march

Police lines hold; mostly youthful walk and speeches countered by a show of Lynden defenders, with flags and guns   

  LYNDEN ­— Tense standoffs across police lines, sides competing to be heard above each other, private citizens standing guard with guns visible at city monuments and businesses — it was all part of a three-hour scene of political drama Sunday not seen since Donald Trump visited Lynden in 2016.

  Hundreds strong both of marchers and of their hecklers at two stops for speeches, a March for Black Lives procession walked Grover Street sidewalks from Lynden High School to City Hall and then on to the Lynden Police Department on 19th Street.

  It happened without apparent injury or criminal incident, with a full Lynden Police force deployed, as the scene of action moved nearly three miles across town.

  A normally quiet Sunday afternoon in Lynden — the march began about 2:15 p.m. and didn’t wrap up until nearly 5 p.m — became one of throngs of people and traffic congestion. 

  The marchers’ core message of “Black Lives Matter,” on signs and in chants and speeches, was countered with chants of “U-S-A” and “Thank You Police” and showings of American flags, including on loud trucks that rolled alongside the walkers.

  The main points of conflict were the gatherings at City Hall and the police station. At each, a line of at least seven police officers stood guard between the two groups. Everyone crowded toward the grassy area north of City Hall. On 19th Street, the line was the street itself, with the marchers’ speeches on the west side almost drowned out by the vehicles and the clamor on the east side.

  A pickup truck carried a man who kept speaking through a megaphone toward the march group at both sites and along the route.

  This buildup of sides in Lynden on the volatile Black Lives Mattter issue has come about in barely a week. Simultaneous small-scale rallies were held a mile apart June 27. Since then, two groups have formed. The one self-described as pro-USA, Freedom and Police has taken the name Lynden Freedom and is geared toward defending Lynden values, according to organizer Gary Small. The other, called Young Activists of Whatcom County, has arisen mostly among high schoolers in Lynden, according to an email from Claire Habig, an LHS student. 

  The emphasis of this event was to relate the experiences that people of color have in the Lynden area, and “how we as a community can work together to ensure we are all afforded the same opportunities and freedoms,” Habig said in her press release.

  The Lynden Freedom presence was to “protect our local monuments and public buildings from potential damage,” Small said in an organizing email. In some promotion of the march, Lynden was characterized as “too white and too conservative,” Small said, and it was still fresh in mind that a Black Lives Matter rally in Bellingham June 28 ended with extremists’ defacing City Hall and burning American flags.

  Most marchers wore facemasks of some sort in compliance with current state mandate for gatherings in the COVID-19 fight.  Most onlookers did not.

  The initial gathering at Lynden High School (no sponsorship of the event by the school district) had a time of reading a passage from the Bible on love, with a reminder that this was to be a peaceful action. Habig read the mission statement of the new Young Activists organization and added, “Our generation is for change, and we will see reform,” to applause.

  Although generally young, the marchers were a range of ages. Participants included Whatcom County Executive Satpal Sidhu and 42nd Legislative District state Rep. Sharon Shewmake.

  Walking along Grover, the procession with their signs stretched out many blocks. Vehicle traffic was held up at points of crossing streets. Chants included “No Justice, No Peace” and “Say Her Name, Breonna Taylor.”

  At City Hall, a youth speaker told of feeling “isolated ... lonely ... unheard” because of her skin color and of struggling to find places where she feels comfortable. She grew up in a white family, but she still “resonates with pain” simply because she is Black, she said.

  Racial prejudice exists in Lynden, although people need to “open their eyes” to see it, speakers said.

  At one point when the speaker amplification system failed briefly — and the groups’ competing chants also filled the gap — a leader forcefully urged the young marchers “we have to be strong and stand together.”

  Some speakers said they appreciated their families and upbringing. “Lynden is full of good people,” said one. “However, there are things that need to be changed ... lots of hurtful things.”

  Using a Bible text, a girl said “a spirit of power and love and self-control” is the right stand against racism, not anger and frustration — to applause.

  Student Isaiah Baseden said people of color experience alienation and isolation in the “bubble” of Lynden, and he realizes he has “learned to be numb” to some of the treatment he receives.

  David said it is a part of the history of “the greatest country in the world” that Blacks were sold as property. He said he believes America is better today on race relations than it was 50 years ago, but it took the risking of people like Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Lincoln to change things.

  Cora of Lynden emphasized that the Bible tells people to “love neighbor as self” including those who do “not look or act or worship like you.”

  A similar scene played out on 19th Street. Some speakers were repeated. The atmosphere was continuously loud, between the marchers’ amplification system, the pro-USA crowd across the street, and the man from the truck with his own rant.

  Once it wound down around 4:30 p.m., most of the marchers had to make their way on foot back 2.8 miles across town to LHS. Bins of water and ice cream treats for them were put out on Front.

  The armed guarding of storefronts and monuments downtown continued until the whole procession had passed. A point of close physical proximity was Centennial Park on Grover at Fourth, which was where the Lynden Freedom group had set up and plenty of guns were being visibly carried. A contingent of at least four Lynden police officers was there as the marchers walked east chanting “Black Lives Matter” and the Lynden defense corps chanted “U-S-A.”

  As the March for Black Lives passed First Christian Reformed Church on Front  Street, members there stood quietly on the church steps, waving as the line went by.

  Christina, who declined to provide her last name, said she just believes in equality and that kindness counts.

  “I believe that we should all be kind to each other,” she said. “I’m a social worker, and I believe in social equality to the best of the country’s ability. I believe that all races are equal.”