The Gristle

Hands Against Hate

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

HANDS AGAINST HATE: “We want to believe that it can’t happen here. But it is happening here, and it has been for a long time,” Vernon Damani Johnson reported to Bellingham City Council earlier this month. The Western Washington University professor of political science sketched the escalation of local hate crimes and social animus that earlier this month included a racially motivated verbal assault on his colleague, Karen Dade, professor and former associate dean of Western’s Woodring College, at a local grocery store.

“Fortunately, other people who witnessed this circled around her so that she was safe until police arrived,” Johnson explained in a presentation to City Council’s Justice Committee, suggesting that protective encirclement might serve as a metaphor for social change.

“Over the past few years we have seen a gradual deterioration of moral leadership in this country that has allowed for the vilification of citizens and immigrants, and demonization of political opponents along racial lines, while provoking the flames of racial hatred and fear long embedded in the roots and history of our nation,” Johnson and his colleagues wrote in a recent op-ed.

“This type of hatred has additionally wedded itself to decades of failed efforts at the national level to attain any type of meaningful control of gun ownership by Congress or the Supreme Court,” Johnson and his colleagues wrote. “This has set off an era of mass mayhem in a broad spectrum of communities across our country.

“We might have assumed that Bellingham and Whatcom County are long past this sort of hatred and ethnic animosity,” Johnson commented. “However, recent events have proven that we are as susceptible as any other community in the country.”

From Ferndale to Fairhaven, white supremacist and fascist propaganda have been spotted plastered to poles and walls, along parade routes, prompting Ferndale City Council to pass a resolution condemning the rise of racist nationalism.

“From what I’ve heard, they’ll test the waters in small communities,” commented Ferndale City Council member Rebecca Xczar, who sponsored the resolution. “If there’s a response, they’ll come back. So that’s part of this. We’re trying to make a statement saying that we don’t want that setup here. We want everyone to feel safe.”

Bellingham City Council’s Justice Committee is similarly at work revising and strengthening policy to protect the most vulnerable populations from white anger. The meetings have been well-attended by activists, and the atmosphere has been intense.

“The social and political climate that we are witnessing today is not new nationally, and is not new locally here in Whatcom County,” Johnson commented. “In fact, the Whatcom Human Rights Task Force was born 25 years ago when there was a cross-burning incident at a farm worker’s residence in the county. A few hundred of us marched a week or so afterwards when it felt like local authorities were not taking the incident seriously enough. Less than a year later, we witnessed the Oklahoma City federal building bombing. From that time forward, we understood there was a very serious far-right series of movements in this country that did not like the direction that the country was already moving toward. Many were dedicated to trying to overthrow the government if they could, if they could generate enough support for that.”

Whatcom, in fact, is a hotbed for organized bigotry, a nucleus for extreme far-right organizing, much of it centered in animus against the affiliated tribes but certainly fully equipped and funded to spray hatred at other communities of color.

“We’ve seen this drama before,” Johnson said, “and one of the things we know we have to do is not cower in silence but step up early on to say this isn’t the kind of community that we want to be.”

Addressing the Justice Committee this week, state Sen. Liz Lovelett outlined legislative efforts in Olympia to establish a statewide policy supporting Washington state’s economy and immigrants’ role in the workplace—an integral but undersupported labor force that undergirds Whatcom’s farming economy.

“The Keep Washington Working Act is ultimately at the heart a move toward having Washington become a sanctuary state,” the 40th District Democrat summarized. “One of the bigger overarching goals is to make sure that people who are experiencing trauma, violence or criminal activity feel comfortable and safe reporting that out to local law enforcement,” she said.

“This exacerbates and existing issue around trust between immigrant communities and law enforcement regarding personal safety in their home and workplace.

“Especially in light of some of the terrorist acts and hate crimes that we’ve seen of late, it’s more important than ever to make sure that folks in our community receive those protections and feel safe living, working and being in their communities,” Lovelett said.

“I do think there is absolutely room for local jurisdictions to take their own proactive stances,” Lovelett said in support of Council’s interest in strengthening city policies.

“With a lot of the things that have been transpiring in the nation and in our own community locally, we want to take positive and deliberate action in response,” Hannah Stone agreed. Stone chairs Council’s Justice Committee. “Even if there are instances in our community that may not be actionable in terms of prosecution as a formal hate crime, we want to let it be known that the community here is not going to tolerate hate.”

