News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

A year on the corner of Cascade and Larch

This week marks the one-year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd by police officers in Minneapolis. The broad-daylight public killing of Floyd — an unarmed Black man, handcuffed and held down with a knee on his neck for over nine minutes — spurred demonstrations around the world.

Here in Sisters, people were on the streets every day after the killing, sometimes marching through town, often congregating at the corner of Cascade Avenue and Larch Street.

These spontaneous demonstrations evolved into a weekly Saturday gathering. Some weekends saw 80-90 people in attendance. People felt the need to express their anger and sorrow — to do something. Action helps keep despair at bay.

At the two-month anniversary of Floyd’s death, Indivisible Sisters put together a vigil. Olivia Hougham spoke. The names of hundreds of Black people lost to police violence were read aloud. Katy Yoder covered the event in The Nugget.

I attended nearly every Saturday (and I still do). One day, Steve, a man wearing a thin-blue-line hat and T-shirt walked up to me. We had what I thought was a good conversation. “How long are you going to be here?” he asked. I said we hadn’t decided. Some say we’ll stand out there until we see change.

Talking with Steve allowed me to clarify some of our positions. Yes, we honor and thank first responders, who have protected my home from fire and rescued my neighbor. No, we’re not in favor of defunding the police. However, we are in favor of demilitarizing police and using those funds to invest in healthy communities. I respect Steve for showing the courage and strength to have a civil conversation. So much more productive than driving past slinging easy insults.

Summer waned and election season rolled around. There were a few trucks with Trump flags trolling past, rolling coal, which is illegal. A few of us called in a man who was rollin’ coal repeatedly. The deputies were quite responsive. It was especially helpful that he was idling just a block away in a line at Dutch Bros, apparently taking a breather from the hard work of antagonizing peaceful protesters.

Our weekly demonstrations have continued for a full year now, regardless of weather, though our numbers lowered over the winter. I stand on the corner every Saturday at 10 a.m. Standing, watching cars pass for so many weeks is a meditative experience. Most people respond positively with honks and waves. Two weeks ago a young Black girl rolled down her back-seat window and said in a quiet voice “Black lives do matter, thank you.” Moments like that are a deeply meaningful experience.

Some drivers stare blankly ahead, not prepared to confront the issue of systemic racism on their morning drive. Meanwhile, others flip us off and yell insults, some profane, others perplexing. “Give up!” “Get a life!” “Go back to Portland!” The responses can be quite revealing. A woman waving her arm yelled, “Just go away!” If only racism could be scared off so easily.

I never respond with anger, just a friendly wave. In these instances I often think of Olivia’s sign, which reads, “What about my being here makes you so angry?” It’s a very good question to contemplate.

Another question I ask: What does it mean as a mostly white man in a mostly white community to spend a year demonstrating in this way?

The issue of racism and equality is so large—even if I stood on this corner every day of my life, would that make a difference? The need on large issues like this will always outweigh what we as individuals can give. But I remind myself of the inspirational saying, “Something is not nothing.” I believe that simply being visible is doing something.

It has been a year of crisis for everyone. The pandemic, politics, racial equity, climate, and fires on the West Coast have affected all of us. Out of crisis, can we build a more humane common sense and a more just society?

Let us try. There is so much more that connects us than divides us.

 

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