted to bring attention to the recent shootings of black men by police last month. This included the killings of Terence Crutcher, an unarmed father of four in Tulsa, OK, and Keith Lamont Scott in Charleston, NC, which prompted strong protests in North Carolina and extreme unrest between the police and civilians.
“Some people would like to think that we were fine before Trump. We have never been fine,” Towner said, passionately addressing the predominantly white crowd. “Black [people] have always been at the bottom of the barrel since slavery times. They are overrepresented in disciplinary rates in our schools and our prisons in Vancouver Washington and nationally.”
Towner refuted some typical anti-black narrative, saying that “Black children are children. They don’t look older. And black men don’t look more dangerous. There are a lot of people that are completely uneducated about racism. Many of these people hold power.”
According to The Columbian, nearly 150 people participated in the march that trailed along Fort Vancouver Way down to the Vancouver Community Library and back. There was a wide range of ages present, with toddlers, seniors and everything inbetween. Among the crowd were a few Clark students and alumni, as well as Diversity Center employee Rosalba Pitkin.
Many people carried signs with messages like “No H8,” “Love One Another,” “Black Lives Matter” and “Jesus Doesn’t Build Walls.”
Originally, Lieutenant Scott Creager from the Vancouver Police Department was also slated to speak at the march. But according to James Tolson, manager of the Beck campaign, a letter was sent out from the VPD before the march explaining that they couldn’t participate “because the image of the VPD may be endorsing a candidate.” This was because the event was organized partly by the Beck campaign.
After the march, people gathered back at Marshall Park to hear keynote speakers. This included Beck, former congressional candidate David McDevitt, and representatives from Don’t Shoot Portland and the Standing Rock Sioux tribe. Speakers addressed the prevalence of racism that affects the Vancouver and Portland communities.
Twenty-year-old Beck, who ran for Washington’s House of Representatives in the 49th legislative district position 1, delivered a message of progress. “I’m a dreamer,” Beck said to the enthusiastic crowd. “I dream of the ability to reach out into the community and feel the force of everyday people that are willing to stand up and say ‘Enough is enough, we have to start solving problems,’” Beck has since suspended her campaign to take care of her ill grandmother,
A day before the march, Tolson said that “there are members of the police department that will be there as private citizens, but [ultimately] the VPD is there just to facilitate safety.” A couple police officers were stationed at every major intersection and in several other places throughout the pathway of the march.
There wasn’t any tension between the activists and the police officers. People waved, flashed peace signs and thanked the police officers as they walked past them. Officers responded with nods, smiles and waves.
VPD Public Information Officer Kim Kapp confirmed that the VPD was only there for security precautions. “We were there to provide general public safety as well as traffic control,” Kapp said. “I’m not aware that we were participating in the event other than to provide the public safety.”
Towner said that she and Tolson had specifically planned the march to happen on the same day as the Trump rally to offer a positive and uplifting alternative way to spend the weekend for the community.
“We were all sitting around having coffee and thought that a unity march would be really good,” Towner said. “Especially [because] sometimes it seems like Trump rallies can really anger people or otherwise make them uncomfortable…and violence seems to have been the theme over the campaign period. We didn’t want that to happen here.”