Past Columns
A Working Waterfront?

October 15, 2019

Keep Working

October 9, 2019

Signs of Hate

October 2, 2019

Trust Gap

September 25, 2019

Netse Mot

September 18, 2019

A Rising Tide

September 11, 2019

The Power of Change

September 4, 2019

Ground Zero

August 21, 2019

Fire and Frost

August 14, 2019

The Fury and the Folly

August 7, 2019

Due East II

July 31, 2019

The Real Social Network

July 17, 2019

Due East

July 3, 2019

Thin Green Line

June 26, 2019

A Journeyman’s Journey

June 12, 2019

Her Story

June 5, 2019

Do Overs

May 29, 2019

Fall Lynden Craft and Antique Show

10:00am|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

My Fair Lady

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre


7:30pm|Firehouse Arts and Events Center


7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Whatcomics Call for Art

10:00am|Whatcom County

Wishes and Dreams Call for Art

10:00am|Gallery Syre

Gore and Lore Tours

6:00pm|Downtown Bellingham, historic Fairhaven

Anacortes Vintage Market's Evergreens and Icicles

6:00pm|Port Transit Event Center

Scream Fair's Camp Fear

7:00pm|Northwest Washington Fairgrounds

Matilda the Musical

7:30pm| Lincoln Theatre


7:30pm|Upfront Theatre


8:00pm|Old Main Theater

Community Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|Blaine Senior Center

Ferndale Breakfast

8:00am|Ferndale Senior Center

Orca Recovery Day Work Party

9:00am|Nooksack River

Anacortes Farmers Market

9:00am|Depot Arts Center

Yoga and Detox

9:00am|Community Food Co-op

Blanchard Beast Trail Race

9:00am|Blanchard Forest Lower Trailhead

Twin Sisters Farmers Markets

9:00am|North Fork Library

98221 Studio Tour

10:00am|Fidalgo Island

Bellingham Comicon

10:00am|Ferndale Event Center

Steam Expo

10:00am|Lynden Middle School

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Blaine Gardeners Market

10:00am|H Street Plaza

Your Life is a Story Writer's Group

10:30am|South Whatcom Library

Correspondence Club

10:30am|Mindport Exhibits

Fall Festival

11:00am|Camp Korey

Kraut-chi Ferment Class

11:00am|Chuckanut Center

Winter Warmth Drive and Pickup

11:00am|Assumption Church Gym

Art Therapy Workshop

1:30pm|Museum of Northwest Art

Telling Tough Stories

2:00pm|South Whatcom Library

Fables and Tales Upcycle Runway Challenge

6:00pm|Settlemeyer Hall

Concrete Ghost Walk

6:00pm|Concrete Theatre

Brew on the Slough

6:00pm|Maple Hall

Bellingham Hoptoberfest

6:00pm|Civic Way Sportsplex

How I Learned I'm Old

7:00pm|Village Books

Take Me to the River Live

7:30pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Skagit Symphony presents Highland Heritage

7:30pm|McIntyre Hall

My Fair Lady

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre


7:30pm|Firehouse Arts and Events Center

Whatcomics Call for Art

10:00am|Whatcom County

Wishes and Dreams Call for Art

10:00am|Gallery Syre

Matilda the Musical

7:30pm| Lincoln Theatre

98221 Studio Tour

10:00am|Fidalgo Island

Sedro-Woolley Community Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Post #43

Trails to Taps Relay

9:00am|Depot Market Square

Birchwood Farmers Market

10:00am|Park Manor Shopping Center

Bellingham Handmade Market

11:00am|Goods Nursery and Produce

Langar in Lynden

11:00am| Guru Nanak Gursikh Gurdwara

Wild Mushroom Show

12:00pm|Bloedel Donovan Community Building

Harvest Festival

1:00pm|Centennial Riverwalk

Skagit Topic

2:00pm|Skagit County Historical Museum

What If We All Bloomed?

4:00pm|Village Books

Murder Mystery Dessert Theater

6:00pm|Christ Fellowship Church

Wishes and Dreams Call for Art

10:00am|Gallery Syre

Whatcomics Call for Art

10:00am|Whatcom County

Whatcom Housing Week

10:00am|Whatcom County

Northwest Paella

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op


7:00pm|Alternative Library


9:00pm|Firefly Lounge

see our complete calendar »