A new kind of protest
WHAT: Rhythmic Unrest
WHEN: 4pm-10pm Sat., July 4
WHERE: Waypoint Park, Bellingham
Wednesday, July 1, 2020
One afternoon not too long ago, I opened my front door to find a couple of fliers on the porch. They were from StandSpeakListen, a collective I later found out was comprised of local artists, students, business people and activists who support anti-racist ideologies and community growth through demonstration, art and intentional connection. One of the fliers urged readers to support Black and Indigenous leaders in the community, and to also seek to understand the history of racial violence in Whatcom County. I was intrigued, and when I heard StandSpeakListen was hosting an event celebrating voices of color on Independence Day, reached out to ask a few questions to founder Ebony and fellow SSL member Skai—they prefer to use their first names only—to find out how we can all work toward making safe spaces for Black lives and others in the community who are facing oppression.
Cascadia Weekly: I’ve done a lot of the suggested reading from the flier on the wp.wwu.edu/timeline website that is intended to help understand the history of racial violence in the community, and am guessing a lot of people aren’t aware of most of it. What are you hoping people take away from this collection of vital resources?
Ebony and Skai: Like the website says, the lack in racial diversity in our community is no accident. There are many reasons Bellingham is 82.7 percent white (according to the U.S. Census estimate) and most folks living here don’t know any of that history. In order to move forward and fight white supremacy as a community, we must first acknowledge and learn about Whatcom County’s brutal racist colonial past.
CW: How did StandSpeakListen come into existence?
EAS: One evening we were discussing the recent Bellingham actions in response to George Floyd’s murder. We saw a need for a new kind of protest in Bellingham. A protest celebrating and centering Black and Indigenous voices, Black and Indigenous music, Black and Indigenous art.
CW: The message I’m getting from SSL is that action is necessary for those who wish to see a more just community—and world. What are small steps people can take to become more involved with the Black Lives Matter movement, and to help end racial disparity? What are larger steps?
EAS: Big or small, all steps towards dismantling white supremacy and uplifting Black and Indigenous Lives are necessary. It can be hard to jump right in, so understanding the problem is the best place to start.
Read books written by Black authors, like Ijeoma Oluo, bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Ibram X. Kendi. It is vital to understand that as long as “Black Lives Matter” is a controversial statement, you cannot stop doing the work. Steps you should be taking every week are things like sharing posts on social media, having “uncomfortable” conversations with those close to you (like the history of white supremacy in our community or what privilege is), doing personal work like acknowledging your own implicit bias. Making space for BIPOC to speak, to sing, to write, to yell, to dance, to sleep, to exist; supporting local Black and Indigenous businesses and artists. Calling and emailing the governor, the mayor, the police chief, the city and county councils. Get involved, sit in on meetings, demand change, demand answers. Most importantly, listen to Black and Indigenous voices, stand with Black and Indigenous voices; stand with Black and Indigenous Queer voices.
CW: Black leadership is also important for SSL. Why is that?
EAS: It’s important for SSL because this movement is about centering Black voices. Most spaces in this community are for white people. Stand Speak Listen is about making intentional and safe spaces for Black expression.
CW: The Independence Day event at Waypoint Park is intended to be a public display of civil unrest, but the recent press release also points to it being a celebration of voices of color. What can people who want to take part in the gathering expect?
EAS: The event will take place from 4pm-10pm at Waypoint Park and will feature a variety of Black, Indigenous, and Queer speakers, poets, musicians and artists. This is a sober event; if you are going to come with an open and conscious mind, then it needs to be a sober one.
There will be spaces for learning, for listening, for moving, for standing, for engaging. There will be chalking and live painting, there will be story time for the little ones and families. We want our community to come together and engage in uplifting Black and Brown voices.
CW: Since founding SSL, are you having conversations that likely wouldn’t have taken place if the police killing of George Floyd hadn’t brought the ugly truth of systemic racism to the forefront?
EAS: Black people have been having these conversations for hundreds of years. George Floyd’s murder has inspired a broader movement, and non-black POC and white folk seem to be engaging in more conversations. It can’t stop there. Words need to be actions, you can’t just share on social media about confronting your racist relative. We all need to be actively dismantling white supremacy in our behaviors, in our government, and in our society.
CW: Do you think people are now more willing to engage in uncomfortable conversations to help solve the problem?
EAS: Performative “allyship” is a very real danger. Black people are being murdered in this country. Indigenous women are being murdered in this country. While those newer to social justice and the BLM movement feel an urgency to be included in this moment, they have to realize that Black people have been feeling this urgency for 400 years. If you know Black Lives Matter you have to do more than share a story on Instagram. Engage in your community, stand with marginalized voices and please stop asking BIPOC to educate you on how to be anti-racist.
CW: Police accountability is also important where SSL and Black Lives Matter are concerned. In an ideal world, what changes to the system would you like to see?
EAS: Defund the police and reinvest that money in Black and Indigenous communities. The Bellingham Police’s budget is $34.2 million dollars, which is more than Parks and Rec, low-income housing fund, emergency medical services, and public libraries combined. We want to see police removed from schools, and there is a petition put together by local educators to remove police from Bellingham schools at http://www.change.org.
We want alternatives to police. Public safety looks like investing in our community, providing safe and affordable housing, providing public bathrooms, investing in mental health and rehabilitation resources, investing in teachers and counselors, investing in our children.
CW: Demonstration, art and intentional connections are mentioned as being a part of the community growth that SSL wants. What is happening in the artistic realm of this trifecta that excites you?
EAS: This event is solely focused on the multi-media artistic expression of Black and Indigenous voices, which is a rare occurrence in Bellingham. We want to keep creating these kinds of spaces and encouraging our community to stand with us, to speak with us, and to listen with us.
Photo of Ebony by Alexander Hallett, Sattva Photo
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