On Friday, approximately 1,100 islanders marched from Vashon Theatre to Ober Park, and back again, in solidarity with Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County’s call for a march in silence and a general strike on that day.
Vashon’s strong show of support for the movement came on the same day that more than 60,000 Seattle marchers also answered the call, moving in an almost solid line for two miles between Judkins Park to Jefferson Park in South Seattle.
A number of island businesses also completely closed for the day in response to Black Lives Matter’s call for a general shut down on Friday, including The Ruby Brink, Vashon Print & Design, Giraffe, Island Queen, and notably, Sawbones (Pacific Research Laboratory), one of the island’s largest employers. Many others, including nonprofits, posted signs in their windows in support of Black Lives Matter.
Some islanders went an extra distance — marching half the length of Vashon to join the protest. A group of 25 islanders, organized by Kelly Macomber Straight and Vashon School District board member Zabette Macomber, set out on foot, from Tahlequah at the southern tip of the island, at 4 p.m. Along the way, the group picked up more people and numbered 170 people by the time it had traveled the nine miles to the center of town.
“A march from the theater to the library isn’t long enough for what we’re feeling in our hearts right now,” Macomber told her friends in an email, asking them to join her.
The Vashon protest began with a mostly masked and somewhat socially-distanced crowd gathering in Vashon Theatre’s parking lot, where organizer Chris Boscia, of Vashon in Solidarity Alliance (ViSA), took to the bullhorn to read a list of demands from Black Lives Matter Seattle-King County.
The multi-point document, which can be found at blacklivesseattle.org/our-demands/, begins with a demand that racism be declared a public health crisis in Washington State and goes on to detail others including defunding the police, increasing programs for community wellness, making sweeping changes to the justice system, dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline and fully funding education with a capital gains tax in 2021. The Vashon crowd cheered in response to each demand as Boscia read the list.
Longtime resident Felicia Saathoff then recited a long list of names of Black Americans, ending with George Floyd, known to have been killed by police officers in recent years. Another islander, Milla Alverez, sang Sam Cooke’s song “A Change is Gonna Come.”
At approximately 7:40 p.m., the march began, with islanders completely filling one side of the street between the movie theater and the four corners intersection of Band Road and Vashon Highway.
A dozen march wranglers and guides helped coordinate the pace and safety of the demonstration, keeping marchers on one side of the road and managing the sparse cross-traffic at intersections, Boscia said. At the intersection, led by the protest guides, almost all of the marchers paused to kneel for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, to mark the length of time a white police officer in Minneapolis knelt on the neck of George Floyd after his arrest for a nonviolent crime in Minneapolis. Floyd’s excruciating ordeal, causing his death, was captured on video by a 17-year-old passerby and has sparked large protests and unrest throughout the nation and world.
On Vashon, Friday’s march marked the third time islanders have gathered to protest the killing of Floyd and other Black Americans at the hands of the police. The first protest took place on May 30 at Bank Rd. and Vashon Hwy., attracting approximately 75 islanders over the course of its two-and-a-half-hour length. A week later, approximately 500 people spread out along Vashon Hwy. downtown, from Voice of Vashon to Subway, for a candle-lit vigil for Floyd and other victims of police brutality.
But on Friday, the crowd had more than doubled, reflecting an even more sweeping visualization of the mosaic of Vashon’s population. Many families were in attendance, as were groups of youth and elderly couples. Most were white, reflecting Vashon’s predominant demographic, but Black and islanders of color were also in the crowd.
Many in the crowd held signs aloft, some saying “Black Lives Matters,” but others expanding on the message. “It’s not fair to kill people and I don’t like it, it’s not kind,” said one cardboard sign held by a 4-year-old.
“We are stronger together,” read another sign, hand-lettered by an older youth. Other signs read “White Lies Matters,” and “Militarized policing is choking democracy.” One sign seemed to directly address Vashon residents, an island with a population that is 92% white, with a medium homeownership rate of 80% of properties with a medium value of $461,000.
“Put your privilege to work,” the sign said.
Once the march reached Ober Park, islanders gathered in front of the library and listened to Black and Indigenous speakers. Islander Veronica Hlordzi Nordfors, who is from Ghana, sang an uplifting song from her native country for those assembled, and Renee Henson, a local activist, also spoke.
Jack DeVore, an Oglala-Hunkpapa Lakota, photojournalist, curator and musician, spoke next, tying the Black Lives Matter movement back to the long history of white colonization, oppression and genocide against Indigenous people, and his own family’s resistance to that.
“I have to talk about some hard things,” DeVore told the crowd. “Some of you might get a little hurt.”
At one point, DeVore’s speech was interrupted by the honking of a loud passing truck. A loud male voice rang out, as it passed the park, heckling the huge crowd with an exhortation of “Trump 2020,” followed by an expletive aimed at the protesters — a jarring juxtaposition to the unity on display throughout the evening which caused DeVore to pause briefly mid-speech.
The next action planned by Vashon in Solidarity Alliance is a family-friendly sidewalk chalking event, at 10 a.m. Saturday, June 20, in downtown Vashon. Another action may be planned for Thursday, June 19, the annual holiday known as Juneteenth, commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.