Support for the Black Lives Matter rally garnered around 80 protestors huddled in the rain at G Street Plaza on Friday, July 3. Cardboard signs that read, “Say their names,” “I will never understand but I stand” and “Racism is a pandemic too” dotted the notably young crowd that had children to seniors in attendance.
The rally came to fruition after Payton Ives, Blaine High School 2020 graduate, messaged Jaelin Ford, class of 2019, on June 30 about starting a rally after seeing a lack of action in the Blaine community following the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed by Minnesota police officers on May 25, which started Black Lives Matter protests across the world.
Ford was moving to San Diego on July 5 where she attends college at the University of California San Diego. As a Black woman, she felt Blaine’s lack of diversity wasn’t conducive to her growth. “‘I told her, ‘We’d need to do it in the next three days,’” Ford recounted her conversation with Ives.
By Friday, Ives and Ford had recruited 2020 graduates Claire Cooper and Annika Soderberg to help organize the event because of their social media activism for Black Lives Matter. The four Borderite alumnae contacted Blaine High School teacher Michael Dahl, who helped with the sound system, Blaine police chief Donnell Tanksley, who was in the crowd without uniform, and city manager Michael Jones, who advised the group on the regulation for a freedom of speech event at the plaza.
Ford started the event at 5:04 p.m. giving a speech about her experience moving to Blaine in 2015 hoping to see community members who looked like her. Instead, she was called the n-word within her first month in Blaine. It wasn’t until college that Ford realized that she didn’t have to wear paler makeup and straighten her hair to fit in.
Within five minutes of Ford’s speech, two white trucks with Trump 2020 flags drove northbound and then southbound on Peace Portal Drive, revving their engines.
Each of the eight speakers spoke to different issues including experiences of racism in Blaine, white privilege, the prison-industrial complex and Whatcom County’s history of racism.
“This is strictly a peaceful rally. We are educating and bringing awareness to the community and in no way are we trying to provoke anybody,” Ford said.
The speakers consisted of six recent Borderite alumnae, one alumna from the class of 2000 and Bellingham child abuse attorney Christina King.
Among the speakers who shared experiences of racism in Blaine was Jessica Drake, who said she remembered holding her father’s hand as a child in Cost Cutter to deter wary stares from her father, who she described as a large Black man. She then recommended people watch “13th,” a Netflix documentary on the criminalization of Black people in U.S. prisons, and read “Me and White Supremacy” by Layla Saad.
The rally ended with a moment of silence for Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Eric Garner and every other Black person killed by the police.
Of the 5,600 Blaine residents estimated in the U.S. Census, 78 percent of Blaine residents identified as white while 0.7 percent identified as Black.
Masks were required at the rally due to Covid-19 but physical distancing of six-feet was not widely followed. The event ended around 7 p.m.
Claire Cooper, an event organizer, said she hopes the support for Black Lives Matter continues in Blaine and wants to see a change in the Blaine school district curriculum, which she believes currently leaves out critical information on U.S. history.
“The youth are really involved in this. We aren’t just kids who don’t know what we’re talking about. We’re pushing for change in our country and won’t give up on that,” Cooper said.
In attendance were Elaine Alpert and Bill Marsh of Blaine, both of whom identify as anti-racist allies who began protesting during the Vietnam War in the '60s.
“In a place like Blaine, it’s easy to say ‘Well, we don’t really have a problem here’ but it’s not the time to take the easy way out,” Marsh said.
Marsh said a powerful moment during the rally was when one speaker announced the most patriotic thing someone can do for their country, especially on the Fourth of July, is to point out its shortcomings and work to fix them. For Alpert, a first step would be for the city of Blaine to proclaim itself as actively anti-racist or create an interagency taskforce to address racism through the city.
“We’re just getting started,” Marsh said. “The time is now.”