News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Valuing Black lives in Sisters

The Black Lives Matter movement has become visible in Sisters. By now, most Sisters-area residents have observed the sometimes lonely vigil kept by Elizabeth Fisher and others at the corner of Cascade Avenue and Locust Street at the east entry into Sisters. Fisher is one of seven volunteers who currently try to maintain a daily presence by the tennis courts to draw attention to the concept that Black lives matter.

“We try to have someone out here every day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., except Saturday, when we have the larger demonstration by the Outlaw horse statue from 10:30 to noon,” Fisher said.

Her own participation in the cause came as a personal awakening.

“Honestly, George Floyd was a catalyst for me and much of the nation,” she said. “Everyone who doesn’t do something may as well have had their knee on George Floyd’s neck; and, embarrassingly, I realized that I wasn’t doing anything.”

But she is now.

A former Sisters High School student, Fisher has just graduated from Oregon State University in chemical engineering. She doesn’t have a job yet, and therefore feels that this is a productive use of the time she has available. Thus far, that has translated to approximately five to seven hours a day, five days a week.

“It is really easy for people to feel that this is not their problem,” Fisher said. “I mean, just today, I had someone yell ‘but you’re white’ and give me the middle finger. All I have to say to that is, if you are human, this is your problem. We all live in and perpetuate this system, which we have seen for the past two hundred plus years disproportionately harm people of color. It is not only our constitutional right to speak out against this system but also our duty.”

Molly Jones is another Sisters resident who has been active with the group in trying to raise local awareness of issues relating to racial inequality.

“Our town has a lot of tourism traffic. I feel it’s our duty as a community to make sure all people who visit and live in our town are safe, valued, and respected here,” Jones said. “By having weekly rallies and weekly conversations our community is continuing to discuss and bring attention to inequity and racism in our town and work towards solutions.”

Oregon has a rather dark history when it comes to issues of race (see related story). As recently as 2002, in an Oregon referendum, 29 percent of Oregon voters opposed removing racist language from Oregon’s Constitution. Opposition was greatest in counties on the east side of the Cascades, which serves to underscore Jones and Fisher’s concern about raising awareness here.

“At the first rally I attended in Sisters,” Jones said, “I engaged in conversations with folks who objected to the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s within these difficult conversations that our community has the power to change. We are a small town, we know our neighbors; we can’t go to the store without running into someone we know. Those are the exact ways our community has the power to change.

“We can’t hide from the inequity and racism that happen right here in Sisters. We have the power to create an inclusive and safe community for all. I urge all of you to continue listening, learning, and showing up for the Black Lives Matter movement and advocating for social justice right here in our community.”

Fisher says that public feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.

“I’m getting a lot of love out here,” she said. “People are supportive for the most part.”

She is a bit puzzled by the occasional obscenities and middle fingers, though, which she says are invariably linked to pro-Trump political rants. She wonders if these people really do oppose equality or actually believe that Black lives do not matter.

Occasionally, someone will argue that all lives matter.

“Of course that’s true,” she says, “but the importance of white lives is taken for granted in our society, without the realization that Black lives are simultaneously being marginalized.”

Further information about the group can be found on Facebook at Sisters Fight Against Racial Inequality. They define themselves as: “A group dedicated to fighting racial inequality in Sisters, Oregon, and beyond.” The group attracted more than 100 followers. Information on how to participate, volunteer, or staff the demonstration corner can be found on the page.

“For too long, I was silent,” Fisher said, “but I can’t be anymore. I have to stand up and do something for my own ethics and morality.”


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