Islanders gathered Monday to show the world, and each other, that they won’t be deterred by bigots or bullies.
Not by ones in Charlottesville, Virginia, or even the White House.
A crowd of hundreds of islanders, ranging from children to adults and retirees, filled the lawn at Winslow Green earlier this week for a vigil to condemn the recent demonstrations in Charlottesville by white nationalist groups and the ensuing terrorist attack that left one counterprotester dead.
Forming a circle, some lighting and shielding candles from the late-afternoon breeze, islanders stood solemnly as others arrived with signs reading “Heather Heyer said be outraged by racism” and “Stop the hate.”
From the ranks of the circle, people stepped forward to take turns speaking out against the actions of the demonstrators in Virginia, against the racism and inequality they have seen in their own lives, and against the rhetoric coming from President Trump.
Testimony from those in attendance was punctuated with group singing of popular protest songs like “We Shall Overcome” and “Go Down Moses.”
Voices at the vigil came from many generations. Young children, their parents and adults well into their retirement years all took opportunities to speak their piece.
Hanah Deets, 11, was accompanied at the vigil by her parents Tammy and Joe.
“No matter what your race, gender or age, you can get bullied,” Hanah said as she relayed her own experiences dealing with bullies and depression.
“I think that’s a very serious issue,” she added. “Our president is bullying people.”
Tom Debor, an Army veteran, said he was one of the last draftees to be sent to Vietnam and said he “served to make this a country without racism.”
Debor led the crowd in a rousing rendition of “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ‘Round” with re-fitted lyrics like “I ain’t gonna let no Trump turn me ‘round,” and “I ain’t gonna let no Klansman turn me round.”
Debor also told the crowd about the sacrifices that servicemen and women make for their country.
Brenda Fantroi-Johnson said she felt more comfortable living on Bainbridge Island than when she lived in Tacoma.
“I came back here because I felt better here. I should feel better where there’s more black people, but I think you guys got the right idea,” she said. “It’s got to start, not with me and my color people, it’s got to start with you.”
“You guys got to help us get out of this crap. We’ve been in this for too long,” Fantroi-Johnson said.
Other speakers said the issue of racism and bigotry is not a new one in our country, and that the poisonous rhetoric that has risen to the surface in recent months is not singularly the result of Trump’s election, but rather a pattern of injustice as old as the nation itself — one which can only be overcome through relentless compassion and vigilant unity.
The vigil was organized by Debbie Hollyer, a member of The 4th Branch, an island-based activist group whose main focus is health care and politics. On the morning of Aug. 14, The 4th Branch put out a Facebook event invitation which read, “Let us gather for a vigil in remembrance of Charlottesville’s domestic terrorist attack. Let us call it out for what it is.”
Despite the short notice, some 250 islanders had gathered at Winslow Green by Monday evening.
“We all needed this, obviously,” Hollyer said.