FORT BRAGG, 7/27/20 — More than 100 protesters carrying signs with messages ranging from “peace” to “Fuck Trump” gathered in Fort Bragg on Saturday on the two-month anniversary of the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
This reporter counted 102 people at the peak, sprinkled out along Main Street in front of Town Hall, or on the Guest House lawn.
All were wearing masks.
In speeches and socially distanced interviews with those involved, they said they had come to the protest because too little has changed in the 60 days since Floyd died under the knee of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Many were upset by President Donald Trump’s use of federal police forces in local jurisdictions, and his lack of leadership in fixing the underlying problem. The crowd chanted “Black lives matter” repeatedly on Saturday to drive home the point that racism and inequity is a real problem that must be addressed by all of society.
The nature of the protest was a far cry from the depiction of Black Lives Matter protests on TV news, and was not actually an event hosted by the local Black Lives Matter chapter, but part of the BLM movement. Nothing resembling violence transpired — but there was much community activism.
Andy and Vicki Wellspring, who organized the event, sought to involve people in their local chapter of the national group SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice), which seeks to educate white people about current issues of racial justice.
“After George Floyd’s murder, I realized there needed to be a container to hold people that wanted to organize around racial justice issues, so I started a local chapter of SURJ,” said Vicki Wellspring. (To be involved, write to [email protected])
Local SURJ meets Tuesdays via zoom at 7 p.m., alternating weeks between an action group and a reading workgroup doing the “Me and White Supremacy Workbook” by Layla Saad.
Scott Menzies of Fort Bragg also spoke at the event , encouraging people to sign a petition to the city that would ban display of hate symbols and hate branding — he gave examples of the Confederate flag and swastikas. Menzies encouraged people to pay attention to local government, even if they find it dull, and find out who stands with them on an issue like hate symbols and perhaps even run for city council, especially women and people of color.
Local police were nearly invisible but not absent. Cruisers passed with the traffic and police stayed in the background throughout. Banner-carrying Carrie Durkee said one reason the event was going smoothly was the way local police have been treating activists.
“There are no cops around. They are not escalating, not trying to control us, and allowing us to express ourselves,” she said.
Many of the protesters interviewed said they had come out because of objections to the way policing is being done in other places across this nation, particularly the use of federal agents in cities by the Trump Administration. The combination of violence in Portland and in some other big city cities with Trump’s constitutionally questionable use of federal force has kept the issue a hot button for all sides of the political debate.
Horns honked in support for the entire two hours, but there were also regular drive-bys of counter-protesters. One apparent counter-protester repeatedly cruised the event blasting deafening deep bass music beats, which seemed to please the bored children who were otherwise spending time rolling in the grass in front of the Guest House. Two matching pickup trucks with tinted windows peeled out loudly on Main Street in front of the sign wielding protesters, also pleasing the youngsters.
Several carloads of people and groups of pedestrians shouted “all lives matter” while passing. These were quickly drowned by those at the event, who loudly chanted “Black lives matter,” back and forth until the car disappeared. One person walking by on the opposite side of Main Street shouted “You are white people you dumbasses!”
The crowd was indeed overwhelmingly white. The participants also seemed to be pretty much all local, a mixture of older activists and people under 40, including several families. Fort Bragg has a long history of activism, but little or no history of violence at protests over the past several decades.
“I see a lot more young people out here and a lot more Hispanic people,“ said local activist Steve Antler. “A lot of these protests over the years have featured mostly all people over a certain age. But at the last few events, including this one, there are more young people. They know they could be arrested and face the same situation [when pulled over by police].”
There have been peaceful protests in towns all over America at the same time as well covered police violence and property destruction by protesters in certain big cities. Carla Jupiter said much of what we see and hear is lies.
Jupiter recounted Oregon’s often hidden history of white supremacy, such as a law banning Black people from moving there, which remained on the state’s books until 1926.
“One good thing that is going to come out of this is that people are having to hear about the history of this country, the history which we never taught.”
The event ended as peacefully as it had begun, with Irene Malone leading several chorus of “We Shall Overcome” with the words changed several ways to include the message Black Lives Matter. The event was hosted by SURJ and featured an action alert sign up sheet for BIPOC. Vicki Wellspring said there is a BLM Mendocino Chapter rally scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 1 in Mendocino on the corner of Lansing and Ukiah Streets from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.
There is a facebook group page here for local SURJ: https://www.facebook.com/groups/surjmendocoast/The national SURJ webpage is here: https://www.showingupforracialjustice.org/